Pakistan's military ruler Pervez Musharraf brazenly lied that the world community had not asked for access to nuclear proliferator A Q Khan, fresh disclosures by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has indicated.
Officials of the IAEA on Thursday publicly rebutted Musharraf's claim in a television interview last week that "nobody" had asked to question Khan in connection with the spread of nuclear technology and materials.
"We have not been allowed by Pakistan to talk to the man," Mohammed ElBaradei, the Director-General of the Agency said in a BBC interview aired on Thursday.
Asked why then Musharraf had made such a statement, ElBaradei said: "I can tell my Pakistani friends that I will be happy to send a team tomorrow to talk to him if we can, absolutely."
In an interview with ABC World News in New York last week, Musharraf was explicitly asked by anchor Peter Jennings why he had not made Khan available to the US and IAEA for questioning.
"Nobody has asked, number one," Musharraf blustered, before bluntly saying that even if Pakistan was asked it would not make him available "because we have good interrogators" and because "it undermines our own capability." Musharraf also claimed to have "shared all the information that we have."
But the IAEA sees it differently. Although Pakistan had supplied information from the tests it had conducted, El Baradei said the IAEA needed results from its own testing to be able to draw definitive conclusions.
The IAEA is hamstrung by the reluctance on part of the US, which claims to be acting against nuclear proliferation, to back its demand to access Khan. Several American analysts have suggested that Bush is not pushing Pakistan on the Khan issue because he hopes Musharraf will deliver Osama bin Laden before the November 2 election to ensure him a second term.
Some commentators have gone so far as to warn that if the United States is attacked with nuclear weapons, its origins would most likely be Pakistan.
Describing US policy on Pakistan's proliferation as a "colossal mistake that could have devastating repercussions," the Chicago Tribune said in an editorial this week that "Bush can't let Musharraf off the hook. International authorities need to know everything Khan knows. In many ways, that's as crucial to the war on terror as finding Bin Laden." Several other American newspaper have expressed similar views.
But US officials have reacted to such concerns with total sang-froid, acknowledging that Washington has not asked for Khan , but not explaining why. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage have been Musharraf's biggest apologists amid a discredited US policy widely seen as having trumped up phony charges against Iraq while ignoring Pakistan's proliferation.
Several analysts have surmised that Bush is so intent on winning a second term with Musharraf's help that he is willing to wink at both Pakistan's nuclear proliferation and the issue of democracy in the country, the very grounds on which he carried the United States to war against Iraq.