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Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Washington, 25 Oct. (AKI/DAWN) - The technology provided to North Korea by the illicit nuclear trafficking network headed by Dr A.Q. Khan was meant for developing civilian nuclear energy and not weapons, says a senior Pakistani military official. "Dr Khan says that the North Korean programme was for developing fuel for civilian purposes,” said a senior official in a background briefing on the country’s nuclear strategy at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington. Khan, considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear programme, has been under virtual house arrest since his February 2004 confession that he was running a secret network of nuclear proliferators.

US intelligence reports also confirm the Pakistani claim, saying that the test North Korean conducted on 9 October was plutonium based, while Pakistan uses uranium for producing nuclear fuel.

The Pakistani official, who has extensive familiarity with the country’s nuclear infrastructure, focussed on three key points during his presentation: the ugly proliferation chapter of the past will never be repeated, there’s no possibility of religious elements taking over Pakistan’s nuclear assets and the country’s nuclear weapons are no threat to the world.

The session reflected Pakistan’s concerns that the activities of the Khan network were in the spotlight again after the North Korean nuclear test.

The official, who could not be quoted by name under the ground rules of the briefing, conceded that the network run by Khan, still a revered figure in Pakistan for his role in developing the country’s nuclear arsenal, ‘cast a long shadow’ over Pakistan’s image. “We have years of baggage to shed.”

The official urged Pakistan’s “friends and allies” not to doubt the country’s determination to pursue a foolproof nuclear policy, outlining institutional and policy safeguards on nuclear technology that Pakistan has imposed since its 1998 nuclear tests and since the unravelling of the Khan network.

The official warned that the proposed Indo-US nuclear pact was a “one-sided deal” that could prove “counter-productive for US strategic objectives” in South Asia if Islamabad was not offered a similar arrangement.

He advised US policy-makers to make their nuclear policy “criteria-specific and not country-specific” as the proposed Indo-US deal was, highlighting that Pakistan has to expand its energy production by 800 per cent if it wants to maintain the current pace of economic development.

The official acknowledged that non-proliferation experts in the West continued to worry about Pakistan’s capability to prevent future proliferation while some also feared that if the Musharraf government collapsed, religious extremists might become the custodians of the country’s nuclear weapons.

He said the region that now comprises Pakistan does not have a history of violent takeovers and the Pakistan army is a professional force built on British professional standards. “There is no possibility of an extremist takeover.”

He confirmed that US nuclear specialists had been providing technical advice and some “off-the-shelf” basic equipment to aid Pakistan’s non-proliferation efforts, but stressed that Pakistan had total say over what help it accepts.

“Some say that Pakistan has surrendered its nuclear sites to the Americans. Others say that Pakistan is not doing anything to prevent proliferation. Both are wrong. The reality is somewhere in between.”

The official said that Pakistan also protected its national interests during the probe into the Khan network of proliferators. “We made it clear that it is the network that is under investigation and not Pakistan’s nuclear programme.”

He added that for “reasons of national sensitivity,” the father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme could not be made available for direct questioning but can continue to be questioned through Pakistani intelligence agencies.

“We receive questions (from foreign governments) and send the answers back to them,” he said.

“Whatever Mr Khan says, we don’t add anything and we don’t subtract anything” when relaying his replies to the questioners, the official said, adding that Dr Khan sometimes refused to talk.

“Even if we were to allow foreign agencies to interrogate him, it will serve no purpose. He can simply refuse to talk, as he sometimes does with us. How can you make him talk? He is a national hero, he cannot be tortured.”
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