Bhutto slammed for offering access to A.Q.Khan


Islamabad : Exiled former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto came under a hail of criticism Wednesday for her pledge to give the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog access to disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan if she returns to power.

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“It’s the wrong statement at the wrong time, and its sole purpose is to please the United States,” Sheikh Rashid, Pakistan’s Railways Minister and a confidant of President Pervez Musharraf, told the Geo news channel.

Earlier, Bhutto told an audience in Washington that were she to again head the government, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be allowed to question Khan.

No Western government would, however, be granted access to the scientist, said Bhutto as she prepares to return to Pakistan from exile.

Khan, who headed Pakistan’s nuclear programme for three decades and is regarded as the father of its atomic bomb, made a televised apology to the nation in 2004 for his involvement in black market sales of sensitive technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Musharraf pardoned him in view of his services to the nation and placed him under house arrest at his home in an elite residential district of the capital Islamabad.

“Dr. Khan was our hero yesterday and he will remain our hero tomorrow,” Rashid said, adding that his government would never allow anyone to directly contact Khan.

Minister of State for Information Tariq Azeem noted that Khan’s activities had been fully investigated by Pakistani authorities, and said there was “no chance whatsoever” of Musharraf changing his stance on the matter.

“We cannot allow any outsider to come and investigate and open the case again,” Azeem said.

Bhutto said her Pakistan People’s Party would hold a parliamentary hearing to determine if Khan alone was responsible for selling country’s nuclear secrets to other states or “other elements were also involved”.

Some media reports have suggested that senior military officers and government officials collaborated with Khan in supplying centrifuges and other restricted material to foreign buyers.

Hardline Islamists and former members of the security services also shared criticism of Bhutto’s intentions. .

“She has now become a risk for the security and stability of the country,” said Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, a senior leader of the alliance of religious political parties, Muttahida Majlis-e-Ammal (MMA).

The ex-chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence military spy agency, Hameed Gul, described Bhutto’s statement as “shameful”.

“She is capable of selling her father’s grave to the US for power,” Gul told the Aaj news channel in a reference to the late prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who launched the country’s nuclear programme in the 1970s.

Bhutto, who served as premier twice in the late 1980s and 1990s, is due to return home on October 18 after an eight-year, self-imposed exile.

The Oxford-educated liberal leader has been in talks with Musharraf about her possible third-term appointment as prime minister in exchange for her party’s backing when he seeks re-election from parliament on Oct 6.

But the talks have so far not yielded results, prompting Bhutto to nominate her deputy, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, as a presidential challenger to the military ruler.