ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The U.N. nuclear watchdog has warned Pakistan that some of its scientists may have been involved with an international ring of smugglers dealing in nuclear equipment and technology, senior Pakistani officials told United Press International.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency also has given Pakistan a list of six suspects involved in this racket, which includes at least two Pakistanis, the officials said.
"We first heard of some names from the Iranians and then from the IAEA," Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri told UPI in Islamabad on Wednesday.
The foreign minister did not disclose the names but said the list includes "some Europeans possibly based in the Gulf and one or two Pakistani names."
Kasuri also disclosed that Iran gave the list to Pakistan soon after it conveyed the names to the IAEA late last year.
During the last two months, Pakistan has detained at least eight officials and scientists attached with the country's top nuclear facility, the Khan Research Laboratories, near Islamabad.
Although Pakistani officials deny that the father of the country's nuclear bomb, Dr. A. Q. Khan, is among those detained, they have acknowledged that he has been debriefed by the Pakistani intelligence agencies.
Khan is not allowed to meet journalists or to attend public gatherings without prior permission from the government and has not been seen in public for some time.
Soon after receiving the IAEA letter in mid-December, Pakistan ordered the country's top nuclear watchdog, the Strategic Planning Division of the Nuclear Command Authority, to conduct a thorough investigation, officials said.
Officials at the SPD indicated to UPI that they are close to winding up their investigation and will soon send their report to President Pervez Musharraf who told his parliament last week that Pakistan needs to satisfy international concerns about its nuclear program.
Investigations conducted by UPI show that the IAEA has informed Pakistan that individuals working for various Pakistani nuclear facilities have provided both nuclear know-how and technology to Iran.
Although the IAEA letter does not mention North Korea or Libya, reports in the Western media have claimed that these two countries might also have received assistance from Pakistani individuals.
Both North Korea and Libya deny receiving any assistance from Pakistan and officials in Islamabad also have rejected these allegations as "malicious" and "baseless."
UPI has learned that most of the nuclear transactions from Pakistan to Iran took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the country's nuclear program was still in its initial stages and Pakistan did not have an effective command and control system.
Foreign Minister Kasuri also confirmed this. "Such transactions, by individuals, happened in the 1980s. Even some recent reports refer to equipment which might have been moved at that time," he said.
Kasuri said that the equipment that Iran is believed to have received from "Pakistani individuals appear outdated." Pakistan, he said, has "gone far beyond what the news reports say the Iranians have acquired."
Since 1974, when India first conducted a nuclear explosion, the Pakistani establishment, particularly the army, was consumed by a desire to match India's nuclear capability. It had formed an unofficial nuclear authority, which included both the president and prime minister of the country and the army chief. It had one-point agenda: to acquire nuclear capability and was authorized to use all possible means, both legal and illegal, to reach the target.
Even after 1998, when Pakistan tested its nuclear devices less than three weeks after similar tests by India, the Pakistani establishment did not have a proper command and control system. Since the tests had further tightened international sanctions, Pakistan also maintained clandestine routes it had established with suppliers in Western Europe and North America for acquiring equipment for its nuclear facilities.
The Nuclear Command Authority and its operational wing, the Strategic Planning Division, were effectively established in 2000, almost two years after Pakistan tested its nuclear devices.
Pakistani authorities, while talking to UPI, acknowledged that the absence of a proper control system might have allowed certain individuals within their nuclear establishment to "try and make a quick profit on the sidelines," as one of them said.
"There were certain consignments from certain addresses that customs and other law enforcement officials were not allowed to check. There were individuals who were allowed to send out and bring in anything they wanted," said the official.
Investigations conducted by Pakistani intelligence agencies indicate that certain people associated with the nuclear program might have used these channels for smuggling equipment like centrifuges that are used for purifying uranium to Iran.
The IAEA letter that Pakistan received last month also confirms this. "The IAEA has explicitly warned us that there exists an international gang of racketeers and black-marketeers ... the IAEA chief has publicly stated that he was amazed at the outreach of these racketeers," said Kasuri.
The foreign minister said that the gang had received equipment and material from other countries as well and warned that "not just Pakistan but many other countries need to look at this."
Other Pakistani officials said the IAEA letter also mentions Dubai as the possible meeting point for the gang.
The IAEA report, the officials said, also mentions Switzerland, Austria, China and Russia, besides Pakistan, as possible sources for the Iranian nuclear program. The IAEA points out that initially Iran received assistance from the United States as well, the officials said.
"But unfortunately, Pakistan is being singled out for reasons beyond our control," said Kasuri.
Pakistani officials say that all these channels were blocked once the national Nuclear Command Authority and its affiliated agencies were established.
"Pakistan has taken concrete steps for ensuring non-proliferation. These are in the knowledge of our close friends and major world powers and they are fully satisfied with those steps," said Kasuri.
The U.S. administration is also satisfied with these measures and has publicly said so."