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Pakistan's Nuclear Scandal Raises Many Questions - 2004-02-07

Opposition parties in Pakistan are planning a parliamentary debate on the government's handling of Abdul Qadeer Khan, a nuclear scientist and national hero who admitted selling nuclear secrets to other countries. Opposition leaders say the controversy could bring international pressure on Pakistan to open up its nuclear facilities to outside inspection.

Opposition leaders say that unless a parliamentary inquiry is held, questions will continue to be asked about the authenticity of the confession by Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's top scientist and the father of the country's atomic weapons program.

Senator Farhatulla Babar, of the party of former Prime Minister Benezir Bhutto, says the government and the opposition must try to create a national consensus on the issue to counter expected external pressure.

"The international community might put pressure on Pakistan to further proceed in the matter and to expose all those who in addition to the scientists might also be involved," said Farhatulla Babar. "So you see it might be an unending process and nobody knows which way it will proceed and where it will end."

Following a two-month-long government investigation of nuclear scientists and security officials linked to Pakistan's nuclear program, the head of the program, Mr. Khan, confessed earlier this week on national television to selling nuclear technology information to other countries.

He said he acted alone, without the knowledge of any government or military officials. He apologized to the nation and asked for clemency. President Pervez Musharraf pardoned him on Thursday, accepting Mr. Khan's story and citing his contribution to Pakistan's nuclear program.

Critics, however, maintain the scientist could not have sold nuclear secrets abroad without the knowledge of top military officials. Talat Hussain, a columnist and political commentator, says the rest of the world will not be satisfied with the scenario presented by Mr. Khan and the president.

"For the Pakistani establishment to think that the international community is going to think that this is enough for them is really not true," he said. "There will be more questions that will be raised in the future about Pakistan's nuclear program."

U.S. Secetary of State Colin Powell said after the pardon was announced that this was Pakistan's internal affair, but he said nevertheless that he intended to ask President Musharraf about it.

But Pakistani officials dismiss calls from abroad for an international debate on the scandal. Foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan insists the investigation is an internal matter.

"The buck stops here in Pakistan," he said. "The matter won't be debated elsewhere. Pakistan is dead against proliferation and that's why we conducted these investigations and brought them to closure."

Mr. Musharraf has said that Pakistan will not hand over any documents or allow United Nations supervision of its nuclear weapons program.