- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan yesterday fired the revered founder of the country’s atomic program from his job as a top adviser and confined him to his home after a probe into the sale of nuclear technology to Iran and Libya.

The moves against Abdul Qadeer Khan — considered a national hero for giving Pakistan its nuclear deterrent against India and the Islamic world its first atomic bomb — came as investigators narrowed their pursuit of nuclear scientists’ black market ties to the two countries’ nuclear programs.

Opposition Islamic parties called the action against Mr. Khan baseless and said they would take to the streets in protest against what they labeled yet another case of President Pervez Musharraf caving in to the West.

Mr. Khan hasn’t been placed under arrest, but authorities have told him to remain at his Islamabad home for security reasons and increased security around him, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said. Six other scientists and security officials also have been detained.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Mr. Khan could face criminal charges, or whether other scientists or military officers from Khan Research Laboratories — the heart of Pakistan’s nuclear program, renamed for Mr. Khan in 1981 — would face punishment.

Mr. Khan was dismissed as a scientific adviser to the prime minister “in the background of the investigations into alleged acts of nuclear proliferation by a few individuals and to facilitate those investigations in a free and objective manner,” the government said in a statement.

At a meeting yesterday of Pakistan’s National Command Authority, which controls the country’s nuclear assets and is chaired by Gen. Musharraf, the military said officials were informed that the investigation “was nearly concluded and appropriate action will be taken against those found guilty.”

Officials have said Mr. Khan and a top aide — Mohammed Farooq, one of those detained — have failed to account for money in personal bank accounts. Scientists at the lab purportedly used the same black market contacts who helped them build Pakistan’s nuclear program to profit by spreading the technology to other countries.

Mr. Khan had held the adviser position, a Cabinet-level post, since 2001 when he retired as head of the nuclear lab.

Pakistan, which had repeatedly denied charges of proliferation, began its investigation in November after revelations by Tehran to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Born in present-day India in 1935, Mr. Khan emigrated to Pakistan in 1952, five years after its partition from India. He earned a doctorate in metallurgy in Belgium.

Mr. Khan worked in the Netherlands at a subsidiary of the British-German-Dutch nuclear conglomerate URENCO in 1972-1976 before returning home to start Pakistan’s nuclear program, which tested its first nuclear device in 1998.

In 1983, a Dutch court convicted Mr. Khan in absentia of stealing confidential material from URENCO and sentenced him to four years in prison. He denied the charge and the conviction was later overturned on a technicality.

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