Video: Scandal in Pakistan

By Tom Brokaw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/8/2004 1:25:47 PM ET 2004-02-08T18:25:47

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program, admitted on television this week that he had sold nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea and asked for forgiveness. Khan, a scientist, was a national hero for bringing Pakistan into the nuclear club in the early 1990s.

Immediately after his confession, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf pardoned him and chastised the news media for raising too many questions. And apparently, the Pakistani people agree.

A protest was organized in Pakistan by an Islamic group opposed to many of Musharraf’s policies, and it warned him against punishing Khan.

For his part, Khan’s carefully worded television apology, taking full responsibility, appeared to be part of a deal.  Musharraf appeared the next day with a full pardon — and high praise for the man who sold the secrets. “He’s a multinational hero,” he said.

In almost any other country, this would be a great scandal — but not Friday, in Pakistan.

Among the people of Pakistan, this nuclear scandal has caused barely a ripple.  They’re too busy getting on with their daily lives, and besides, they still think of Khan as a national hero.

Nuclear standoffHow has it come to this in Pakistan?  One answer is national and Islamic pride in having an atomic bomb, especially since India, right next door and Pakistan’s bitter rival, is also a nuclear power.

Another explanation is the real power in Pakistan is the army — the generals. No one crosses them, and it is widely believed former army chief of staff Mirza Aslam Beg knew what Khan was up to.

Beg denies there was talk at his level of suspicions that Khan was spreading Pakistan’s nuclear technology. “No, no there was no information, no report,” Beg said.

Does he think it is appropriate that Khan not be punished in any way?  “That’s the decision that comes from the Cabinet, which the president announced the other day,” said Beg.

But since Khan confessed to it and acknowledged it, should he continue to be revered as a hero if he sold the secrets which were dear to his country?  “Confessions under duress is not evidence. No confession. It has to be before a court of law,” Beg said.

Kamran Khan, a political analyst and journalist, sees it another way, “Nobody catches the army. Army always gets away, and I don’t think anything can happen here within this country that will make the army accountable. They’re never accountable.”

Then there is President Musharraf, the former army general who took power in a coup and aligned himself with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. He insists he didn’t know Khan was selling the world’s most lethal technology.

And apparently he doesn’t want to know any more.  He’s rejected any suggestion of an outside investigation.

“We don’t do that. This is an independent nation, and we don’t get involved. Nobody comes inside and checks our things. We check them ourselves,” Musharraf said.

Apparently, Khan got very rich from selling the nuclear secrets from this poor country to the other nations. It's estimated that he made tens of millions of dollars, which he's invested throughout the Middle East.

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