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Pakistani scientists taken away for 'debriefing'

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD DEC. 11. The reported ``disappearance'' of two top scientists from the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) has caused a stir in the political and media circles here.

The explanation by the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman that it was routine in nuclear weapons countries to ``debrief'' scientists engaged in nuclear-related matters has only added to the mystery.

It appears that the KRL director-general, Yasin Chohan, and the director of the laboratories, Farooq, were missing for the last one week and presumed to have been whisked away by personnel of some agencies. Reports talked about the involvement of at least two foreign sleuths who were part of the group.

The Pakistan Foreign office spokesman has said that those associated with sensitive programmes in Pakistan "are governed by a stringent personnel dependability and debrief programme. This is a normal practice, especially in nuclear weapons states. These people are aware of their responsibilities in terms of their efficiency and conduct."

He said under the programme, individuals might have to undergo debriefing sessions and "the matter referred to falls within the scope of this practice."

Asked if the laboratory officials have been picked in connection with reports of a possible cooperation in Iran's nuclear programme, the official said that as for Iran, there are reports about many sources from where it could have obtained nuclear technology. The focus should be on checking out with those sources. "We, for our part, are simply carrying out our own procedures," he said.

The combined opposition in the Senate on Wednesday condemned the reported arrest of two senior scientists at the behest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and demanded their immediate release.

Speaking at a joint news conference after walking out of the upper house en bloc, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Sharif) parliamentary leader, Ishaq Dar, said while the laboratory director-general was picked up on November 29, the director of laboratories was detained a couple of days back.

He alleged that the Government had surrendered to the U.S., and said the Finance Minister, Shaukat Aziz's visit to the laboratory before Gen. Musharraf's Camp David sojourn was also part of the same development.

"We have tried to contact the families of the detainees" but they were so scared that none could explain the circumstances in which these scientists were picked up. Mr. Dar said it was a pity that the rulers apparently were unaware of the importance of the deterrent, which had saved the nation from a number of external threats.

The deputy chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Khurshid Ahmed, has said the arrests had put the country's sole deterrent in grave danger and alleged that the Government was beating one hasty retreat after the other.

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