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Behind the Nuclear Cabinet of Dr. A. Q. Khan

Most new revelations about Pakistan's nuclear scandal focus on the clandestine supply of uranium enrichment technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya by the celebrated bomb-maker Dr. A. Q. Khan. (Even though Dr. Khan earned his Ph.D in metallurgy, not nuclear physics or nuclear engineering, yet journalistspress reports usually refer to him as a "nuclear scientist"). But the documents that Libya turned over to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and subsequently to the US, show that Pakistan supplied more than just equipment for making bomb fuel. Dr. Khan allegedly also supplied a detailed nuclear weapon design that US experts say is of a 1964 Chinese vintage passed on to Pakistan two decades ago.

This disclosure raises interesting new questions because Dr Khan was peripheral to actual weapons-related work. Pakistan's nuclear establishment has essentially two divisions. One, once headed by Dr. Khan, is responsible for producing bomb-grade uranium gas that, when converted to metal, provides the crucial fuel for a nuclear explosion. The other division, which falls under the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and the National Development Complex, has a much wider range of responsibilities - conversion of uranium gas to metal, weapons design and manufacture, and nuclear testing.

Dr. Khan was barely mentioned by the head of the NDC, Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, in his victory speeches after the successful May 1998 nuclear tests. Thus the mystery: how could Dr. Khan - who had no need to possess weapons design information - have handed over detailed bomb design documents to Libya?

Dr. Khan's televised confession and acceptance of sole responsibility for proliferation activities has done nothing to reduced suspicion that there is more here than meets the eye, and of the Pakistani military's complicity in proliferation. Dr. Khan's export of centrifuge technology was unknown to successive governments in Pakistan, says the country's leader, General Pervez Musharraf. But for over a decade, Dr. Khan had openly advertised his nuclear wares.