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Pakistan parliament approves nuclear controls bill
Updated: 2004-09-15 10:04

Pakistan's parliament passed a bill Tuesday tightening controls on the export of nuclear and biological weapons technology and missile delivery systems, part of efforts to curb proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Pakistan has admitted that Abdul Qadeer Khan, its top nuclear scientist revered as the father of its atomic bomb, smuggled nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya.

The scandal raised fears that weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of militants bent on terror attacks, as well as what Washington has called "rogue" states.

The National Assembly, parliament's lower house, adopted the bill on export controls on nuclear and biological weapons and their delivery systems.

"This law provides a framework to deal with sensitive technologies and proliferation," State Minister for Foreign Affairs Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar told the assembly.

"Pakistan respects its international obligations as a nuclear-capable state. This bill will further enhance Pakistan's image as a responsible nuclear state."

The Senate, or upper house, is expected to pass the bill later this week, before it is formally signed into law by President Pervez Musharraf. Its passage through the Senate should be a formality given a majority enjoyed by the ruling coalition.

"By adopting this bill, Pakistan would fulfill its international obligation and strengthen its credentials as a responsible nuclear weapon state," the bill said.

It envisages a prison sentence of up to 14 years or a fine of up to five million rupees ($85,000), or both, for anyone spreading nuclear technology or hardware, although this does not apply retroactively to Khan.

Khan, who made a televised apology for his role in the proliferation scandal in February, is closely guarded at his home in Islamabad, although authorities deny he is under house arrest.

Musharraf pardoned the popular scientist, who said he and a few associates acted alone. Western diplomats and analysts argue that he could not have acted without support from the powerful military.

International criticism of Musharraf for the scandal, and his decision to pardon Khan, was muted, perhaps in recognition of his key role in the U.S.-led war on terror.

But Pakistan has been under quiet pressure to strengthen the safeguards around its nuclear weapons program.

Pakistan vowed to develop the nuclear bomb after rival India exploded its first nuclear device in 1974 and conducted five tests weeks after India carried out its own tests in May 1998.

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