Media outlets are reporting that Abdul Qadeer (AQ) Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, was freed from five years of house arrest by a court and immediately declared that he can now “lead a normal life.” According to the Guardian, “In an interview with the Guardian after this morning’s court ruling, the metallurgist said he had no plans to travel abroad or engage in domestic politics. Looking relaxed and well, the 72-year-old strolled in the front garden of his plush villa in Islamabad, playing with a pet dog and receiving well-wishers.” He later told the news agency, “It’s a nice feeling, the worry is gone. I can lead a normal life now, as a normal citizen. It’s a fine feeling.” Khan was placed under house arrest by former President Musharraf after confessing to passing nuclear secrets and materials to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. However, after last year’s parliamentary elections, which effectively ended the Musharraf era, Khan began speaking to the media by phone, saying he had been made a scapegoat for others involved in the scheme to sell Pakistan’s nuclear technology, [see CHUP’s coverage of his interview with The Nation last April]. [Left image from Reuters]
The NY Times commented on the decision to release AQ Khan in its coverage, reporting, “The court that lifted the travel restrictions on Dr. Khan…is a new court of limited legal jurisdiction established under the former president, Pervez Musharraf, and it appeared that the move Friday was as much a political decision by the civilian government as a legal one.” The Times cited Talat Masood, a retired Army general, who asserted the move served to pacify “the powerful conservative lobby in Pakistan,” [since AQ Khan is still widely regarded as a national hero] adding, “This has taken away pressure on the government…It has brought good will on the government because of his [Khan’s] popularity.” The Daily Times’ Rafia Zakaria told the Times, “A.Q. Khan’s release is a good symbolic move that is likely to restore faith in the civilian government’s bid to sustain its sovereignty…Something which is essential if Pakistanis are to believe that the war on terror is not just being fought at America’s behest and is something in their own interest.”
How has the international community reacted to today’s development? The BBC’s Barbara Plett in Islamabad stated that despite Friday’s ruling, Dr Khan’s proliferation activities still arouse international concern, although Pakistan regards the case as closed. And, according to The Nation, France has voiced their “unease” with the court’s decision. Foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier noted, “We know what role Mr Khan and his network played in the spread worldwide of nuclear technology for military use. We hope that this release will not lead to the pursuit of these activities which are illegal, dangerous and very worrying for international security.” However, when news agencies asked Dr. Khan to comment on the international reaction to his release, he exclaimed, “Are they happy with our God? Are they happy with our prophet? Are they happy with our leader? Never…I don’t care about rest of the world. I care about my country. [President Barack] Obama cares about America, not about Pakistan or India or Afghanistan.”
AQ Khan will still have to give 48 hours notice if he wants to leave Islamabad, but indicated today that he has no intention of traveling abroad. According to the Guardian, “He said he might travel to Karachi, where his siblings live, or to visit friends in Lahore, but he had no wish to go abroad, except for a pilgrimage to Mecca. American and UN weapons experts have repeatedly said they want to question him about his alleged proliferation activities and he would risk arrest if he went overseas,” [see related post on sanctions placed on Khan’s alleged proliferation network].
Despite these international concerns, it appears that today will be AQ Khan’s day in the sun, as supporters thronged his residence to congratulate him on his release. Khan waved to cameras, and asserted to reporters, “There are no winners, no losers. I think it has been a good judgment at least I have got some [of] my freedom.”
**Interesting note: Check out AQ Khan’s official website, which I believe was recently launched, [someone correct me if I’m wrong]. Clever timing.