( To be read in continuation of my article of July 6,2008, titled "A. Q. KHAN GAGGED, THREATENED WITH IN CAMERA TRIAL" at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers28/paper2760.html )
How trustworthy is Pakistan? This question, which has always been bothering the mind of the international community, should acquire evengreater compelling urgency after the news broke out in Islamabad that Chief Justice Sardar Muhammad Aslam of the Islamabad High Courthas freed on February 6,2009, A.Q.Khan, Pakistan's nuclear scientist, from the house-arrest in which he was placed by former PresidentPervez Musharraf in 2004 after the US and other Western countries gathered evidence of his involvement in the proliferation of nucleartechnology and equipment to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
2. While repeatedly turning down requests from the Western countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna forpermission to have him interrogated by an independent team of international experts, Musharraf had him placed under house arrest afterextracting a confession from him regarding his involvement in proliferation activities. Musharraf had been repeatedly saying that he and theother scientists, who had collaborated with him in his proliferation activities, had been thoroughly interrogated and that the details obtainedfrom them shared with the IAEA and the Western Governments. He also maintained consistently that this was a rogue operation by A.Q.Khanand a small number of scientists close to him and that the State of Pakistan and its rulers were not involved in it.
3. The restrictions imposed on A.Q.Khan by Musharraf applied to his movements anywhere in the country and banned any interactions byKhan with journalists. Musharraf's action came in for strong criticism not only from the Islamic fundamentalist and jihadi organisations, butalso from sections of mainstream political opinion like the followers of Nawaz Sharif, the chief of the main faction of the Pakistan MuslimLeague. The Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI), headed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman, which is a member of the present ruling coalition headed byPrime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani, was among those demanding Khan's unconditional release.
4. Before her assassination on December 27,2007, Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), had been saying that ifshe came to power she might allow Khan to be interrogated by IAEA experts if they had strong evidence which justified such a step.Surprisingly, after her assassination there were no more references to this issue either from President Asif Ali Zardari or Gilani or otherleaders of the coalition. One of the issues taken up by the Islamic fundamentalist parties, including the JUI, during the election campaign,which preceded the February 18,2008, elections to the National Assembly, was the removal of the restrictions imposed on Khan.
5. After the coalition took over, in response to pressure from the JUI and others, the Government eased some of the restrictions imposed onhim by Musharraf, such as the curbs on his meetings with friends and journalists. Taking advantage of this, some journalists, includingthose of the Associated Press of the US and the Kyodo News Agency of Japan, managed to interview him in his house. He reportedly spokefreely and alleged that Musharraf and the Army were totally in the picture about his nuclear and missile dealings with North Korea.
6. This created considerable embarrassment for the Government and even alarm that he might similarly try to implicate other leaders. TheGovernment denied his allegations and reimposed the ban on his meeting the journalists. On November 20,2008, Khan had filed before theIslamabad High Court a quo warranto writ petition , requesting the court to direct the authorities to let him know under what grounds hehad been placed under house arrest and various restrictions had been imposed on him.In his writ petition, he denied that he had indulged inany criminal activities. The court forwarded the petition to the Interior Ministry for comments, which were submitted by the Ministry to thecourt on February 5,2009. It is understood that the Deputy Attorney-General of the Government of Pakistan told the court that theGovernment on its own was reconsidering the restrictions placed on Khan by Musharraf and was negotiating with him regarding certainconditions under which these could be removed or eased.
7. After studying the reply of the Interior Ministry and the oral submission of the Deputy Attorney-General, the Chief Justice ordered onFebruary 6,2009, the release of Khan from his house arrest since there was no evidence of any criminal activities against him. It isunderstood that in return for his release, Khan has given an undertaking to the court and the Government that he would not travel outsideIslamabad without the prior permission of the Government.
8. Welcoming the order of the court, Khan told journalists: "All this has happened because of the keen interest taken by the President, thePrime Minister and especially [Internal Security Adviser] Rehman Malik, who has looked into the case, reviewed it, discussed it with theGovernment and with the concerned authorities." This would clearly indicate that the initiative for his release and for easing the variousrestrictions on him came from the highest levels of the Government and that the Chief Justice would not have passed the order of releasewithout a prior nod of approval from the Government.
9. This development, which has taken the US and other Western Governments by surprise, came a day after Senator John Kerry, Chairmanof the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had spoken in Washington DC of a welcome transformation in the attitude of the Pakistanipolitical and military leaders with regard to co-operation in the fight against terrorism. One fails to understand on what basis Kerry came tothe conclusion that such a transformation has taken place. Kerry, according to agency despatches, was intervening in a discussion onAfghanistan. He said:"I have found that President Asif Ali Zardari is very committed to trying to increase the accountability and to move inthe direction of taking action against the terrorists.I also find that both the ISI Chief General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, and the Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani are likewise committed."
10. The manner in which Khan has been got released by an induced order of the judiciary and the restrictions on him eased, if not removed,show that the Government of Zardari is as deceptive and as insincere in its professions of its so-called keenness to act againstwrong-doers----whether terrorists or proliferators--- as the previous Governments and leaders were.
11. Khan is bitter against the West,particularly the US, for allegedly humiliating him all these years. Even in the past, he was known for hisclose friendship with Islamic fundamentalist leaders such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Qasi Hussein Ahmed, the Amir of theJamaat-e-Islami (JEI). He believes that he owes his release to their consistent support to him. He is also very close to anti-US officers of theInter-Services Intelligence and the Army---- serving as well as retired---- including Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul, former DG of the ISI. The danger infuture will be not so much about his helping other countries as about his helping the anti-US jihadi groups, including Al Qaeda, in acquiring amilitary nuclear or a dirty bomb capability. (7-2-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )