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July 2, 1998


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Fugitive Pak scientist lays bare plans to nuke Indian sites

Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr Iftikhar Chaudhry Khan, who fled to the United States to seek political asylum, has said that Pakistan has deployed nuclear weapons along its border with India and its warheads are ready.

In a television interview last night, he claimed that on April 25, he attended an extraordinary meeting of top Pakistani officials, including the foreign minister and the country's army chief of staff.

He said they decided, finally, that Pakistan would launch a nuclear attack on India and their first target was New Delhi.

He said the plan also included attack on Indian nuclear sites, using Pakistan's intermediate range missiles.

Dr Khan said the attack was to take place within three days at the end of April. Pakistani intelligence was convinced that India was preparing to launch a nuclear strike against Pakistan and their first target was Kahuta, which, he described as the mother source of atomic weapons and atomic research of Pakistan.

Dr Khan said the Pakistani government backed down only after he and four other scientists sent a joint letter to their boss, threatening to go public with the attack plan.

The Pakistani mission in the UN, however, denied that Dr Khan even worked in Pakistan's nuclear programme. ''Nonsense, there is no such thing as a pre-emptive strike by Pakistan against India,'' its spokesman said.

Dr Khan is now talking to American intelligence and he is applying for political asylum in the United States. He is currently in New York.

Later, state department spokesman James Rubin said, ''We have seen reports of a Pakistani who claims to have worked in his country's nuclear weapons programme and that he has asked for asylum. We have no information beyond what has been reported in the media that can confirm or deny this gentleman's story.''

''We have no comment on his (Dr Khan's) claims about Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme,'' Rubin said, adding, ''We do believe in general that the nuclear tests that took place have led South Asia in a dangerous direction.''

''We face a new and more dangerous security environment as a result of those tests. Both Pakistan and India are less secure and we want the two countries to work together to resolve their disputes,'' he added.

Pakistan has, however, dismissed allegations by a disgruntled scientist seeking asylum in the United States that it was planning to be the first to use nuclear weapons against India.

In an interview, Pakistan Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub called the allegations ''nonsense''. He said Pakistan had made ''elaborate plans'' to retaliate if India attacked its nuclear facilities. But there was no strategy of first-use, he said.

He reiterated those remarks in reports published in several English-language newspapers following interviews in the United States by Dr Khan, who says he was a nuclear scientist for Pakistan and now wants asylum in the United States.

Khan said he left Pakistan to protest plans last April to launch a first strike against India.

After both India and Pakistan conducted underground nuclear tests in May, the prospect of a fourth war on the volatile South Asian subcontinent left many certain it could escalate into a nuclear conflagration.

Ayub earlier said it is likely that another war would involve the use of nuclear weapons, although he indicated Pakistan believed India would be the first to fire one.

Meanwhile, in New York, Dr Khan said he was in on a high-level meeting of scientists last April, one month before the tests, where Pakistan decided on a first-strike strategy.

Government officials in Pakistan say meetings to decide combat strategy would not be open to scientists.

Dr Samar Mubarakmand, who led Pakistan's nuclear test team, said the only record of a Dr Iftikhar Chaudhry Khan working at the PAEC was 19 years ago and that man resigned.

He also said there was no position of assistant research officer at the PAEC, a post Dr Khan reportedly claimed to have held.

"Even if we did (have that position), an assistant research officer would come in at grade 16, and such junior officers are never invited to top-secret meetings,'' Dr Mubarakmand was quoted as saying. ''They don't even know what happens in those meetings.''


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