If you haven’t had a chance to read Dr. AQ Khan‘s “Random Thoughts” column in The News today, you are missing out. In the piece, entitled, “Pleasant Memories,” the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb unveils his “special interest” in the Makrani people, an ethnic group of African descent [also known as the Sheedis] who live in Baluchistan and Sindh. He wrote,
They were an extremely jolly people, with shiny eyes and smiling faces. Most of the men worked at Keamari port, as guards at cinema houses or plied donkey carts for the transportation of goods. Those of us who have seen their donkeys have not failed to notice how healthy these are and how well they are treated. There seems to be an understanding between owner and donkey and this is apparent in every behavior. I noticed at the time that they would stop work punctually at 4 p.m., return home to rest for a short while and then take their donkeys to a place near our building and let them roll in the sand. After this they would brush them down, often hugging and kissing them in the process. Never once did I see a Makrani mistreating his donkey…
AQ Khan proceeds to discuss the Makrani and their donkeys for, oh, another five sentences – the Makrani donkey cart races, how they got the donkeys to speed up, the list goes on. He then goes on to describe the Makrani children. This is the line that got me, “Makrani children are extremely cute…They looked very much like African pikaninis with dark curly hair and shiny eyes.” [Pikanini or pickininy refers to an old derogatory term used by the plantation owners in the south of the United States to describe slave children.] Dear God.
It could very well be that AQ Khan, from the confines of his home, is launching a PR campaign to keep his status as “Pakistan’s hero,” alive [his personal website could be exhibit A]. However, this column is yet another failed attempt to re-brand himself as someone other than the man accused of selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Instead of humanizing himself in this piece, he comes across as clueless and ignorant, reminiscent of a batty distant relative you pray won’t make politically incorrect remarks at dinner. And this wasn’t his first faux pas. On August 19, AQ Khan’s column topic, “Science of Computers: part 1” was reportedly plagiarized from the University of Sussex, Imperial College London, and Cambridge University, [revealed in this letter to the editor, and covered in Ahsan's post at Five Rupees].
These columns form the backdrop of AQ Khan’s back-and-forth “he’s been released – no just kidding” narrative in the news media. News of a smuggled letter written to his wife Henny in 2003, unveiling Pakistan’s nuclear cooperation with China, Iran, Libya and North Korea and how Khan would be the fall guy, has added yet another dimension to the saga. The story, revealed by Simon Henderson in the Sunday Times, was so riddled with intrigue that it could spark a book deal and a movie spin-off.
In his recent Dawn column, Cyril Almeida wrote, “…there is another reason to worry if Khan remains in the media limelight: we will be unable to focus properly on present-day issues regarding nuclear doctrine, command and control systems and safety and security.” He added, “Perhaps what is needed to bury the issue …is for a concerted, public campaign to put Khan’s role in the nuclear program in the correct perspective. Unmask the ‘father of the bomb’ and diminish, accurately, his role and he may choose to stay quiet himself.” Given that the U.S. Kerry-Lugar Bill passed Wednesday, and such aid is partly contingent on Pakistan’s cooperation “to dismantle nuclear supplier networks,” this issue will likely crop up again.