Pakistan: Defector’s Tale a Con Job
NEW YORK (AP) _ If Iftikhar Chaudhary Khan is telling the truth, Pakistan has nuclear weapons aimed at targets in India and has considered a first strike against its neighbor.
Khan said Wednesday he knows this because he is a Pakistani nuclear scientist familiar with his country’s policy _ and he is willing to tell all to U.S. officials in return for political asylum.
But Pakistani officials called Khan’s story ``a complete con job,″ saying they instead he worked for a private, Karachi-based firm until last year when he apparently quit.
``No such scientist of any such name has ever worked in any of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s sensitive nuclear installations,″ the commission said in a statement today.
The commission has no such position as ``assistant research officer,″ the post Khan reportedly claimed to have held, Pakistani nuclear officials said, nor does it employ a person named Dr. Altaf Hussain, the man Khan says was his boss.
Khan, 29, said he was prepared to describe Pakistan’s nuclear program to U.S. officials in detail, including assistance that it has received from China and Iran.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was too early to assess the significance of Khan’s defection or verify his claim to be a former assistant to a Dr. Hussain.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said he had no information on Khan’s claims or contacts with government officials.
Khan told The Associated Press in an interview at his lawyer’s office in New York that he became alarmed after attending a top-secret meeting in April on Pakistan’s nuclear strategy. He said he heard officials and scientists discuss using nuclear weapons first because of fears that India was preparing an attack with Israel’s help.
Khan said he wrote a protest letter and was fired in late April. He received threats, he said, and left Pakistan in May, before nuclear tests conducted that month by both India and Pakistan.
Pakistan’s government at first said Khan was a low-level civil engineer who would not have had access to information about nuclear strategy. Salman A. Abbasy, spokesman for Pakistan’s U.N. mission, later disputed whether the man was indeed Khan.
Abbasy said there was an Iftikhar Khan in a low-level position at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission in the early 1980s, but he left soon after.
``We expected the Pakistani government to say that he was either not credible or that he did not have the information that he claims to have,″ said Khan’s attorney, Michael Wildes. ``He has the documentation to corroborate his claim.″
Khan arrived in the United States on May 22. He said he believes four other colleagues who also signed the protest letter left Pakistan at about that time for Britain. Khan’s wife remained in Pakistan and is being held against her will, Wildes said.
Khan showed reporters a Pakistani passport with a stamp that Wildes said signified high-security clearance, and a photocopy of what he said was Khan’s ID card from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Khan said the weapons program was hidden in a nuclear power plant.
Khan said he would turn over further documents to the U.S. government if granted asylum.
But Abbasy said the insignia on the ID card was not the commission’s. The identification lists the commission as part of the Ministry of Science and Technology, he said, but the two are actually separate agencies.
India set off five underground nuclear explosions in early May and Pakistan responded with six tests, heightening tensions between the south Asian neighbors who have fought three wars in the last 50 years.
Since the tests, India has proposed a ``no-first-use″ agreement with Pakistan, which has said repeatedly it won’t be the first to use nuclear weapons.
But Khan said Pakistan had nuclear-tipped weapons pointed toward India in a military facility near Punch and at Fort Abbas.
Wildes said Khan has documents showing that ``Chinese material including heavy water and weapons-grade uranium ... was being transported from China to Pakistan for use in their nuclear weapons program.″
The lawyer also said Khan saw Iranian scientists at key Pakistani facilities and ``read reports delineating Iranian and Pakistani exchange of nuclear information for oil.″
Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador, Ahmad Kamal, told ABC News that Kahn ``is talking nonsense. There is no such thing as a pre-emptive first strike by Pakistan against India.″
John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists said that while he had no knowledge of Khan’s background, his statements are plausible.
``The Pakistanis were concerned about the Indians launching an attack on their nuclear facilities that would prevent them from becoming a nuclear power,″ said Pike, whose Washington-based organization follows intelligence and arms control issues.
In London, a spokesman for the authoritative Jane’s Defense Weekly said Khan’s claims indicate ``a much higher level of tension between India and Pakistan than we had previously thought.″
``In fact,″ spokesman Paul Beaver said, ``the world was closer to nuclear war in May than at any time since the Cold War.″
Associated Press Writers Edith Lederer in London, Kathy Gannon in Islamabad and John Diamond in Washington contributed to this report.