The father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb has vigorously defended the program as sparing his country the fate of Iraq or Libya, amid signs that Islamabad is ramping up its weapons capacities. Writing in Newsweek magazine, Abdul Qadeer Khan said that Pakistan's nuclear weapons had prevented war with historic rival India, which he accused of pursuing a "massive program" due to ambitions of superpower status.
"Don't overlook the fact that no nuclear-capable country has been subjected to aggression or occupied, or had its borders redrawn. Had Iraq and Libya been nuclear powers, they wouldn't have been destroyed in the way we have seen recently," Khan said.
Khan also argued that Bangladesh would not have won independence in 1971 if Pakistan had nuclear weapons. India supported Bangladesh's independence, which came after a nine-month struggle that was harshly put down by Pakistani forces.
Many Pakistanis regard Khan as a hero for building the Islamic world's first nuclear bomb. India and Pakistan carried out nuclear tests in 1998.
He admitted in 2004 that he ran a nuclear black-market selling secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. But Khan later retracted his remarks and in 2009 was freed from house arrest, although he was asked to keep a low profile.
Western powers in March launched a military campaign against Libya over concerns of violence against civilians. Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi agreed in 2003 to end his nuclear program and tried to reconcile with the West.
Pakistan has been increasingly worried about its nuclear program after US forces on May 2 managed to enter the country covertly to kill the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, who was living in the garrison city of Abbottabad.
Khan lashed out at Pakistanis who contend that the country, which suffers grinding poverty and receives billions of dollars in US assistance each year, cannot afford its nuclear program.
"The propaganda about spending exorbitant sums on the nuclear program circulated by ignorant, often foreign-paid, Pakistanis has no substance," he wrote.
But Khan also said that Pakistan's "incompetent and ignorant rulers" never devoted enough resources to development, which he argued should have been easier due to the protection ensure by nuclear weapons.
While Khan said he was not familiar with the latest developments in Pakistan's nuclear program, Newsweek published a commercial satellite image that appeared to show expedited construction at the country's Khushab nuclear site.
The Institute for Science and International Security, which assessed the image, said it showed "significant progress" on a fourth reactor. A frame of a building was now visible, which did not appear in a picture taken in January.
The Washington-based think-tank said that plutonium from the new reactors would allow a "dramatic increase" in production, potentially allowing Pakistan to double its annual production of nuclear weapons.
Pakistan is the sole country blocking talks in the Conference of Disarmament that would lead to an international agreement banning production of new nuclear bomb-making material.
Pakistan said that Senator John Kerry, on a mission to Islamabad to ease tensions in the wake of bin Laden's killing, assured Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that the United States had no designs on taking over the country's nuclear arsenal.
"He said that he can write this with his blood, that we have no interest in Pakistan's nuclear assets," Gilani's office said in a statement.
But the statement quoted Kerry as hoping that Pakistan's nuclear weapons would be "well-protected and secure" under a "proper command and control system."