A story of international dimensions broke in Islamabad, when the High Court ordered the release of nuclear scientist and father of Pakistan's atomic bomb Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan from house arrest, on February 6, 2009 after five years of detention. His unexpected release sent jitters around major nuclear powers in Europe and America. EU and US both have informed Pakistan government of their serious concern over the release of Dr Khan which they think may revive the proliferation of nuclear technology.
PM Gilani explained that restrictions on Dr Khan's movement have been lifted by the government on the orders of the Islamabad High Court with no involvement of the government while his Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar naively declared that Dr Khan's release has come about as a result of an agreement between the government and the judge in his chamber. This statement not only reflects awfully badly on the lack of communication between the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues, but also more seriously on the government's interference in a court case and the integrity of the judge who succumbed to the government's pressure.
The defence minister's divulgence of an official secret of an internationally sensitive issue and involving a High Court judge in a backdoor deal is most unfortunate and calls for a disciplinary action against the minister for violating his oath of secrecy. The present government which already has a wide credibility gap has been further compromised in a matter of great international importance which might lead to a lack of trust about Pakistan's claims that its nuclear assets are in safe hands.
As soon as restrictions on Dr Khan were removed, he came out of his house and spoke to the media at length. So the government imposed some restrictions back on Dr Khan. Once again he is not allowed to move around freely and talk to the media. What happened to the orders of the Islamabad High Court? May God help us!
The architect of Pakistan's nuclear programme, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had a whirlwind tour of Islamic countries in January 1972, which I had the good fortune to cover for Pakistan Television. The most important port of call was Libya where Mr Bhutto had talks with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. He directed that I should record an interview of the Libyan president before departure. As I was preparing to record the interview, the two leaders were having a conversation about the need for the Muslim countries to have nuclear capability for their own defence. Mr Bhutto said in a light mood, if rich countries like Libya provide us financial assistance, Pakistan would try to acquire nuclear capability. This was an off the record remark which was not covered in Gaddafi's interview, but it was the first step towards Pakistan's nuclear programme, which the western media named "Islamic bomb."
Mr Bhutto was determined following the detonation of a nuclear device by India in 1974 to develop Pakistan's own nuclear weapon as early as possible. He called Pakistan's nuclear scientist Dr Khan from Vienna for this purpose. The Libyan money and uranium started flowing in. The rest is history.
Pakistan was pursuing its nuclear programme under the supervision of Dr Qadeer Khan. The dream was realised when under the leadership of PM Nawaz Sharif Pakistan conducted on May 28, 1998 its first nuclear explosion at Chaghi hills in Balochistan but Mr Bhutto was not alive to see Pakistan's nuclear tests, which was the fondest dream of his life.
As luck would have it General Musharraf overthrew the Nawaz government in a military coup on October 12, 1999, America started building pressure on Pakistan that Dr Khan, who was believed to have built a worldwide network for the proliferation of nuclear technology to many countries particularly to Iran, Libya and North Korea, should be arrested and handed over to the US for interrogation by their intelligence agencies.
When Musharraf was on a tour to America their Intelligence chief George Tenet presented to him documentary proofs of Dr Khan's nuclear proliferation activities which were very convincing and looked dangerously true. This is the same Tenet who invented the **** and bull story of weapons of mass destruction possessed by Iraq. On the basis of this lie Bush invaded Iraq and later had to eat his words. When Musharraf came back from US he confronted Dr Khan with these proofs and asked him to confess his guilt on television. A suitably worded statement was given to him which he read out on prime time TV. Immediately afterwards, he was taken into custody and put under house arrest in Islamabad incommunicado.
This is the official story. But it is not convincing and nobody in Pakistan believed it. Dr Khan is a "hero" who is revered for his contribution in making the country's defence impregnable. Mr Musharraf knew it. Had he handed Dr Khan over to US intelligence goons, he would have put his own rule in jeopardy. He found a clever way via media convincing Dr Khan to take the entire blame on himself and he would not be handed over to the US.
America after 9/11 terrorist attacks on its soil was so scared and frustrated that it did not want any developing nation, particularly, any Muslim nation to have access to nuclear technology which may again threaten the US in the backdrop of terrorist attacks on New York's Twin Towers by a group of Muslim militants. Musharraf became the closest ally of Bush in his fight against terrorism and assured him that he would eliminate Dr Khan and keep Pakistan's nuclear assets under his personal command and control.
Despite his confession five years ago, did anybody believe it then and even now that Dr Khan alone, without the permission and connivance of the successive governments of Zia, Benazir, Nawaz and Musharraf, could operate a highly sensitive and extremely dangerous network of nuclear proliferation to Libya, Iran to North Korea. Impossible. He made frequent visits to these countries. Is it possible that he did so without the knowledge or permission of the governments he was serving? Impossible.
Now that Dr A Q Khan is free to narrate his epic story, one would like to request him to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. And God would help him. No doubt it will be the world's best seller; and another feather in his cap.