04 March 2004

Nigerian 'typo' stumps Pakistan with N-claim

4 March 2004
The Times of India

Nigerian typo stumps Pakistan with N-claim


NEW DELHI: Islamabad's run of disastrous luck on the nuclear front continued on Thursday with Nigeria first making — and then withdrawing — the stunning claim that a top Pakistani General, currently visiting the country, had offered its armed forces "military assistance, including nuclear power".

The claim — made in a Nigerian defence ministry statement about the visit of the chairman of Pakistan's joint chiefs of staff Gen Mohammed Aziz Khan — was reversed within 12 hours with the official spokesman, Bellu Nwachukwu, explaining away the original reference to "nuclear power" as a "typographical error".

While its writ lasted, however, the astonishing Nigerian "typo" sent a jittery Pakistani establishment — already reeling from recent revelations about the clandestine links between Dr AQ Khan and Libya, Iran and North Korea — into a rage. "We are denying it. This is baseless. (Gen Aziz Khan) said nothing of this kind," a Pakistani military spokesman said, angrily.

Nigerian military officials told The Times of India there was no question of any nuclear cooperation with Pakistan and that there had obviously been some "miscommunication".

They said Gen Aziz Khan had boasted of Pakistan's nuclear capability in his meetings with Nigerian defence minister Rabiu Kwankaso and chief of defence staff Gen Alexander Ogumudia and, separately, had offered to help Nigeria produce defence equipment. "But somewhere, these two things seem to have got mixed up. All you people from India and Pakistan speak too fast."

In India, external affairs ministry officials said it was evident there had been a misunderstanding. "It's true that General Musharraf has been trying to suck up to Nigeria because of the latter's opposition to lifting Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth. They have been offering all kinds of things but I don't think even Gen Aziz Khan would be mad enough to offer nukes to Nigeria at this time", an official said.

The bearded Gen Aziz Khan, who holds the same rank as Musharraf, is seen in some quarters as an anti-US, 'jehadi' General. Once close to Musharraf — he was the officer who effectively staged the 1999 coup which overthrew Nawaz Sharif while his boss was airborne — Khan has since been kicked upstairs in a move seen as having been done at Washington's behest.

As soon as the news of Gen Aziz Khan's alleged nuclear offer broke, Nigerian officials assured the Indian high commission in Lagos that there was no truth in the matter.

Nevertheless, the Indian defence attache is set to travel to Abuja on Friday to discuss the matter with the Nigerian defence ministry.

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