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Pak army never controlled nuclear programme: Mirza Aslam Beg

Source: PTI
Last updated on: February 11, 2004 01:12 IST
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Former Pakistani army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg on Tuesday said the army has 'never been in control' of the country's nuclear programme, except in times of military rule.

Participating in BBC World's Hardtalk Pakistan programme, Gen Beg insisted that he knew nothing of the leaking of nuclear secrets by Abdul Qadeer Khan but has conceded that information was being passed on to other nations while he was in charge of the army between 1988 and 1991.

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"A Q Khan had never been answerable to army chiefs, whether it was me or the four army chiefs that came after me."

Asked who was controlling the nuclear programme at the time he was army chief, Gen Beg said, "It was the chief executive, Benazir Bhutto. The then president,

Ghulam Ishaq Khan, had been part of the programme since 1976 when Z A Bhutto initiated it and he remained with it until 1992, when he retired."

Beg said the current international anti-proliferation measures were unfair to Muslim countries. "It is duplicity, heartburn and humiliation of the Muslim world. What right does Israel have to have such capability, having more than 400 nuclear warheads when their neighbours don't pose any threat to them," he asked.

Describing Israel as a threat to the entire region, he said its neighbours should be allowed to own nuclear weapons. "They have a right to have the capabilities to defend themselves and their national interests," he said.

Questioned on an allegation by former US ambassador to Pakistan Robert Oakley that Gen Beg had talked to him about sharing nuclear know-how with Iran, he said, "If at all there were such an intention, I think Robert Oakley would have been the last person I could have talked to about such sensitive things.

"To be very honest, I never liked his face, because he as ambassador had been acting as a viceroy of Pakistan and I had to tick him off on certain occasions."

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Asked whether he was involved in Pakistan's nuclear programme being 'rolled back' by 95 per cent, Gen Beg said, "You must understand the language in this case. It is not rolling back. We brought it down from 95 per cent and above, which is weapons grade enrichment, to 5 per cent and below, which is commercial grade enrichment. It is not rolling back.

"And if you know how the centrifuge works, if you want to go up to 95 per cent, you have to keep the machine running for another two weeks and you'll have all the material you want."

He also justified his description of himself as 'an Islamic nationalist'.

"Is there anything wrong with it? And if you know my background, with all I am doing after retirement, I am heading a think-tank, which is the only one of its kind which is totally independent and autonomous, run by funds and resources that I created for myself."

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