ISLAMABAD, Feb 16: The government on Monday ruled out any compromise on the country's nuclear deterrent after opposition parties in the Senate voiced fears of harm from what they saw as wrong handling of the ongoing proliferation issue.
"Pakistan is out of a dangerous stage," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told the upper house after more than four hours of debate on opposition adjournment motions on the issue, crediting President Pervez Musharraf for what he called reassuring the world even at the risk of his life that Pakistan was a responsible state fully capable of handling its nuclear technology.
A total of 18 senators took part in the debate, which started late in the evening and went into late night, most of them being from opposition parties. They accused the government of mishandling the issue and questioned its position of blaming only scientists for the alleged transfer of nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea through a global black market network.
Most opposition speakers cast doubts over the government's case against nuclear scientists, including Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the country's nuclear bomb. They called for a more credible investigation and an open trial.
Several of them saw a possibility of involvement of other organs of the state, who oversaw the nuclear programme. But there were no real fireworks as both sides of the political divide had agreed not to exploit what they called sensitive matters bearing on national security. Some suggested in-camera debate.
Sheikh Rashid reiterated Pakistan's position, saying that neither the government nor any of its institutions was ever involved in nuclear proliferation since the start of the country's nuclear programme in mid-1970s, adding that it would not happen in the future as well.
But while assuring the opposition parties that the ruling coalition felt as strongly as they about the national security, he said: "Anybody casting an evil eye at our nuclear technology will have his eye gouged." However, he said Pakistan would "fully" cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency "in the mandate given to it by its board of governors," helping it break up the international black market network.
"Pakistan would like to reiterate that as a responsible nuclear state, we are alive to our international responsibilities," the minister said in a prepared statement, that was punctuated with his usual off-the-cuff oratory.
"We totally share international concerns on proliferation and condemn all (such) acts in the strongest terms. It has never been a state policy to share our (nuclear) capability with any other state or individual.
"We would like to reassure the world community that having taken strict cognizance of proliferation acts of the past at our own initiative, the government of Pakistan has taken strong measures to eliminate the possibility of recurrence of similar activities in the future," he said.