Islamabad, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday pardoned Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, for illegally passing nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
In announcing his action to reporters, Musharraf insisted that Pakistan's military was not involved in the black-market sales. He also stressed that his nation's atomic efforts -- Pakistan is the only nuclear-armed Muslim country -- would continue.
"I will ensure that there will be no rollback of our nuclear program," Musharraf said.
Khan, a metallurgist who became a national idol by leading a top-secret program to build Pakistan's atomic bomb, confessed in a televised address Wednesday to transferring nuclear technology. He also petitioned Musharraf for mercy.
Last month, Musharraf vowed to "treat with an iron hand" anyone found guilty of spreading nuclear weapons technology. But faced with enormous public support for Khan and the possibility that a trial could lead to further embarrassment for Pakistan, Musharraf softened his stance.
"I, as president of Pakistan, have decided to pardon Dr. A.Q. Khan, who is our national hero but has made mistakes, which is unfortunate," Musharraf told Pakistani journalists.
He provided no details of Khan's pardon, such as whether the scientist would have to give up any of the millions of dollars he was reported to have received for selling the technology.
Many analysts had predicted Khan would escape punishment because of his popularity and because he could implicate senior military officers.