Pakistan's disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan insisted on Friday that he never sold nuclear technology illegally and that he should have never made a confession to that effect four years ago.
Describing himself as "an innocent man", Khan told IANS on telephone from his Islamabad house that Pakistan's nuclear assets and weapons were "quite safe" and they could not be taken out of the country.
In one of his first interviews after the new civilian government eased restrictions placed on Khan in 2004, the man who mentored Pakistan's nuclear programme spoke at some length while claiming that he was feeling tired.
"I will tell the people of Pakistan why I was detained and how I was forced to make a confession over television making me the scapegoat (of Pakistan's proliferation of nuclear weapons)," Khan said, a day after he criticised President Pervez Musharraf for allegedly misleading the nation.
Khan said he was "forced" by "some elements" in the Musharraf-led government to confess in January 2004 to presiding over an illegal network supplying nuclear technology to such countries as North Korea and Libya.
He said he was told this would be in national interest.
"I think the confession was my mistake," he said, adding he was given a written statement to read. "I should not have read the written statement. I should have spoken in my own words and changed things."
He said he should have defended himself, but he did not realise that things would work out the way they did.
He said Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Senator SM Zafar of the erstwhile ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q had told him that no harm would come to him after the confession.
"I was assured that I would be a free man and be allowed to go anywhere I want," he said.
Khan said he was not part of any illegal or unauthorised nuclear deal. Asked if Pakistan did transfer nuclear technology to any country, he said: "People will come to know about the reality very soon."
In response to another question, Khan added: "I am an innocent man."
Soon after his January 2004 confession, when he "apologized" for smuggling nuclear bomb formula to other countries, Khan was pardoned by Musharraf but placed under house arrest.
He was not allowed to have contacts with anyone. Last week, the government eased some of the restrictions. Khan has been allowed to use the phone and receive guests although soldiers continue to guard his house.
"I may visit Karachi to meet my relatives," Khan said. "I am tired but am happy that people would be knowing the reality."
Khan, who was born in India and went over to Pakistan in 1952, five years after the birth of the Islamic country, said that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif used to send him greetings and well wishes when he was in detention.
He credited Sharif with making Pakistan a nuclear state in 1998.
"The credit (for nuclear tests) goes to Nawaz Sharif. If he had not done it, it might have encouraged India to launch some kind of attack against Pakistan," said Khan.
By gaining nuclear capability, Pakistan had become free of the fear of war with India.
Khan insisted that contrary to fears in the West, Pakistan's nuclear assets and weapons were "quite safe" and they could not be taken out of the country.
"We have a safe and good command and control system. Nobody can take away any nuclear weapon from Pakistan," he said.
The scientist said he was always one of the most hated persons in the eyes of the US and other Western countries "because nobody had expected Pakistan to acquire such a sophisticated and difficult technology".