In the midst of a controversy over proliferation of nuclear technology, Pakistan's President Gen Pervez Musharraf on Friday turned the heat on the local media saying their write ups was harming the country and asked them to refrain from doing so in the national interest.
"These people (journalists) want to come in the limelight so that people realise their importance. But they say baseless things," a stern looking Musharraf told editors at a meeting in Islamabad.
Reading out the headlines in local newspapers, he said persistent articles accusing the army of involvement in nuclear proliferation did a disservice to Pakistan and asked the media not to write about it in the national interest even if the charges are true.
He referred to former army chief Aslam Beg as 'pseudo intellectual' for admitting in recent interviews that the uranium enrichment programme was scaled down drastically in 1989 following after a decision by the National Command Authority (NCA) to this effect in order to escape allegations of proliferation.
Musharraf claimed the NCA did not exist at the time and that the entire Pakistan nuclear programme was covert till he took over as army chief in 1998.
Moreover, he said, Gen Beg's admission that they scaled down the uranium enrichment programme showed that he, along with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, compromised with Pakistan's policy of achieving minimum deterrence (with respect to India).
For him, Musharraf said, Pakistan came first and everything else is secondary.
"In the first place, you (the media) should play a more responsible role in this matter and secondly, even if for the sake of argument it is accepted that the government and the army were involved in the (proliferation) affair, do you think it will serve our national interest to shout about it from the roof-tops?"
Till 1998, the president, the army chief and scientists were running the nuclear programme. "No one knew about this covert programme," he said.
At the same time, he put the blame of proliferation squarely on the shoulders of A Q Khan, whom he pardoned after the metallurgist publicly admitted to illegally transferring nuclear technology to several countries while absolving Beg and his successor Jahangir Karamat.
Both former army chiefs, however, have been questioned, Musharraf said.
If there is any danger to Pakistan's strategic assets, it is from unprincipled scientists, unwise politicians and imprudent columnists and commentators. These people are trying to prove that Pakistan is not capable of having such assets and should, therefore, be deprived of them, he said.
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