Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has granted a pardon to the founder of the country's nuclear program, who has admitted passing nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
President Musharraf says he pardoned Abdul Qadeer Khan because of his contribution to Pakistan's national security. During a news conference in Rawalpindi, President Musharraf called the scientist a national hero.
"There is a written mercy appeal from his side [Mr. Khan], and there is a written pardon from my side," said Mr. Musharraf.
The pardon follows Mr. Khan's dramatic confession and apology on television Wednesday, in which he absolved the government and fellow scientists of any responsibility for the leaks. He took full responsibility for the proliferation scandal.
President Musharraf said the two-month-long government investigation into the proliferation of nuclear secrets will not be passed on to any international agency, and Mr. Khan will not be handed over to any other country for further interrogation.
"This is a sovereign country," said Mr. Musharraf. "Nobody, no document will be given, no independent investigation will take place here, and we will not submit to any United Nations coming inside here. But if anyone in the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] wants to come here and ask us, and come and discuss whatever we have found and investigated, by all means we are open, we will tell them every thing."
President Musharraf dismissed suggestions the Pakistani government interrogated its top scientists under pressure from the United States. He defended the action against Mr. Qadeer Khan and his other colleagues, saying it saved the country from international sanctions and from being declared a rogue nuclear state.
"You cannot shield a hero and damage the nation," he said. "That cannot be done. So, the balance is required in protecting the nation first of all, and shielding your hero; and I thought the way we did it was the best way of doing it."
Critics say Mr. Qadeer Khan could not have sold nuclear secrets abroad, without the knowledge of top military officials. They insist he has been made a scapegoat.