ISLAMABAD, Feb 1: Dr A.Q. Khan, who is credited to have set up Pakistan's nuclear programme, has admitted to having transferred nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya , authoritative sources disclosed in a background briefing to Dawn on Sunday.

Abundant evidence to the effect is also said to have been extracted during the almost two-month-long 'debriefing' of most of the top scientists and officials of the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), the sources said.

Dr Khan is also said to have accepted the allegation about transfer of nuclear technology to these three countries, in a signed 12-page document which he had submitted to the authorities a few days ago.

"Earlier Dr A.Q. Khan was avoiding to accept the allegation of proliferation but later admitted during four intense sessions of two hours each," the sources said, adding that the latest session in this regard was completed on Sunday.

About the fate of Dr Khan and other officials of the KRL, the sources said the National Command Authority would decide whether to formally charge Dr Khan and try him in court or simply take administrative steps.

Immediately following the conclusion of the 'debriefing' a heavy contingent of army was deployed around the residence of Dr Khan.

The government is said to have also concluded that it was a huge intelligence lapse as those who were charged with safeguarding the country's nuclear secrets were found to have failed miserably to detect such a massive leak over such a long period.

"Everybody knew ours was a covert programme and every successive government and security agencies overlooked allegations about Dr Khan's assets in the interest of the programme and because of the trust in his person, who without any doubt was a towering personality," the sources said.

Newspaper reports have already given a long list of property and bank accounts alleging that Dr Khan had owned all of them in his own name.

In view of all these evidence plus the unearthing of technical details during the 'debriefing' the officials are said have concluded that Dr Khan did sell the country's nuclear secrets to other countries for personal gains. However, the sources denied that Dr Khan indulged in the proliferation for money. "Dr Khan was motivated enough to make other Islamic countries nuclear power also so that intense Western pressure on Pakistan's nuclear power could be eased," he said.

President Gen Pervez Musharraf is said to have been briefed on the whole saga and he is expected to take the nation into confidence soon after Eid.

In a related development, the government has decided to allow relatives of the detained scientists to visit them for one hour on Eid day (Monday) while the court had fixed the visiting hours from 9am to 4pm.

Six nuclear scientists were placed in "protective custody" following accusations of passing nuclear technology to Iran and Libya, the Pakistani military said on Sunday, adds dpa. However, sources denied that Abdul Qadeer Khan, had been arrested. Dr Khan "is very much at his place. We just enhanced his personal security because he is a high-profile personality," sources added.

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