Transcript: Renegade Pakistani offers view of weapons proliferation

This interview with A.Q. Khan was conducted by McClatchy special correspondent Saeed Shah in Islamabad. It was edited for brevity.

Q. Why do you now regret the confession you made?

A. At that time, promises were made and I never doubted they would be kept. Now people say that you could have refused like Iftikhar Chaudhry (the deposed Pakistani chief justice). I say, 'Look, Iftikhar Chaudhry had an example of mine in front of him, I did not have the model of Iftikhar Chaudhry in front to me at that time.' I never believed that the promises made would be so blatantly reneged upon.

Q. What were the promises made?

A. Unconditional pardon, free movement, respect, all those things.

The moment I made the confession at the TV station, and I was coming home, I said, 'Okay, from tomorrow I will lead a normal life.' But as soon as I entered the house, there were guards outside. They said, 'Sorry, you cannot go out, you cannot meet anybody, your children cannot come, your daughter cannot come from England.'

Q. What did you think the confession would achieve?

A. I thought it was in the best national interest. Sincere friends said, 'Get it over with, it won't affect your image or anything'. I thought at least Pakistan will be safe. But today, it's in a terrible mess.

Q. What do you say about allegations of proliferation, selling technology?

A. They're bullshit and concoctions. All the sellers and the suppliers were in Europe. When we started our programme in 76, when I came back from Europe, all these suppliers were there. I had lived in Europe for 15 years. I was a scientist. I knew these companies. Very often I had interaction with them. When I came here (to Pakistan) I contacted them, they had all the plants and designs and everything. They started supplying us. Over the years we became good friends.

When Iran and Libya wanted to do their programme, they asked our advice. We said 'okay, these are the suppliers, who provide all'. This was very small advice. You see such plants are a huge undertaking. I said go the suppliers. These are the same suppliers who can supply to you who supply to us. I said these suppliers are reliable. Because they've supplied us. The things were good, proper. They were working.

I advised them. What's wrong with it? I became the "ringleader" of the network. But the suppliers were there already for 20 years. They were the suppliers in the market.

It came in the international press. The Swiss president. They destroyed all the files related to nuclear exports. Openly standing in front of the international press, he said that the papers we found with our suppliers, were a complete centrifuge design, complete enrichment plant drawings, complete weapons drawings.

Now, if they have those drawings, the Germans have those drawings, the South Africans have those drawings, French have those drawings, they were the suppliers, You can't blame me for it. They were selling. They were making money. Why put the blame on me? The fact that I brought them (Libya and Iran) into contact with the middlemen?

Q. But how did the Iranians and Libyans get the expertise?

A. The same drawings I had, they had those same drawings. ... It was given to us (for instance) by the Germans, It was given to them by the Germans.

Q. Were you being supplied openly?

A. Up to the end of the 70s, there were no restrictions. Everything was open. We would get letters of credit. ... All European (companies), later the Europeans used subsidiaries in South Africa, before Apartheid went down. From France we bought a lot of things. I used to go to France. Even from the United States. From Switzerland, Germany. Even from Holland. With the knowledge of the government. Now I have become the black sheep. They (the companies) were not violating the rules.

Q. Did you put North Korea in touch with the same suppliers?

A. I am really at a loss to understand Western journalists, to know what is happening.

North Korea, right from the beginning, was one of the closest partners of Russia. All the North Korean scientists and engineers studied in Russia. I went twice, but thanks to a liar, they say that I went 13 times. The North Korean program is totally based on reactor reprocessing plutonium. They had mastered this technology even before we started. I told my government when I saw their system, they have excellent technology, they are much more advanced than we are. And they have very sophisticated designs. On how it put it on a missile, we were negotiating with them. We got this missile. We knew there was no reason for them to take from us anything. The (North Korean) bomb exploded, everyone is satisfied that it was a plutonium bomb. Nothing to do with enriched uranium. Their whole programme is based on plutonium. We got it (missile technology) officially. There's no secret about it. Everybody knew.

Q. When do you think you will be able to tell your side of the story fully?

A. Some day that time will come. No problem.

Q. How could it have been you alone?

A. They all got away scot-free. Knowing who's who and who's where. Truth never dies. Truth comes out, you see like Iraq. These lies of Bush and Blair and Cheney. These nuclear weapons and connections with al Qaida. All turned out to be totally false.

Q. Why did they pick on Pakistan and on you?

A. If you become so subservient, even a child can jump and sit on your back. If you have no pride and you become a crony and a stooge, this sort of thing happens.

I am a Pathan (a Pakistani ethnic group). I can take a lot of things. But my wife is European. And my children and grandchildren, my family, my daughter could not come for one whole year.

Q. Have you had any indication that the security around you will be eased?

A. I haven't seen anything so far. But the world survives on hope. Be hopeful and happy because it is almighty Allah who gives you the courage to face and who gives you hope.

Q. Do you think you were targeted and Pakistan was targeted because this is a Muslim country?

A. When was any pressure put on India? The Americans were giving them a package for a civil nuclear program. Muslims were the only religion, which threatened the Western civilization. We went right up to Vienna, up to Moscow. Even today, they are still the same, in their heart of hearts. They hate Muslims. They hate Islamic culture. Every Muslim is a terrorist.

Q. Do you feel that Pakistan's nuclear programme can be called an Islamic bomb?

A. Why not a communist bomb? Why not a Christian bomb? The problem is ignorance in the West. Everybody accepts this language (of Islamic bomb).

Q. Do you think that the Pakistan's bomb saved it from India?

A. There's not an iota of doubt in it. If we did not have it, Pakistan would not have survived until now. When I wrote to Mr Bhutto (prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), in '74, after the Indians had exploded their device ... I said prime minister, "Your goose is cooked if you don't respond. I can give you in writing, there won't be Pakistan in 10 years time".

Q. What year did Pakistan have the technology, the bomb?

A. '84 the device was ready for explosion. I gave it in writing to General Zia that we could explode it at a week's notice.

Q. How big an achievement was it?

A. This thing was done 30, 40 years ago in the West. It's a miracle in Pakistan, where we can't even make a bicycle chain, where we can't even make a sewing needle. In this country, where there is no infrastructure. Nothing. It is a big achievement, to get this (nuclear) capacity within seven years.

Q. Will you talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency or American investigators?

A. Why should I? Are we their colony? We are not even a signatory to the NPT. There are no international laws that force anybody to comply. Cooperation with the IAEA is voluntary. Whatever they wanted to know, they know. The Pakistani government told them everything.

Q. What do you make of these accounts of your life and work?

A. As somebody said to me, you see the West will never forgive you. I broke their monopoly. I am the black sheep for them. I destroyed their total monopoly over this technology. And being a Muslim country, we're the only Muslim country, which managed to do it. So they will tarnish me, left, right.

Q. Do you think Pakistan's nuclear program should be put under civilian control?

A. The problem is that civilian governments haven't been strong enough.

Q. How do you reaction to allegations that you made a lot of money?

A. Even the government could not find a single shred of proof that I made any money or had any money. It is such a vicious character assassination campaign against me. If there is any truth in it, it would be on the front page. Nothing. We did not come to make money. I came with a mission. I was earning very well, I had an excellent life there, and was holding highly respected job (in Europe). To save Pakistan from blackmail, threats, and even from destruction.

Q. What do you hope to be allowed to do, if you were given your freedom?

A. My only interest is the various institutions I have set up and I am the chairman. I want to attend their meetings, see how they are functioning. If there is a problem, help them.

Just to look after them, educational institutions. In Mianwali, a very backward area, I put up a polytechnic there. I put a mental health hospital in Karachi. Although I am not young any more, I don't want to run around.

Q. Has the new Pakistani government told you anything?

A. You see the new government is in a real fix. What they've got on their plate is a real mess. They have to sort that out before they can look in my corner, and therefore I'm not saying anything. I don't want to put them under unnecessary pressure. I have waited enough. I can wait a bit more.

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