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Nine Pak nuclear scientists abandon jobs

By Shyam Bhatia in London
Last updated on: February 13, 2004 15:55 IST
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Nine nuclear scientists have abandoned their jobs in Pakistan and secretly taken up jobs in foreign countries where the pay and working conditions are better, Pakistani exiles have told

The scientists are all engineers who were previously employed at the Chashma nuclear power plant built with Chinese help in central Pakistan.

Their exodus represents the frustration experienced by the nuclear community as a whole that has come to a head following revelations about the emperor-like lifestyle of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb.

Khan's luxury lifestyle included 24-hour access to a Pakistan Air Force transport aircraft, as well as extensive real estate holdings in Pakistan and London. A hotel in Timbuktu was also purchased in his wife's name.

At one point he was so awash with funds that he was able to purchase a US$400,000 Teflon tent and fly it over for his daughter's wedding reception.

Unlike Khan the Chinese-trained nuclear engineers at Chashma are required to work a 77-hour week and earn less than Rs 20,000 per month at a non-family station. Many are denied routine access to a telephone because they fall into a category that is rated below Grade 20.

The frustrations of the Chashma engineers are symptomatic of much wider dissatisfaction within the Pakistani nuclear work force, including those employed within the top secret uranium enrichment facilities in Kahuta and elsewhere.

Some of these underpaid and overworked members of the nuclear fraternity have assisted in the process of leaking details of Khan's lifestyle, which they believe is inappropriate for a developing country.

The complaints of the nuclear experts are now being looked at afresh by the Pakistani government, which is concerned that many more could leave for better paid jobs in foreign countries. Others could be vulnerable to offers of employment from terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda.

Meanwhile Pakistan has confirmed the continued detention of six nuclear scientists and officials blamed for leaking sensitive items including secret codes to foreign governments.

They have been identified as Mohammad Farooq, Nazir Ahmed and Naseemuddin, as well as retired military officers Islam ul-Haq, Sajawal Khan Malik and Iqbal Tajwar.

A statement by the Pakistan Interior Ministry says the six men employed by the Khan Research Laboratories run by have 'been engaged in nuclear proliferation' for many years.

The full statement accused the scientists of 'directly or indirectly passing onto foreign countries and individuals secret codes, nuclear materials, substances, machinery, equipment, components, information, documents, sketches, plans, models, articles and notes etc'.

It added their activities had 'seriously prejudiced the defence, external affairs and security of Pakistan'.

The ministry's statement follows petitions filed by the families of the six calling for their immediate release.  Relatives say their treatment contrasts sharply with the care lavished on Khan who last week admitted his role in black market operations and asked for forgiveness.

President Pervez Musharraf also subsequently agreed to pardon him.

Pakistan's Nuclear Bazaar

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Shyam Bhatia in London