ISLAMABAD, May 29: Nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan has expressed regret over his confession made in 2004 and alleged that he has been ‘betrayed by his friends’ who had promised that nothing wrong would happen to him and he would live a respectable life.

In the first detailed interview since he was put under a virtual house arrest, Dr Khan said he had been made a ‘scapegoat’ and he had made the confession in the larger interest of the country.

“I think the confession was my mistake,” he told DawnNews TV channel on Thursday.

In reply to a question, he revealed that he had been given a written confessional statement to read. “I should not have read the written statement. I should have spoken in my own words and changed things,” he said.

He said he should have defended himself, but he did not realise that things would work out the way they did.

He said Pakistan Muslim League-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Senator S.M. Zafar had assured him that no harm would come to him after the confession.

“I was assured that I would be a free man and be allowed to go anywhere I want,” he said.

In response to a question, the 72-year-old Dr Khan said: “I am an innocent man, but I don’t want to indulge in any controversy.”

The scientist made his first public appearance on May 21 after a four-year detention when he visited the Academy of Sciences amid tight security.

The government is reported to have relaxed restrictions on him and allowed him to meet his friends.

He was arrested on Jan 31, 2004, under the Security Act for allegedly transferring nuclear technology and centrifuges to other countries.

When asked why he had come out now to claim that he was innocent, Dr Khan said he had thought that he should take the nation into confidence because the people of the country and those who knew the facts had started talking on the matter on the media.

He said former army chief Mirza Aslam Beg and former head of Inter-Services Intelligence Hameed Gul knew the details, some of which they had disclosed in their recent TV interviews.

When asked if he had been involved in leaking nuclear secrets to any other country, Dr Khan said he was not a part of any illegal or unauthorised deal in any way.

“This one sentence covers the whole thing,” he asserted.

On being asked if he was willing to speak to officials of US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency, he said: “Why should we. We are an independent country, we have not violated any international law, we are not signatory to the NPT, I am a free man, we have no obligation, then why should I agree to that?”

About his protective custody, he said he was not satisfied with the arrangement, but it was okay on the part of the government to restrict access to him. He said he had not been given any indication that restrictions on him were being lifted, but he was hopeful that he would be free one day.

“I am not in a hurry and I know that the

coalition government is presently sorting out its own worries. If I can bear four-and-a-half years of detention then I think we should let the government solve other problems and then come to my problem,” he said.

When asked if he was concerned about his security, he said: “I was never worried and I will never be worried. I was humiliated all over the world when my pictures were published in international newspapers. If I wasn’t afraid at that time, why should I be afraid now.”

Dr Khan termed the nuclear test conducted in 1998 ‘a good move’ under the circumstances and said the whole credit went to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. “If he had not done it, it might have encouraged India to do some misadventure. There was a general consensus to go for the nuclear test, the whole nation wanted it and it was done properly.”

He said that by gaining nuclear capability, the country had become free of the fear of a war and 500,000 Indian troops on the border did not dare attack it.

Dr Khan claimed that the country’s nuclear assets and weapons were quite safe and they could not be taken out. “We have a safe and good command and control system. Nobody can take away any nuclear weapon from Pakistan.”

The scientist said he was always one of the most hated persons in the eyes of the US and other western countries because nobody had expected Pakistan to acquire such a sophisticated and difficult technology.

“I see my future with my family, with my grandsons and daughters and I want to look after some welfare institutions I had set up at different places in the country with the help of expatriate Pakistanis,” Dr Khan said.

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