Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Abdul Qadeer Khan update

It seems unlikely that Pakistan's nuclear "father" could have sold nuclear know-how and technology to other countries, such as Libya, Iran, and North Korea, without the approval of the Pakistan army.

Pakistan's admission that the father of its atomic bomb orchestrated illegal sales of nuclear weapons technology to three countries came in response to intense pressure from the United States and the United Nations.

After years of official denial, the Pakistanis said Sunday that Abdul Qadeer Khan, a revered 66-year-old scientist, and his associates spread the designs and technology to produce nuclear weapons fuel to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

But the government left a central question unanswered: whether the country's powerful military was involved in selling the nation's nuclear secrets.

U.S. officials, nuclear experts and a former prime minister of Pakistan expressed doubts Monday that Khan and a handful of associates could have circumvented the extraordinary controls on the country's nuclear technology without the military's blessing.

Benazir Bhutto, who served twice as prime minister before being ousted in 1996 in a corruption scandal and going into exile, said she doubted that the technology could have been transferred without the knowledge of senior military officials.

"It is difficult to accept that the scientists could have violated government policy on their own," she said. "Those who violated the policy are now hiding behind the scientists."

Further, some reports are indicating that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf knew that Abdul Qadeer Khan was selling nuclear information.

Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has told investigators that he helped North Korea design and equip facilities for making weapons-grade uranium with the knowledge of senior military commanders, including Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, according to a friend of Khan's and a senior Pakistani investigator.

Khan also has told investigators that Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, the Pakistani army chief of staff from 1988 to 1991, was aware of assistance Khan was providing to Iran's nuclear program and that two other army chiefs, in addition to Musharraf, knew and approved of his efforts on behalf of North Korea, the same individuals said Monday.

Khan's assertions of high-level army involvement came in the course of a two-month probe into allegations that he and other Pakistani nuclear scientists made millions of dollars from the sale of equipment and expertise to Iran, Libya and North Korea.


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