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The return of Atomic Khan

The return of Atomic Khan
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First Published: Mon, Feb 09 2009. 10 30 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Feb 09 2009. 10 30 PM IST
The fantasy world in Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings rejoices when Luke Skywalker or Aragorn return. It’s eerily similar in real-world Pakistan, which is celebrating the return of its son of the soil, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Except, this return doesn’t foretell the victory of good over evil.
A.Q. Khan, the scientist who guided Pakistan’s nuclear programme, confessed in February 2004 that he was running a proliferation ring that transferred nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. The same month, then president Pervez Musharraf pardoned Khan, but placed him under house arrest. On Friday, Pakistan released Khan, in accordance with an order from the Islamabad high court.
The court held that the charges levelled against Khan for nuclear proliferation cannot be proved. Khan, earlier in 2008, had suddenly stated that his 2004 confession was fabricated under duress; Musharraf had forced him to act as a scapegoat. Yet, consider the prima facie evidence against Khan: revelations from Iran and Libya pointing to Pakistani scientists in 2003, and bomb blueprints the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recovered from Khan’s computers abroad in 2005.
It’s hard to gauge how truthful Khan is, considering an impartial investigator has never interrogated him. The US and IAEA have repeatedly asked Pakistan for permission. But Islamabad has insisted on taking charge of the investigation of its own citizen, and hasn’t moved a muscle to give international investigators access. Sounds familiar? Whatever one says about Pakistan, it never disappoints.
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on Sunday that Asif Ali Zardari’s government may now appeal the court decision. But as Dawn notes, this is possibly the result of pressure from the US and the UK, which aren’t pleased that Khan can roam freely. There’s a danger Khan may revert to his old proliferation tricks; if nothing else, his release encourages other rogue proliferators to operate with impunity.
The world shudders in fear, but Pakistan now hails Khan as the most revered national hero after Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the father of the nation, as one who is above reproach. Who will wake Pakistan up from its fantasy?
What will be the effects of A.Q. Khan’s release? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Feb 09 2009. 10 30 PM IST