Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has vigorously denied a statement by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif that the country has developed a nuclear bomb. The statement came amid allegations by Germany of Pakistani involvement in plutonium smuggling from Russia.

Sharif told a public meeting in Kashmir on 23 August: ‘I confirm Pakistan possesses the atomic bomb.’ The government reacted with prompt and firm denial. ‘I want to say categorically and finally that Pakistan has not made nuclear weapons. Pakistan does not intend to make nuclear weapons. Pakistan does not believe in nuclear weapons,’ Foreign Affairs Minister Asif Ahmad Ali said. Bhutto called Sharif’s statement ‘highly irresponsible’.

Sharif made his statement after German authorities said they had found evidence linking a Russian plutonium smuggling operation to Pakistan. ‘The Berlin public prosecutor has evidence that indicates plutonium was sold to Pakistan or was supposed to be sold. This is still the object of our investigation – plutonium for Pakistan,’ Berlin’s Justice Ministry spokesman Frank Thiel said on 23 August. The government has strongly denied any involvement.

The incident has fuelled controversy about the government’s nuclear plans. The US administration says it believes the government has the capability to assemble several nuclear devices in a matter of weeks. India is demanding international action to put and end to the government’s nuclear programme. The US attempted to do this by imposing a ban on bilateral aid in 1990. However, the government has so far declined to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty or allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its facilities unless India does the same.