Shakeup in Pakistan's Nuclear Program

NEW DELHI, INDIA--Pakistan has removed one of its top nuclear scientists as part of a major reshuffling of the country's nuclear weapons program. Observers see the move as a signal that the military government is trying to conform to global norms on the management of nuclear material as well as distance itself from a controversial figure regarded as the "father of the Islamic bomb."

Abdul Qadeer Khan, head of the country's major nuclear weapons research lab, is credited with setting up Pakistan's uranium enrichment facilities. This work enabled Pakistan to build the nuclear bombs that it exploded in May 1998.

On 10 March the government announced that Khan was being made special science and technology adviser to the chief executive, General Pervez Musharraf. Although the government labeled it as a promotion, Khan has said that he will not accept the appointment. "Khan was surprised at the news and is very unhappy," says Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor of high-energy physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. The government is also combining separate nuclear weapons research programs at Kahn's lab and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission under a new entity, the National Defense Complex, leaving the commission to manage civilian nuclear activities.

"It's a positive step forward in many respects," says David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington, D.C.-based arms control organization. "It puts a fence around the military program, and it makes possible an open and safeguarded civilian program. In addition, anything that takes Qadeer Khan out of the picture makes me happy."

Posted in Asia