(Reconstruction of the Muslim Ummah)
Dr. Sultan Bashiruddin
Mahmood, former Director General of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission
(PAEC), formed the UmmahTamir-e-Nau (UTN) in March 2000 after his resignation
from the PAEC in 1999. Bashiruddin Mahmood was arrested on October 23,
2001, from Islamabad along with his associate Abdul Majeed (arrested
in Lahore) for their alleged links to Osama
bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.
and Overground Activities
Mahmood is the Chairman
of UTN, which is registered as a non-governmental Afghan relief agency.
Chaudhary Abdul Majeed, a former senior scientist at the PAEC, who also
resigned in 1999, is a prominent member of the UTN. The UTN has seven
Directors, Arshad Ali Chaudhary, a retired air force commander and Vice
President of the foundation; Humayun Niaz, a former naval officer and
businessman with ties to the erstwhile Nawaz Sharif government and the
foundation’s Finance Director; retired Brig. Mohammed Hanif, a career
army engineer; Mirza Baig, an industrialist with the biggest foundry
in Pakistan; and Sheikh Mohammed Tufail, the owner of one of Pakistan’s
leading engineering companies.
Ummah Tamir-e-Nau calls
itself "an organisation engaged in relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction
activities". UTN refers to the greater Islamic community, transcending
national boundaries. The declared objective of the UTN was to attract
foreign investment, especially from Muslim countries, to Afghanistan
for the rehabilitation of the war-ravaged country. It was involved in
voluntary work including rebuilding schools, hospitals, and providing
medical supplies, etc. Mahmood had been working recently on certain
projects in Afghanistan including land development and education reforms.
Among the humanitarian projects were the provision of mobile health
units and primary school course books.
UTN has posted fliers in
some Islamabad hospitals seeking volunteer doctors and paramedics for
humanitarian work in Afghanistan. Bashiruddin Mahmood’s son’s phone
number is reportedly given as a contact number.
Mahmood is reported to
have travelled frequently to Afghanistan for ‘land development research’.
As poppy is no more being cultivated in Afghanistan, his efforts were
reportedly directed towards substitute crops.
Mirza Baig also had extensive
ties with the erstwhile Taliban
regime and several contracts for building schools, hospitals, government
buildings and a flourmill in Kandahar, the erstwhile Taliban stronghold
in southern Afghanistan.
UTN was one of the few
non- governmental groups permitted to function freely in Afghanistan
and the Taliban gave Mahmood permission to conclude business agreements
on their behalf. It also concentrated on commercial ties with Afghanistan
with varied business interests, including mining ventures.
According to Asim Mahmood,
son of Bashiruddin, Mahmood and Majeed donated their 1 million rupee
($14,000) retirement money from the PAEC to the UTN, and also used their
prestige to pull in others to help Afghanistan. All seven of UTN’s directors
were detained on October 23, 2001.
The Ummah is affiliated
with the now-proscribed Al Rashid Trust,
which, in turn has links with the Al Qaeda network as also the Jaish-e-Mohammed
UTN also established links with the Al-Akhtar Trust. The Ummah, registered
as a non-government organisation, is reported to have been floated at
the behest of Osama bin Laden for ‘development projects’ in Afghanistan,
and US and British intelligence agencies have confirmed that the UTN
was directly linked to the Al Qaeda network. These Agencies have claimed
that Mahmood's team was trying to develop nuclear technology for Laden.
The UTN was said to be developing a nuclear program by smuggling nuclear
materials from Russia and Central Asian States. U.S. intelligence agencies
have suspected that Mahmood had provided nuclear information and assistance
to the Taliban or bin Laden.
According to Pakistani
intelligence officials, when UTN officials travelled to Afghanistan,
their visas were sponsored by the Taliban’s erstwhile Ministry for Mines
and Industries, headed by Ahmed Jan. Jan has a long association with
bin Laden — a relationship that dates to 1996 when the Taliban captured
the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. Laden had already begun to set
up his terrorist training camps and, intelligence sources say, Jan negotiated
an extension of Laden’s stay in Afghanistan — and his allegiance to
the Taliban regime.
Reports quoting Pakistani
investigators indicated on November 11 that Mahmood and Majeed had confessed
about meeting Osama bin Laden at least twice this year. These meetings
occurred when they were reportedly at Kandahar in connection with the
construction of a flourmill.
Mahmood is also reported
to have met Taliban supremo Mullah Mohammed Omar several times. Majeed
has been associated with Pakistan’s programme to exploit natural resources
of uranium and plutonium.
One of the subjects on
which the arrested scientists have been questioned is a complex of buildings
outside Kandahar, which UTN helped to build. It has been described as
a flourmill. The buildings were the targets of recent bombing raids
but it is unclear what the buildings contained or whether any compromising
installations might have been removed.
Although Pakistani media
reports have indicated that both Mahmood and Majeed were handed over
to a joint team of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA), the government has denied these reports.
Another former PAEC scientist Mirza Yousaf was also arrested for his
alleged involvement with bin Laden. Mahmood was released on October
26 after being "cleared" by security agencies, but was arrested again
after his release.
Mahmood was a project director
when Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in May 1998 and won the prestigious
Sitar-e-Imtiaz civil award for his work.
Dr. Bashiruddin Mahmood
had resigned from the PAEC in protest following reports in 1999, that
Pakistan would sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Such an
action, he said, would wreck Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme. In
an interview with The Financial Times in 2000, he expressed his
opposition to the CTBT on the grounds that Pakistan needed to carry
out test explosions to develop peaceful uses of atomic energy.
Mahmood had recently called
for a cease-fire in the American-led attacks in Afghanistan.
Mahmood is described as
an "extremely religious man," and is considered by authorities
to be a vehement supporter of the Taliban. He is reported to have termed
Pakistan's nuclear capability as "the property of the whole Ummah."
Mahmood is considered to
be a founding father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, having headed,
until 1999, the country’s chief weapons-grade plutonium producer, the
Khushab Nuclear Plant. Majeed was the technical director of the New
Labs — Pakistan’s main nuclear weapons design facility. The Khushab
Plant is the country’s chief producer of weapons-grade plutonium used
in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, which contains, according to U.S. intelligence
officials estimates, 80 weapons.
The heavy-water moderated
Khushab reactor which was designed and built with Chinese assistance,
first went critical in early 1998. The reactor is rated at 40-50 MWth
(megawatt thermal) but produces no electrical power. Mahmood himself
explained in an article he co-authored in 1999 with another nuclear
scientist, Muhammad Nasim, in opposition to the Nawaz Sharif government’s
moves to sign the CTBT, that the Khushab reactor was playing a critical
role in the production of "boosted thermonuclear weapons and the hydrogen
bomb". The plutonium and tritium produced at Khushab are also essential
in the manufacture of compact nuclear warheads readily fitted onto even
smaller ballistic missiles. The Khushab Plant also houses Pakistan's
only heavy-water production plant. Mahmood then, rather than being just
an ordinary nuclear scientist concerned with power production, was in
fact one of the key Pakistani weapons scientists until his resignation
from the PAEC in 1999. Prior to his role at Khushab, he had been in
charge of the enriched-uranium production program at Pakistan's second
weapons material reactor at Kahuta.
Mahmood is described as
a bright student from a poor family of farmers. He finished first in
Punjab in his final school exams. After studying electrical engineering
in Lahore he spent seven years in Britain in the 1960s, taking masters
degrees in control systems and nuclear engineering.
He is reported to have
studied engineering in England, according to Dr. Zia Mian, a Pakistani
physicist at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He later acquired prominence
as an engineer in the 1970's when he worked out a technique for detecting
leaks in steam pipes at the Canadian-built reactor in the Karachi nuclear
power plant. He patented this work later. He worked closely with Abdul
Qadeer Khan, the man hailed as the father of Pakistan's bomb.
When his long career in
Pakistan’s secret nuclear program came to an abrupt end in 1999, family
members and former colleagues say Bashiruddin Mahmood became more vocal
in his beliefs — particularly his religious convictions. According to
his son, since the UTN’s founding in March 2000, Mahmood made "two
or three" trips to Afghanistan, the last in May 2001. In Pakistan,
Mahmood acted as a de-facto Taliban ambassador-at-large, praising
Afghanistan’s radical Islamic regime at various student rallies. Reports
indicate the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has given the government
of Pakistan, a list of six more nuclear scientists who have to be investigated
for their suspected links with bin Laden's al-Qaeda network as well
as their association with Mahmood and Majeed.
Earlier, in 1987, he published
"Doomsday and Life after Death — The ultimate Fate of the Universe
as seen through the Holy Quran," a 232-page treatise of theories
based on ‘Islamic teachings’. In one chapter, Mahmood theorises that
his "scientific mind can work backward and analyze the actual mechanism
… of the great upheaval before the Earth’s Doomsday." He sought
to explain how, through physics, the world would end. In the same year,
he set up the Holy Koran Research Foundation in Islamabad as an Islamic
He is a subscriber to a
brand of what is known to practitioners as "Islamic science," which
holds that the Koran is a fount of scientific knowledge. Bashiruddin
Mahmood has published papers concerning djinni, which are described
in the Koran as beings made of fire. He has proposed that these entities
could be tapped to solve the energy crisis, and he has written on how
to understand the mechanics of life after death. In an interview to
The Wall Street Journal in 1998, he said, "I think that
if we develop our souls, we can develop communication with them." He
also added, "Every new idea has its opponents… But there is no reason
for this controversy over Islam and science because there is no conflict
between Islam and science."
Writing in Yespakistan,
a Pakistani website, on the theme "Who are the Taliban?" Mahmood stated
that the "Taliban are not people in power but upholders of a movement
– the movement of the renaissance of Islam in the world. Simple proof
of this is that all anti-Islamic forces are united in opposition to
them. In the holy Koran, Allah has told us, 'All kufr [disbelief] will
unite against the haq, the truth, of Islam'. Today the world is witness
of this truth."
Described as a hard-line
Islamist, his work was reportedly driven by an obsessive fear that Pakistan
would one day be overshadowed by its rival on the subcontinent, India.
Media reports indicate that after the May 18, 1974, Pokharan explosion,
Mahmood is said to have sat in his room for two days and wept.
He wrote several books
exploring his interest in life forces and doomsday scenarios. In one
book, Cosmology and Human Destiny, written in 1999, he studied the peculiar
impact of sunspots on daily life. Heavy sunspot activity, he argued,
had coincided with the French Revolution, the American Declaration of
Independence, the Russian Revolution and both world wars. He concluded
that governments across the world "are already being subjected to great
emotional aggression under the catalytic effect of the abnormally high
sunspot activity under which they are most likely to adopt aggression
as the natural solution for their problems".