NEW DELHI--Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf today pardoned Abdul Qadeer Khan, the architect of the Pakistani nuclear bomb who confessed yesterday on national television that he sold nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. Questions remain about whether Khan acted alone.
Dubbed the "father of the Islamic bomb," Khan headed the main nuclear weapons laboratory of Pakistan--the Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta--from the mid-1970s until 2001. He is credited with orchestrating the set up of Pakistan's hi-tech uranium enrichment facilities. Announcing the pardon at a press conference in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, President Musharraf called Khan "a national hero."
The investigation into the alleged proliferation has been under way since last November when Pakistan, prompted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), decided to investigate how Pakistani nuclear know-how could have reached Iran and Libya. Four senior Pakistani nuclear scientists, including Khan, subsequently have been detained by Pakastani authorities for what has been described as "debriefing."
In a televised confession on 4 February, Khan said "errors of judgement" led him to divulge nuclear technology secrets. "It pains me to realize this in retrospect that my entire lifetime achievement of providing foolproof national security to my nation could have been placed in serious jeopardy on account of my activities," he said, adding that "there was never ever any kind of authorization for these activities by the government."
However, not everyone buys the argument that Khan acted alone and without the knowledge of the government. "The transfer of nuclear technology is impossible without explicit permission from the security apparatus that constantly surrounds the nuclear establishment, installations, and personnel," says Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor of high-energy physics at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan. Khan is likely to be only the "tip of the iceberg," IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said today in a statement. "He was not working alone."
ElBaradei said that the IAEA is investigating individuals and companies operating in at least five countries that the agency believes are involved in a black market for nuclear weapons technology. "It is key now to dry up the supply and to investigate whether any other countries got nuclear supplies from this network," ElBaradei said.