British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says there is no evidence linking Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with the nuclear black market activities of scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
The comments came during Straw's visit to Islamabad, where he is seeking continued Pakistani backing to flush out Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda militants from their sanctuaries along the Afghan border.
Giving Musharraf a clean chit is being interpreted in London as a quid pro quo for allowing British special forces to work alongside US combat forces in search and destroy operations along the Pakistan border.
"There is no evidence whatever that the Musharraf government was in any way associated with what Dr Khan did," Straw said shortly after arriving in Islamabad on Friday.
"Dr Khan is a national hero in Pakistan and judgements were made by the Pakistan government that the best way to deal with him was to dismantle his network and essentially to disenfranchise him from any operation inside the Khan Laboratories, and he has been arrested and he is being interrogated, but decision about whether or not to pardon him was a matter for the Pakistan government."
Pressed about why the British government was not taking a tougher line with Musharraf, he replied, "The decisions about what happens to Dr Khan are matters for the Pakistan government, but he hasn't got away scot free. May I say what we are concerned about is that his network is broken up and we ensure the security of Pakistan and the other two countries that are not in the non-proliferation treaty -- of India and Israel's nuclear arsenals -- so that they are under much tighter international and national control."
On Thursday, the Nigerian defence ministry said it had been promised nuclear assistance by Pakistan, although a military spokesman in Islamabad subsequently denied that claim.
Separately, former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto has told rediff.com how jihadi elements have colluded with Musharraf to export sensitive nuclear technology.
Asked about Dr Khan's role, Bhutto replied, "Khan was asked to fall on the sword in the name of the national interest, which means cover up for Musharraf."
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