"I offer my deepest regrets to a traumatised nation'
Former head of Pakistan's atomic weapons programme confesses on television that he traded nuclear secrets
James Astill in Islamabad Thursday February 5, 2004 The Guardian
The father of Pakistan's atomic weapons programme last night admitted on national television that he had illegally traded nuclear secrets to other countries.
Contradicting reports from recent days, Abdul Qadeer Khan also claimed that he had done so without the knowledge of the government.
Speculation is now mounting that Dr Khan may not be prosecuted. A former army chief, Mirza Aslam Beg, an ally of Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, yesterday told the Guardian he believed Dr Khan would have to be kept out of court "because he knows too much". Mr Beg added: "If [Dr] Khan had appeared in a court of law many things would have come out. That is very dangerous for President Musharraf."
The startling admission by Dr Khan follows an investigation - pushed upon Mr Musharraf's regime by evidence gathered from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the CIA - which strongly implicated him.
Dr Khan, 69, returned to Pakistan in 1976 after studying in Europe to lead the country's nuclear programme, and finally became special science and technology adviser to the president before being sacked last month. He has been accused of helping Libya, North Korea and Iran to develop their atomic weapons programmes.
In yesterday's broadcast, he said: "I take full responsibility for my actions and seek your pardon. I offer my deepest regrets and unqualified apologies to a traumatised nation."
He said that the evidence presented to him by investigators had left him with little option. "The investigations have established that many of the reported activities did occur and these were inevitably initiated at my behest ... I have voluntarily admitted that much of it is true and accurate. I also wish to clarify that there was never ever any kind of authorisation for these activities by the government."
Diplomats and analysts consider it unlikely Dr Khan could have transferred nuclear technology without the knowledge of the country's military elite.
Now that the mastermind of Pakistan's nuclear-weapons program stands revealed as a venal scientist who sold nuclear weapons technology to the likes of Libya and North Korea, the country can be expected to change course and adhere to a more-disciplined weapons policy. Pardon us if we don't hold our breath. In today's Pakistan, it appears, this is asking too much. In fact, only one day after an ostensibly penitent Abdul Qadeer Khan accepted blame for his roguish behavior, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, pardoned Dr. Khan. Even as Gen. Musharraf decried the scientist's actions, he called him a hero and declared that Dr. Khan would not face prison or a fine or any other punishment.