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|July 3, 1998||
Experts pick holes in runaway Pak scientist's claims
The United States has no information to support Pakistani scientist Iftikhar Chaudhry Khan's claim that Pakistan was planning a pre-emptive strike on Indian nuclear facilities and said, ''We note significant discrepancies in his story as reported in the press.''
State Department spokesman James Rubin made this statement in reply to a question during his regular briefing in Washington yesterday.
Meanwhile, The New York Times quoted a company director as having said that the ''self-proclaimed defector from Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme is not a scientist at all, but a low-paid accountant for a company that makes bathroom tiles".
Khan, who is seeking asylum in the United States, told the media on Wednesday that he had been at an April meeting -- weeks before India and Pakistan set off nuclear tests -- in which Pakistani military leaders decided a nuclear attack against New Delhi within 48 hours.
Khan had also said he was ready to provide the United States with sensitive, secret information about Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, including the presence of Chinese and Iranian scientists.
The daily quoted Azad Gulzar Sheikh, a director of Forte Trading Co, as having told Pakistan State Television Islamabad and other Pakistani news agencies that until last fall, Khan had worked as an assistant accountant for his company, which makes ceramic tiles and bathroom fixtures.
Sheikh said that Khan had worked for the company between August 1993 and November 1997. He had a bachelor's degree in business practices, Sheikh said, and made about 10 dollar a month.
The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission issued a statement calling Khan's story ''baseless, malicious, fabricated and concocted.''
''No such scientist of any such name has ever worked in any of the PAEC's sensitive nuclear installations,'' the statement said.
The American government appeared dubious about Khan's claims ''and we note significant discrepancies in his story, as reported in the press", Rubin added, without elaboration.
Speaking without knowledge of the latest Pakistani denials, several experts in the area said they were troubled by a number of details in the story told by Khan.
These apparent contradictions led Michael Krepon, an expert in the strained military relations between India and Pakistan, to describe the account as ''eminently disbelievable.''
Krepon, of the Henry L Stimsom Center in Washington, was particularly sceptical of Khan's report that at a meeting on April 25, Gen Jehangir Karamat, Pakistan's chief of army staff, gave the ago-ahead for a nuclear attack on New Delhi, after hearing intelligence reports indicating that an Indian attack on Pakistan's nuclear sites might be imminent.
Krepon dismissed the account, and described Karamat as a ''most level-headed, cautious, buttoned-down individual".
Khan asserted that Pakistan had deployed missiles with nuclear warheads on the border, near Poonch in the Kashmir region and at Fort Abbas, roughly parallel to New Delhi. ''That's pathetic,'' Krepon said. In the Poonch area, he said, "the terrain is completely inhospitable to nuclear weapons deployment''.
In any case, he said, there was little reason for Pakistan to deploy missiles near the border -- where they would be vulnerable to attack -- because it now has a superior medium range missile, the Ghauri.
Like Krepon, George Perkovich of the W Allen Jones Foundation and the author of the forthcoming book India's Nuclear Bomb, was dubious about the role attributed to Karamat, saying that, "People I respect here say he is one of the most sober, responsible leaders Pakistan ever had.''
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