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Khan was my hero too, says Musharraf

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD, FEB. 5 The Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, announced today that he had pardoned the father of Pakistan's nuclear programme, A.Q. Khan, for transfer of nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

The announcement made at a press conference by Gen. Musharraf came a day after Dr. Khan confessed on the state-run Pakistan Television that he had passed nuclear secrets without authorisation from any in the Government. The dramatic confession and immediate grant of pardon would undoubtedly go down in history as one of the fastest actions in a highly sensitive and explosive scandal.

The decision of Gen. Musharraf to agree to the request of Dr. Khan for forgiveness is a clear indication that the military establishment did not want to antagonise the nationalist lobby that revered the scientist as a national hero. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) has actually given a strike call tomorrow to express solidarity with Dr. Khan.

Having tackled the domestic front somewhat, Gen. Musharraf now needs to watch out for the international reaction, particularly that from the United States. From his comments at the press meet it appears that he is confident. Questions about the culpability of the top military brass in the scandal also came up at the news briefing. Gen. Musharraf disclosed that two former Army Chiefs were questioned as part of the investigation and nothing could be found against them.

Gen. Musharraf reiterated that Dr. Khan alone was behind the transfer of the sensitive technology, and the military, that has total control on the nuclear programme, had nothing to do with it. His explanation for the transfer without detection was that till 1998 Pakistan's nuclear programme was covert with lot of freedom to the institutions and scientists.

In an obvious bid to mollify the nuclear nationalist lobby, Gen. Musharraf said that like for the rest of Pakistan Dr. Khan was his hero too.

"Whatever I have done, I have tried to shield him. One has to balance between international requirements and shielding. You cannot shield a hero and damage the nation," the President said.

At one stage he lost his cool on the international and domestic media for sensationalising the whole issue.

When a foreign correspondent wanted to know if Pakistan was ready for an international probe into the scandal, Gen. Musharraf shot back asking him as to why correspondents did not question European countries when their scientists were also involved.

Gen. Musharraf said Pakistan would neither roll-back its nuclear programme nor throw it open for inspection by outside agencies. He announced that within a month Pakistan would conduct a missile test.

On Thursday the Cabinet recommended to Gen. Musharraf that Dr. Khan be pardoned.

Gen. Musharraf declined to give further details about the pardon, a decision he said was made on the recommendation of the National Command Authority — which controls the country's nuclear assets — and the Cabinet. The President declined to address the reported "fortune" that Dr. Khan had amassed through the sale of nuclear technology.

To a question he said there had been no decision on six other suspects detained in the investigation.

In his confession Dr. Khan had said that his juniors were only obeying his instructions.

Asked what he thought motivated the scientists who leaked technology, Gen. Musharraf said: "What is the motive of people? Money obviously. That's the reality."

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