Abdul Qadeer Khan, the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, has said that in 2000, under president Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani army supervised a shipment of centrifuges to North Korea.
The claim came on Friday, in a telephone interview with the Associated Press, and contradicts his 2004 confession that he was solely responsible for spreading nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Though Pakistan has also repeatedly denied that its army or government knew about Mr Khan’s nuclear proliferation activities, in his latest interview, he said that the army had “complete knowledge” of the shipment of used P-1 centrifuges to North Korea. He added that it must have been sent with the consent of Musharraf, who at the time was the army chief, and who seized power in 1999.
“It was a North Korean plane, and the army had complete knowledge about it and the equipment”, Mr Khan said. “It must have gone with his [Musharraf’s] consent.”
Pervez Musharraf being a key ally in the US-led war on terror, Mr Khan’s most controversial allegations, that have been reported earlier on Friday by Kyodo, the Japanese news agency, could deeply embarrass the Pakistani president and army.
Mr Khan’s claims have been rejected by Rashid Qureshi, Musharraf’s spokesman : “I can say with full confidence that it is all lies and false statements.”
Virtual house arrest
Army and foreign ministry spokesmen declined to give immediate comment.
For his key role in the programme that developed the country’s nuclear bomb in 1998, after several tests by rival India of its own nuclear weaponary, Abdul Qadeer Khan is seen as a hero by many in Pakistan.
Pervez Musharraf pardoned Mr Khan in 2004, after his confession and televised statement of contrition, but he has then been kept under under virtual house arrest, at his spacious villa in Islamabad.
But since February elections, when a new civilian government took power, eclipsing president Musharraf, the retired scientist has increasingly spoken out in the media.
When he was asked why he had taken sole responsibility for the nuclear proliferation, Mr Khan answered that his friends, including Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, a key figure in the-then ruling party, had persuaded him that it was in the national interest.
Mr Khan added that he had been promised complete freedom in return, but “those promises were not honored”.