Barely a month before the 9/11 terror attacks, two Pakistani nuclear scientists, said to be close to disgraced Abdul Qadeer Khan, met up with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and offered to supply him with atomic weapons, according to a newly released book.
Chaudiri Abdul Majeed and Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, who held a series of senior posts in Pakistani nuke programme, went to Taliban headquarters in Kandahar in mid-August 2001 and spent three days with bin Laden who was keen on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the book says.
In fact, Mahmood was said to be more close to Khan, the 'Father of the Islamic bomb' and the mastermind behind
a vast clandestine enterprise which sold nuclear secrets to rogue states like Iran, North Korea and Libya. He also set up the pilot plant for Pakistan's uranium-enrichment programme.
However, the so-called deal did not materialise as the meeting between the Pakistani nuclear scientists and bin Laden
ended inconclusively when the al-Qaeda leader, along with some of his senior associates, had abruptly left for the mountains of northwestern Afghanistan.
And, according to the book, The Man From Pakistan -- the true story of the world's most dangerous nuclear smuggler AQ Khan -- before leaving, bin Laden had told his followers that "something great was going to happen, and Muslims around the world were going to join them in the holy war". A couple of weeks later, the twin towers in New York were brought down.
The 414-page book is authored by two investigative journalists--Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins.What's more revealing is that a year before they met bin Laden in Kandahar, the two Pakistani nuke scientists had set up a non-profit organisation, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, to carry out relief work in Afghanistan, including advising the Taliban on scientific matters.
And, on the board of the organisation were several Pakistani Army generals sympathetic to the Taliban cause, and it was one of the few non-government groups that the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, had allowed to operate in Afghanistan, the book says.
"(But) not long after opening their office in a house in Kabul, the scientists met with Mullah Omar and bin Laden, and the conversation had shifted from relief work to weapons development. At one point, during his visits to Afghanistan, Mahmood provided Osama bin Laden's associates in Kabul with information about the construction of a nuclear weapon," the authors write.
However, post-9/11 attacks that shook the US, as part of his crackdown on terror groups operating in Pakistan, the
then Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf forced Mahmood to opt for an early retirement as "he had expressed sympathies for the Taliban and other Islamic extremists".
In fact, in his writings and speeches, Mahmood had advocated sharing Pakistan's nuclear weapons technology with
other Islamic nations to hasten the "end of days", which he believed would give rise to Muslim dominance in the world,
according to the book which the Los Angeles Times says is a "richly reported" one. Not only Mahmood, former Pakistani President Musharraf had subsequently forced AQ Khan into taking retirement though he was a bit worried over a possible domestic backlash as the nuclear scientist was considered a "hero" in Pakistan. So, he had offered him not only a graceful exit but also a ceremonial position as an advisor to him, post retirement.
"Musharraf didn't want a domestic backlash, and he didn't want to belittle Khan. But Musharraf was determined to get Pakistan back into the international community, and he could not tolerate Khan's behaviour. Nuclear deterrence was in
place, the delivery system was in place. Now it's time to stop this dirty business," a former general close to the former
Pakistani leader was quoted by the book as saying.
Musharraf was forced to act against Khan and his close associates to appease the US after the 9/11 attacks, which had
accused the disgraced scientist of smuggling nuclear materials into rogue nations.
In fact, on one occasion, America had even threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age unless it cooperated in
going after the "nuclear smugglers" and the al-Qaeda hiding in Pakistan, which was, however, denied by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage later, according to the book.
Khan, who had subsequently admitted to passing on nuke secrets to other countries, was given a presidential pardon by
Musharraf, though he was placed under house arrest. However, according to the book, Khan's loose-knit organisation was and still may be a nuclear Wal-Mart, selling weapons blueprints, parts, and the expertise to assemble the works into a do-it-yourself bomb kit.