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Pakistanis sceptical of government's nuclear claims

Many in Pakistan are sceptical of their government's claim that it was not aware of top scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's role in selling nuclear technology.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2004 11:30 IST

Many in Pakistan are sceptical of their government's claim that it was not aware of top scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's role in selling nuclear technology, admits nuclear expert Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Hoodbhoy, who teaches physics at a university in Islamabad, spoke at a panel hosted here by the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, reports UPI.

The panel focused on the refusal of India, Israel and Pakistan to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Hoodbhoy of Pakistan, Gautam Adhikari of India and Avner Cohen of Israel spoke about their countries' nuclear capabilities.

Hoodbhoy, chairman of a non-profit organisation, said many Pakistanis were sceptical of the government's contention that it did not have knowledge of Qadeer Khan's active role in global nuclear trade.

Khan, the revered "father of the bomb" in Pakistan, was fired from his post of scientific adviser to the government around the time that he confessed, along with four others, to leaking nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya.

Pakistani security and military surveillance is too tight to have let Khan's dealings go unnoticed, Hoodbhoy said.

It would have been impossible for President Pervez Musharraf to ignore the hard evidence that the International Atomic Energy Agency showed him, he added.

"There is a serious credibility gap at the moment," he said. Hoodbhoy explained that there was a general feeling of anger, grief and betrayal in Pakistan directed towards the government for allegedly buckling under US pressure to persecute Khan.

If Musharraf had kept silent, Pakistan would have been sanctioned, leading the economy in a downward spiral. Hoodbhoy said that Musharraf was trying to do a balancing act to please his citizens and the international community.

Hoodbhoy also said it was "unfair" of the US to call for only select countries to produce nuclear fuels. He questioned the logic in monopolising nuclear production, saying that much of the world thinks the US acts without consideration of larger issues. "That creates a sense of outrage."

Gautam Adhikari, the former executive editor of the Times of India, said that there was mounting alarm over the direction in which Pakistan is heading.

He said India kept quiet about recent revelations in Pakistani nuclear proliferation for three reasons: India wants to maintain overall stability and does not want to impede upon Pakistan's recent peaceful overtures; India does not want to disturb the increasingly close relationship it has had with the US, particularly in light of the tensions that the two nations have had with each other for decades; and India is focusing on economic growth and being a great power.

Even if Musharraf knew nothing of Khan's activities, Adhikari said, it is highly problematic that the military purports to have known nothing, because the US and India have reported on nuclear proliferation in Pakistan for many years.

Despite India's military capacity, Adhikari said, India's advantage over Pakistan has been reduced by the fact that a nuclear bomb exists in Pakistan, by the uncertainty of where the bomb is located, and by the possibility of a non-state actor in the region acquiring the bomb.

Avnar Cohen, former co-director of the Project on Nuclear Arms Control in the Middle East, said Israelis view the subject of nuclear weapons in Israel as one not to be discussed.

The author of "Israel's Last Taboo" said Israel's official position of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons is ingrained in the national culture. "The issue cannot be discussed" in Israel, he said.

Israel is the sixth nuclear nation in the world, Cohen said, more in the league of France and Britain than India and Pakistan.

The US, he said, has taken a view of "exceptionalism" that Israel cannot be treated by the norms on nuclear proliferation, so the best approach is not to talk about it at all. Cohen said the US has a responsibility to disarm Israel.

"Unfortunately, this administration does not recognise this responsibility." Cohen admitted that it made some sense in the mid-1950s when Israel was in its infancy for the nation to tell others in the Middle East about its nuclear strategy and to obtain a nuclear bomb. Now, however, it makes little sense to still possess nuclear weapons.

Since the release of his book, Cohen has been threatened with arrest in Israel, been interrogated for hours about the identity of the few anonymous sources in the book, and otherwise intimidated by some "diehard people" in Israel.

Currently living in the US, he said he took pride in how he had brought a different viewpoint to the nuclear debate in Israel.