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Afghan war gave 'space' to Pak to prepare N-bomb by 1984: Khan

WASHINGTON (PTI): Pakistan was ready to test a nuclear bomb as early as 1984 as the US overlooked its clandestine atomic programme in the initial years due to Islamabad's involvement in the American-led Afghan war against the Soviet Union, disgraced scientist A Q Khan has revealed.

"...given the US and European pressure on our programme, it is true that had the Afghan war not taken place at that time, we would not have been able to make the bomb as early as we did," Khan said in an interview to an Urdu Pakistani TV channel, a copy of translated version of which was obtained by 'secrecy News of the Federation of American Scientists'.

Khan, who was slapped with sanctions by the US early this year on charges of proliferation of nuclear technology to "rouge" nations, also said that Sri Lankan Muslims based in Dubai were suppliers of the nuclear material and equipment to Pakistan and to Iran and Libya.

Khan said Pakistan was ready to test a nuclear weapon just six years after it first began to enrich uranium. "It was 6 April 1978 when we achieved our first centrifugal enrichment of uranium... We had achieved 90 per cent (enrichment) by early 1983," he said.

"I wrote a letter to Gen Zia on 10 December 1984, telling him that the weapon was ready and that we could detonate it on a notice of one week," Khan told Aaj News TV in the interview, which was translated from Urdu by the Directorate of National Intelligence's Open Source Centre.

But Zia ul-Haq, the military ruler, decided against testing the bomb, observed Khan, who was put under house arrest by the previous Musharraf regime from which he was released early this year.

"We were allying with the United States in the Afghan war. The aid was coming. We asked Gen Zia and his team to go ahead with the test, but they said they could not conduct the test as it would have serious repercussions."

"They argued that, since the United States had to overlook our nuclear programme due to our support in the Afghan war, it was an opportunity for us to further develop the programme. They said the tests could be conducted any time later," Khan said and maintained that "the war had provided us with space to enhance our nuclear capability."

"The credit (for the nuclear bomb) goes to me and my team, because it was a very difficult task, which was next to impossible," the Pakistani scientist said.

He also said that Sri Lankan Muslims based in Dubai were suppliers of the nuclear material and equipment not only to Pakistan but also to Iran and Libya. "Be it Libya, Iran, or Pakistan, the same suppliers were responsible for providing the material through the same third party in Dubai," Khan said.

"It was a company with which we had established links when we could not receive the material from Europe. They were Sri Lankan Muslims," Khan said in his interview in Urdu, aired in Karachi on August 31.

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