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Pakistani Scientist Admits Spreading
Nuclear Secrets

Paraphrased by:
Steve Waldrop
February 3, 2004

After years of official denial, Pakistani officials said 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.

The revelations by Pakistani officials were made only after evidence uncovered by international inspectors and U.S. officials pointed conclusively to their nation's role in aiding the nuclear programs of Iran and Libya.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf was expected to announce the results of the nuclear probe in an address to the nation after a period of national holidays ends. The seven key suspects include scientists and security officials from the country's top nuclear facility.

Chief among them is Abdul Qadeer Khan, long seen as a hero in Pakistan for creating the Islamic world's first nuclear bomb. .Khan signed a 12-page confession in which he admitted providing designs and components for centrifuges, a senior Pakistani official told local reporters in Islamabad.

Khan was fired as scientific adviser to the prime minister. He is under a form of house arrest at his home in Islamabad and has been unable to speak to the media.

In an attempt to forestall a public backlash over his dismissal, two top military officials briefed Pakistani journalists about his confession, submitted to investigators late last week.

Another in custody is Mohammed Farooq, who was in charge of foreign procurement for the nuclear program throughout the 1990s. His son Asim said his father was being pressured to testify against Khan even though he had done nothing wrong.

But there are growing doubts over how top military officers overseeing the nuclear program couldn't have known about the spread of technology to at least three countries.

A government official said "questions have been put" to two former army chiefs to check information provided by Khan and other suspects- the first time that such top figures have been questioned in the proliferation probe.

General Jehangie Karamat and General Mirza Aslam Beg, a nationalist and strong advocate of a strategic alliance with Iran during his tenure, denied they had authorized nuclear transfers, the official said.

Beg has said Pakistani scientists might have spread nuclear secrets to Iran and Libya, abut that it was "no crime," and the probe was a mistake and a sign the government was caving in to Western pressure.

Military officials told journalists that authorities didn't closely scrutinize what was going out of the nuclear lab because Khan was a trusted figure.

The revelations that the top nuclear scientist in Pakistan- now a key ally in the U.S. war on terror- sold sensitive technology to two nations among President Bush's "axis of evil" alarmed the international community.

But analysts said Musharraf's apparent willingness to come clean about the shady past of Pakistan's covert nuclear program would count in his favor.

He has won foreign plaudits for his opposition to Islamic extremism and eagerness for peace with India, Pakistan's nuclear rival.

Much depends on what comes next. It is not clear what will happen to Khan.

"Pakistan needs to show the world that it is a responsible nuclear power and this happened in the past," said Talat Masood, a military and political analyst.

"It has to reassure the international community that it is investigating thoroughly and action will be taken against those involved, either administratively, legally or both."

Pakistan's nuclear program was born in fear and secrecy three decades ago. On May 18, 1974, India detonated its first atomic weapon in the Rajasthani desert about 100 miles from Pakistan.

In 1972, then Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto launched an all out nuclear effort. After the Indian test, he ordered a crash program to match his much larger neighbor.

Pakistan did not have the technical base to support an atomic development program. So Khan initiated a huge clandestine effort to acquire the components and materials necessary to develop the process to produce fissile material for an atomic weapon. He eventually passed the technology and contacts he used to build Pakistan's program to Iran and Libya, diplomats and intelligence officials said.

Pakistan also lacked the financial resources to build a bomb from scratch. Experts said it turned to fellow Muslim countries for help in creating what would become known as the "Islamic bomb."

In May 1998, Pakistan successfully tested its first atomic weapon. Khan became an overnight hero, dubbed the father of the Islamic bomb.

The Pakistani official who described Khan's confession said the nuclear transfers stopped after Musharraf created the National Command Authority to take control of the country's nuclear arsenal in early 2002.