Outside Publications by CNS Staff

New Head of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Apparently Tied to 1980s Nuclear Smuggling

By Leonard S. Spector and Haider Nizamani

An analysis for the WMD Insights.
May 4, 2006 © WMD Insights. All rights reserved.

On March 28, 2006, the government of Pakistan announced the appointment of Anwar Ali as the chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). Ali is the most senior scientist at the organization, where he has served for 39 years. During that time, he played a central role in the creation of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and solid-fueled missile programs - and allegedly participated in at least one smuggling operation to obtain specialized equipment for Pakistan's uranium enrichment program. A physicist by training, Ali has had career assignments which include working at the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), where he served as one of the directors and carried out work, according to the Associated Press of Pakistan, having "fundamental significance" - a euphemism for working on nuclear weapons at the facility. [1]

Pakistani press reports state that Ali is credited with the development of computer codes and ultra-precision equipment for the Pakistani nuclear program, along with playing a key role in the formative years of National Defense Complex (NDC) in developing guidance and control systems for Pakistan's solid-fuel Shaheen-I missile, based on the Chinese M-11. He was also a member of the technical team of scientists and engineers who carried out the 1998 nuclear tests at the Ras Koh hills of the Chagai region. [2]

A Pakistani electronic bulletin board, generally regarded as credible and having postings, inter alia, by retired Pakistani officials and military figures, offered additional details on Ali's background at the Khan Research Laboratory and linked him to A. Q. Khan, regarded as the father of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program. [3] KRL, known originally as the Engineering Research Laboratory, was initially set up by the PAEC, under Munir Ahmad Khan; in 1976, however, A.Q. Khan separated the unit from the PAEC, and, in 1981, it was named the Khan Research Laboratory, in his honor.

Highly enriched uranium, a product in which the most unstable types of uranium atoms are highly concentrated, can be used as the core of a nuclear weapon. The KRL enrichment facility, located in Kahuta, employs a centrifuge design based on one that A. Q. Khan purloined in the mid-1970s from the Almelo uranium enrichment plant in the Netherlands where he had worked; much of the equipment for the Kahuta enrichment facility was obtained from Western nations through a complex, multi-country smuggling network Khan organized in the 1970s and a model Pakistan continued to exploit as late as 2005, according to supplier-state diplomats and U.S. law enforcement officials. [4] KRL is widely understood to be the facility that produces highly enriched uranium for the Pakistani nuclear weapons program.

[UNBOLD THIS SUBHEAD] The Pakistani electronic bulletin board, noted above, offered the following information regarding Anwar Ali:

Anwar Ali was one of the pioneers of the PAEC's Uranium Enrichment Project-706, (Kahuta Research Labs) along with Bashiruddin Mahmood. He played a key role in the procurement and setting up of vital equipment for KRL. Once A. Q. Khan took over KRL, Anwar Ali and Bashiruddin Mahmood came back to PAEC and once back, Anwar Ali played a key role in the PAEC's Directorate of Technical Development, which was charged with the R&D, design, manufacture and testing of nuclear weapons. He was also part of the PAEC team that conducted the 1998 tests. [5]

Another posting on the Pakistani electronic bulletin board, characterized the central role played by the PAEC in Pakistan's nuclear weapon and missile programs under Munir Khan, for whom Ali worked. In addition to launching KRL and building Pakistan's initial multi-centrifuge cascade in a pilot enrichment plant near Chaklala airport and in Sihala, the PAEC led the development of the Khushab reactor for the production of plutonium (the second material that has been used for nuclear weapons) and the associated "New Labs" pilot plutonium separation plant. Also, according to the posting, the PAEC "developed the first and future generation of nuclear weapons starting with the Wah Group and DTD [the PAEC's Directorate of Technical Development] in 1974," and acquired the M-11 solid fueled missiles from China. Importantly, the Commission also "established an elaborate procurement network for the uranium enrichment and plutonium program under the brilliant S.A. Butt." Along with roughly a dozen other senior scientists, Ali, the posting states, "burnt midnight oil to make Pakistan a nuclear power which was accomplished by 1983." [6]

Possible Smuggling Activities

Canadian court papers describing certain early activities in support of the Pakistani nuclear weapons procurement program note the participation of "Anwar Ali" in a 1980 smuggling operation in Canada that led to the arrest of three men. A Wall Street Journal investigation in 1984, based on court documents and interviews with Canadian officials stated:

MONTREAL -- In July 1980, two members of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission came here in secret with a high-priority shopping list: vital parts of Pakistan's fledgling effort to become a nuclear power.... According to court records here, the two Pakistani officials who came to Canada - Anwar Ali and I.A. Bhatty - brought with them a list of parts needed for a key item embargoed by the U.S. and others, a high-frequency inverter. This exotic electrical device is used to spin a gas centrifuge at extremely high speeds to enrich uranium. The parts were bought from manufacturers, including General Electric Co., Westinghouse Electric Corp., RCA Corp., and Motorola, Inc., by two small electrical equipment stores in Montreal, according to the court papers. Then they were repackaged and shipped to the Middle East [and on to Pakistan]. [7]

Ali and Bhatty were not among the three individuals arrested, who were charged with acquiring the parts pursuant to instructions from the two PAEC officials. Of the three individuals detained by Canadian authorities, two were fined $3,000 each on a minor technical charge. The third individual was acquitted because, "rigid rules against hearsay evidence left [prosecutors] unable to explain what Messrs Ali and Bhatty... really do for the government of Pakistan." [8] (Editor's Note: There have been no allegations that Ali participated in A. Q. Khan's subsequent sales to Iran, Libya, and North Korea of nuclear weapon designs and uranium enrichment centrifuges and equipment to manufacture them. See "Special Report: The A.Q. Khan Network: Crime... And Punishment?" WMD Insights, March 2006 Issue.)

The activities in 1980 would have been consistent with comments on the Palistani website concerning the background of the new PAEC chief, which state that he "played a key role in the procurement and setting up of vital equipment for KRL."

Nuclear Energy

The PAEC is also Pakistan's primary organization charged with operating the country's nuclear energy program. While its purpose at the time of its inception in the late 1950s was to address Pakistan's energy needs, during the tenure of Pakistani President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, it diverted its efforts towards the development of nuclear weapons and missiles, which have remained in its portfolio ever since. In 2005, the PAEC announced plans to build 13 new nuclear power plants to generate 8800 MW of power in the next 25 years, with a view towards meeting the growing requirements of the Pakistani industrial sector. [9] The PAEC has also promoted the utilization of nuclear technologies in other areas, such as agricultural production and for medical diagnosis and therapy. [10]

[1] "New Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission head takes up Post," Islamabad APP, April 5, 2006; "Former Chairman PAEC Made Secretary Science and Technology," Karachi Dawn (internet version), April 7, 2006; "Anwar Ali Takes over as New Chief of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission," Islamabad The News (internet version), April 6, 2006.
[2] Ibid.
[3] "Anwar Ali Appointed PAEC Chairman," PAKDEF.info, http://www.pakdef.info/forum/showthread.php?t=8063. [View Article]
[4] "Pakistani Businessman Indicted for Trafficking in Nuclear Detonators and Testing Equipment," U.S. Commerce Department, Bureau of Industry and Security press release, 2005, http://www.bis.doc.gov/news/2005/PakistaniBusinessman.htm; [View Article] Louis Charbonneau, "Pakistan Reviving Nuclear Black Market, Experts Say," Reuters, March 15, 2005, accessed at http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0315-04.htm; [View Article] Joe Blackford, "Asher Karni Case Shows Weakness in Nuclear Export Controls," Institute for Science and International Security website, http://www.isis-online.org/publications/southafrica/asherkarni.html. [View Article]
[5] See source in [3].
[6] See source in [3].
[7] John J. Fialka, "Nuclear Club: Set to Explode? - Nuclear Spread: How Pakistan Secured US Devices in Canada to make Atomic Arms - Despite Proliferation Barriers, Nation will soon have Ability to Produce Bombs - Jitters in India and the West," Wall Street Journal, November 26, 1984, in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, November 26, 1984.
[8] Ibid.
[9] "PAEC told to set up 13 N-power plants," Karachi Dawn (internet version), July 15, 2005.
[10] "PAEC to commercialize its technologies," Pakistan Observer (internet version), August 10, 2006; "PAEC offers technology on molecular diagnostics," Karachi Dawn (internet version), December 9, 2005.


Author(s): Leonard S. Spector, Haider Nizamani
Related Resources: South Asia, Nuclear
Date Created: May 4, 2006
Date Updated: May 15, 2006
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