| Abdul Qadeer Khan
Karachi, Feb. 15: The Pakistani scientist behind a worldwide blackmarket in nuclear technology is involved in high-stakes brinksmanship, refusing to hand over potentially incriminating documents demanded by the Pakistani authorities.
The documents and a tape-recorded statement, which are said to demonstrate that senior Pakistani army officials — including President Pervez Musharraf — were aware of Abdul Qadeer Khan’s nuclear-proliferation activities, are believed to have been smuggled out of the country for safe keeping by the scientist’s daughter, Dina.
Pakistani intelligence officials said that Khan first agreed to surrender the documents in return for a blanket pardon, but has failed to do so.
They believe that his daughter is prepared to disclose their contents if legal action is brought against him by the country’s military government. Last night Khan, 68 — a national hero in Pakistan — remained under house arrest in Islamabad. More than a week after President Musharraf granted the scientist clemency after he confessed to selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, he is still in legal limbo.
Pakistani officials said he faced 24-hour surveillance for the rest of his life.
The country’s foreign office confirmed that the pardon granted to Khan was conditional. “It is not a blanket pardon. It relates only to his television confession,” said Massoud Khan, a spokesperson.
The pardon was granted on the grounds that Khan “had co-operated with the investigation begun by the government in November last year, and that he will continue to co-operate”. It would not extend to any activities that may yet be revealed as the investigation into Khan’s actions continues.
The spokesperson said that the scientist should accept that the security restrictions would continue “indefinitely”. He added: “What we have ensured is that he and his network of associates would never again be able to operate. They have effectively been demobilised.”
Intelligence officers, however, said the scientist remained resistant. “The government has been trying to retrieve the documents since Khan was offered a presidential pardon last week but they are yet to receive them, even though he promised,” one official said. He said the government had decided to negotiate a deal with Khan only after it found out his daughter had left Pakistan with the potentially incriminating material.
The scientist is said to claim that all the chiefs of army staff since 1977, including the then General Musharraf, were aware of his actions. The discovery derailed plans to put the scientist, and a number of his associates, on trial over their role. Last month three senior government officials, including the head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, held meetings with Khan in which they convinced him to apologise unconditionally and surrender the documents in return for a pardon.
“The government’s concern was genuine,” said one intelligence official. “First because they were unaware of the exact nature and details of these documents, and second, because of Khan’s knowledge of all the secret nuclear dealings. “If his daughter reveals this secret information in retaliation, it could create problems both for the country and its nuclear programme,” he said.
Meanwhile, relatives of six scientists who worked with Khan, and are being detained at undisclosed locations without access to lawyers, yesterday accused the Pakistani government of indulging in a cover-up to protect the country’s military from scandal. They said that they would present evidence tomorrow to show that the scientists could not have smuggled plans or components from nuclear research laboratories without being detected by soldiers or by the ISI.