The decision, which came after a meeting of the country's political and military leaders chaired by President Pervez Musharraf, will shock a nation accustomed to revering Abd al-Qadir Khan as a hero.

"In the background of the investigations into alleged acts of nuclear proliferation by a few individuals and to facilitate those investigations in a free and objective manner, Dr AQ Khan, special advisor to the prime minister on strategic programme with the status of a federal minister, has ceased to hold the office," a government statement said.

Government officials told AFP on Friday that Khan was a primary suspect in the alleged transfer of Pakistan's nuclear data to other nations in the late 1980s and early 1990s through the international black market mafia trading in nuclear technology.

The National Command Authority (NCA), which controls Pakistan's nuclear establishment and army and air force strategic command, met on Saturday to discuss the investigation into the alleged leaks of national nuclear technology.

Investigation

It was the first time it had met since a government investigation was launched into the matter two months ago on the basis of information received from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
 

Protests were held in Pakistan
against arrest of nuclear scientists

The information provided to the IAEA by Iran referred to the possible involvement of Pakistani scientists and officials in selling nuclear secrets for personal profit.

Khan, who is credited with developing Pakistan's nuclear capability, has been questioned regularly since the investigation started.

Regarded as a national hero for helping Pakistan become a nuclear state in response to nuclear tests by India, the 66-year-old scientist has not been detained during the probe - unlike about a dozen other scientists and officials.

Five nuclear scientists have been exonerated by investigators while six other individuals, including three officials, are still being interrogated with the probe said to be on the verge of completion.
 
Condemnation

In a statement released after its meeting, the NCA condemned and distanced itself from individual acts of indiscretion in the past.

"Pakistan took its international obligations with the utmost seriousness and in this regard, the government condemns and distances itself in categorical terms from individual acts of
indiscretion in the past"

National Command Authority

It said Pakistan's nuclear capability was solely for deterrence against aggression and "it would never be in the national interest to share this technology in whatever form with any other country."

"Pakistan took its international obligations with the utmost seriousness and in this regard, the government condemns and distances itself in categorical terms from individual acts of
indiscretion in the past," the NCA said.
 
"With regard to the investigations, the NCA was informed that it was nearly concluded and appropriate action will be taken against those found guilty," it said.
 
In March 2001 Khan was relieved of the post of director general of the country's main uranium enrichment facility, Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), where he had served since 1976, and made a special government adviser on strategic and KRL affairs.