Pakistan’s greatest living hero is a free man at last, said the Pakistan Observer in an editorial. “After five long years of anguish, isolation, sea of uncertainties, and agony,” Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, was released from detention last week. He had been placed under house arrest in 2004 after he confessed to leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea—a confession he later retracted, saying that then–President Pervez Musharraf had forced him to make the statement. Last week, the Islamabad High Court ruled that Khan must be set free under the terms of a secret government deal. Pakistanis across the country and around the world “distributed sweets and exchanged greetings” to celebrate Khan’s good fortune. “We feel sorry that a person of his stature suffered so long and that the country was deprived of the vast potential he had to serve, but that is the life—particularly in a Third World country.”
Khan’s release may be a “welcome verdict,” said the Peshawar Frontier Post, but it will “nonetheless have uncomfortable international fallout for Pakistan.” The “powerful lobbies” of India and Israel, which don’t want any Muslim state to possess nuclear know-how, are sure to “swing into intensified campaigns against Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence.” These lobbies have great clout in the U.S., where they have made Khan’s very name synonymous with nuclear proliferation. Already, American officials are hinting that Khan’s release “could have consequences on the proposed legislative measure for tripling non-military U.S. aid to Pakistan.”
The American reaction is “obviously alarming,” said the Islamabad News. Pakistan sorely needs that U.S. aid. The government will have to find a way to satisfy Western concerns about Khan’s alleged role in proliferation. It does not want to accede to the Western demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency be allowed to question Khan—nor should it, since Pakistan has already cooperated with that agency. Perhaps the government could take advantage of the visit this week by the new U.S. envoy, Richard Holbrooke, to “share with its allies the contents of the secret deal” between Khan and the government. After all, presumably that deal limits Khan’s freedom of movement and restricts his access to nuclear sites.
Khan is free in name only, said the Islamabad Nation. The scientist is a prime target for any government or terrorist group seeking nuclear technology. “He could be kidnapped and secretly taken out of the country or alternately subjected to some sort of fatal attack or a mysterious accident.” He will certainly have round-the-clock protection, and all his meetings will be monitored. That should satisfy Washington and other critics.
But will it? asked the Islamabad Post. They always hold Pakistan to a higher standard than other nuclear nations. Pakistan only began its nuclear program “in response to India’s nuclear blasts,” and therefore our program “can rightly be described as defense-oriented.” In the Khan matter, Pakistan “acted like a responsible state” from the very beginning, “de-linking him from the nuclear program and putting him under house arrest.” No other country ever treated its top scientists that way. “The U.S. and the rest of the Western world should understand that the Dr. Khan chapter has been closed—along with the issue of nuclear proliferation.”