On Wednesday, a very interesting interview in Pakistan’s The Nation garnered the attention of several Western media outlets. In the interview, published today by The Nation’s Urdu language newspaper, Nawa-i-Waqt, Pakistan’s infamous nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, (widely known as AQ Khan) said he hoped to be freed by the new Pakistani government and called his detention “illegal.” The Nation quoted him stating, “My health is deteriorating and the claims of the government about my physical well-being do not carry weight.” According to Khan, the major cause of his poor health has been his solitary confinement. Khan, “hailed as a hero by many Pakistanis for transforming the country into the Islamic world’s first nuclear power,” was placed under house arrest by President Pervez Musharraf after he confessed on television in early 2004 to passing nuclear secrets and materials to Iran, Libya, and North Korea, (he was later pardoned by Musharraf). According to the AFP, “He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006 and was hospitalized last month with complications.”
In his first “face-to-face” interview in four years, AQ Khan told Nawa-i-Waqt, “The real hooliganism is that I have been confined, and it is the cause of all my ills.” Khan also rejected the government’s assertions that he was kept under house arrest “for his own safety,” adding, “It is nothing but a lame excuse…It is simply irrational. I was roaming around the world freely at times when in 1979 numerous fake cases had been registered against me in Holland and I faced no security threat.” In the interview, Khan did not address his public confession made in 2004.
India and Pakistan both conducted nuclear tests in 1998, therefore garnering the title of “nuclear states.” According to sources, Pakistan is the first Islamic country known to have built an atomic bomb. Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister at the time, gained prestige from the nuclear tests. While campaigning for the February elections, the former PM indicated that AQ Khan should be freed from house arrest. However, a source close to the government told Reuters, “that he doubted Khan would be released any time soon, and the matter hadn’t been seriously raised during policy discussions.” The interview and potential responses are significant, regardless of whether you perceive AQ Khan in a positive or negative light. While the nuclear scientist garnered prestige following the 1998 nuclear tests, he was largely disgraced following his 2004 confession. Do you villify AQ Khan for turning Pakistan into a nuclear state, or do you glorify his achievements? Moreover, should AQ Khan be blamed for a government policy that allowed Pakistan to go nuclear in the first place? [Image courtesy of Reuters]