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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Pakistan holds nuclear scientists
Shaheen I missile on parade in Pakistan
Pakistan's nuclear programme has been controversial
Pakistan is reported to be holding two nuclear scientists over alleged links with Afghanistan's ruling Taleban regime.

Sultan Bashir uddin Mahmood was arrested in Lahore, officials confirmed, and is believed to be in protective custody with fellow nuclear scientist Chaudhry Abdul Majeed and another scientist.

Pakistani missile capable of carrying nuclear warhead
Nuclear tests led to sanctions against Pakistan and its neighbour India
Mr Mahmood and Mr Majeed are retired senior officials of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and helped the country to become a nuclear-armed power.

Military spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi told news agency AFP that they were investigating links between the Taleban and a non-governmental organisation engaged in relief work in Afghanistan set up by Mr Mahmood.

"Mahmood had been visiting Afghanistan and we are simply investigating the contacts that exist between his relief agency and the Taleban," Mr Qureshi said.

"His detention has nothing to do with any nuclear aspect."

Contact with family

Asim Mahmood, Mr Mahmood's son, said the family did not know on what charges his father had been arrested.

He said his father was loyal to Pakistan and had informed his family that he was safe.

Energy commission sources told the news agency AP that Mr Mahmood's links with Islamic groups and his pro-Taleban sentiments had drawn scrutiny from Pakistani security agencies.

nuclear control institute
The scientists were senior figures in the nuclear programme
A senior Pakistani official told the BBC there was absolutely no suggestion that either of the two men were in any way involved in passing on information about Pakistan's nuclear programme either to the Taleban or to Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaida movement.

Mr Mahmood has called for a ceasefire in the American-led attacks in Afghanistan.

He was a project director in the lead up to Pakistan's nuclear tests in May 1998 and won the prestigious Sitar-e-Imtiaz civil award for his work.

But he resigned after the then government agreed to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which he said would wreck Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme.

America led the world in imposing economic and military sanctions on Pakistan and India following their tit-for-tat nuclear tests but withdrew them after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf agreed to back US-led military action in Afghanistan.

Mr Musharraf recently gave an assurance that Pakistan's nuclear assets were "in safe hands".

John Large, independent nuclear expert
"Pakistan has an early nuclear programme"
See also:

02 Aug 01 | South Asia
Briton 'sent nuclear parts to Pakistan'
04 Aug 00 | South Asia
Pakistan's nuclear advert 'mistake'
20 Mar 00 | South Asia
South Asia's nuclear race
16 Oct 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Pakistan
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