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'I felt I was a victim of a conspiracy'

March 10, 2004 17:56 IST
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Benazir Bhutto is one of a handful -- maybe even fewer -- of Pakistani politicians who were privy to Islamabad's nuclear and missile plans.

Though her father, the late prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was the moving force behind Pakistan's nuclear ambitions, Benazir herself had to face a lot of hostility and subterfuge when, on becoming prime minister for the first time in 1988, she tried to bring the nuclear programme back under civilian control.

In the third part of a continuing interview with Senior Editor Shyam Bhatia, Bhutto recapitulates the events of 1990, when the Pressler Amendment was applied to Pakistan, which resulted in her government losing a huge aid and weapons package promised by the United States in return for slowing down the nuclear weapons programme.

Part I: 'Zia wanted to defeat America'
Part II: 'Pakistan had the bomb by 1989'

What about A Q Khan?

A Q Khan and Munir didn't get on, but after overthrowing me I believe it was in 1990 that they separated them and made it the Khan Laboratories.

I believe AQ has a huge ego.

But he didn't have a huge ego then. The huge ego only started from 1990. When I knew him he was a modest man. I first came across him in 1988 when he came to see me with Munir. They seemed like government servants ready to carry out government orders. The prime minister had called them, they came.

In one of his articles published in Hurmat, Qadir talks about the Partition deaths he witnessed at Bhopal railway station.

He never mentioned that to me. He offered his services to my father, that was that.

He talks about how he was mistreated when he crossed the border from India to Pakistan, mistreated by Indian forces.

I only know that from 1990, around 1990-93, the two institutions of the PAEC and Kahuta Laboratories were separated. They were called Kahuta Laboratories, but their name was changed to A Q Khan Laboratories at some stage. Not under my government, but it was changed. After my election there was an attempt to woo him and since my father had made the nuclear device, there was also a need to have a symbol.

I think it was after Nawaz Sharif detonated the nuclear devices that AQ became 'Father of the Nuclear Bomb.' But actually everything was done before.

Khan never said anything to you like 'Prime Minister, we must teach these wicked Hindus a lesson'?

Never. He was quiet, only spoke when questioned. He would come to me obviously with recommendations. By the time we had finished with the nuclear -- because we had this agreement -- all that was left with nuclear was miniaturisation and preservation. And then I had established the missile technology board.

I can tell you that in 1989 we established the missile technology board and he [Khan] saw me in that connection, he had discussions with me in connection with missile development technology.

How did he move into missiles from bombs?

That he would have to answer, but he saw me about it and Beg [then army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg, above left] saw me about it and I looked into the subject and I saw we were able to develop missiles that were short of MTCR [Missile Technology Control Regime]. So I agreed to develop Pakistan's [missile force]. We were worried because we were dependent on the F-16s for delivery, we didn't know that the plane could be shot down before it crossed or what would happen. So we needed missile technology. India had developed its own missile technology. I developed missile technology in 1989 and I made certain important decisions with regard to it.

In 1993 when I went to [North] Korea it was to get their technology to compare it with our technology. But we had already developed when I was prime minister from 1989 in time for 1997. I was going to missile-test the Zulfiqar, which after my overthrow was called the Ghauri and which I thought was real mean pettiness. The world calls it the Nodong, but it was not the Nodong.

Your second term as prime minister in 1993?

1993 autumn to 1996. I took over when Pakistan was bankrupt, it was on the brink of being declared a terrorist state, the first attacks on the World Trade Centre had already taken place. The Americans had cut off all aid because of proliferation concerns.

Where was the enrichment programme then? Had it returned to 90 percent?

When I took over they said it had gone down to 5 percent... so obviously somewhere along the time during Nawaz's term -- we were bankrupt, the [1993] World Trade Centre attack had taken place and we were on the brink of being declared a terrorist state -- so perhaps in a bid to cool international tempers, they agreed to go to 5 percent uranium enrichment.

Later you hauled Pakistan out of a crisis?

Yes, the nuclear crisis in the first term and the terrorism crisis in my second term.

Did you initiate the revival of the nuclear programme in your second term?

No, I didn't. I called them and asked, 'What line did we cross?' Nobody could find what line had been crossed. I thought it unacceptable as prime minister that we should lose the $4.6 billion package and lose all the F-16s and be isolated because of intelligence by the US. We never got the 4.6, it was all cut. We got whatever was the first tranche and the rest was all cut.

There had been a quid pro quo and money had been released from '89 till 1990. But in the summer of 1990 [US] Ambassador [Robert] Oakley came to see me and he said they had picked up some intelligence reports that we are crossing the line. He didn't define it. I took it to mean that we are back to making weapons grade uranium. Because in my mind, for whatever reason, it stuck that they used to verify through the revolutions of the centrifuge.

I told Oakley I would look into it, but he said, 'Not yet, I'm just mentioning it to you and I will come back to you.' The following month he came back to me and said, 'Yes, I'm making this officially.' He was sharing this with me. So then I informed Beg about it and I informed Ishaq [President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, above right] and said I want a meeting of the Nuclear Board where I planned to tell them about it and call the scientists to find out what was behind it.

Ishaq told me, 'You are going abroad on a tour, we'll have a meeting when you come back.' I was going on a tour of some Muslim countries in connection with a meeting of some Islamic nations. There was to be a resolution on Kashmir, the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Kashmiri people had risen up, and we thought this was a good moment to press for their political freedom.

The OIC [Organisation of Islamic Conference] had never passed a resolution on Kashmir, so I travelled to a sea of Muslim countries between June and July 1990. When I was abroad in July the US sent a special envoy who I understand was Bob Gates [then deputy national security adviser to President George H W Bush] -- but this will have to be verified -- he was co-ordinating with the foreign office.

First of all, they should never have let him come when I was going abroad because I was going abroad for six months, or three months, but they called him and then they said 'she's travelling'. Then they would tell me 'he's coming to see you in Bahrain', or 'he's coming to see you in Egypt', or whatever country I happened to be in. But he would never come, or if he would come the meeting would never take place.

I felt I was a victim of a conspiracy. They were doing something, I don't know what they were doing, but they did not want me to call a meeting of that board. They would not want me to call a meeting of the scientists because I would find out. So what I think they did was sabotage that meeting and after having sabotaged that meeting, the meeting never took place.

I went back to Pakistan, I told Ishaq, he set a date for the meeting at the end of July and one day before he cancelled it and said it would be in August. On August 6 my government was dismissed.

What happened next?

When I got back into government, I was curious and wanted to know what [had] happened. They said there was no explanation. Because of the lack of a satisfactory explanation, I said this would not do and asked what they proposed. It was then agreed [that] we would put security inside the laboratories, that we can monitor the scierntists and ensure the scientists do what they are ordered.

As far as you were concerned, were the laboratories still enriching at a non-weapons grade 5 percent?

No, it was 60 percent when I left office. But when I came back to office they had committed to 5 percent. First of all, we had security outside the laboratories, right? Now we have security inside the laboratories from 1993 under a major general. So now there is no way a scientist can do anything independently without being monitored.

Your concern was that someone was crossing the line and you didn't want that to happen?

Yes, they had to follow government policy. To prevent anybody violating government policy -- one of the explanations given was that maybe some of the cores had degenerated, and to replenish the cores the scientists had started enriching.

I said that was unsatisfactory because if the core degenerated then they must bring it to the attention of the prime minister and the board and then start, take our permission to redoing it to 95 percent. But to do it on their own was not right.

Part I: 'Zia wanted to defeat America'
Part II: 'Pakistan had the bomb by 1989'
Part III: 'The ISI planned to hide A Q Khan'

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