After his widely criticized release, Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan is now on his way to regain his place as the country's revered hero. Commenting before the formal release of A. Q. Khan in February this year, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Gordon Duguid referred to Khan as a "serious proliferation risk." In the first exhaustive interview since his release, Dr. Khan not only denounces the international community's anxiety over Pakistan's nuclear proliferation record but also emerges as the great patriot who sacrificed his freedom for the country's sake.
Dr. Khan had confessed transferring nuclear secrets to other countries (Iran, Libya and North Korea) in 2004. President Musharraf had pardoned Dr. Khan but the latter was under house arrest since his confession. The Islamabad High Court declared the detained nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan a "free citizen" on February 7, 2009. The release of Dr. Khan was contingent upon a secret the 'agreement' reached between him and the government. Despite several attempts, the U.S. Government has still not been able to question Dr. Khan about his role in the illegal nuclear proliferation network.
Dr. Khan was introduced on the program as a scientist to whom "Pakistan owes its impregnable defense." In his interview, Dr. Khan confirms to the role of China in developing Pakistan nuclear technology and admits that the Pakistani bomb was ready in 1984. The influx of American aid into Pakistan following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had necessitated postponing the testing of the bomb in 1984. Dr. Khan has regretted his confession earlier and clearly stated in the interview that he was pressured and threatened by President Musharraf into delivering the confessional statement. Dr. Khan refers to his involvement in illegal proliferation of nuclear technology as "mere accusations". Further defending Pakistan's nuclear program Dr. Khan claims that there is no possibility of proliferation or leakage from Pakistan nuclear facility. His admission that Pakistan was in favor of Iran acquiring nuclear technology as means of building an 'Islamic pressure group' to counter international pressure could rekindle international concerns with about the 'Islamic Bomb.'
The problem lies not only in Dr. Khan's past but also his present disregard for what the international community thinks. In response to a question about how the international community would perceive his release, Dr. Khan voiced his irritation by saying, "Let them talk. Are they happy with our God? Are they happy with our Prophet? Are they happy with our leaders? Never, so why should we bother what they say about us? I would be more worried about what you (Pakistani journalists) say about me, not what Bush says or what Dick Cheney says. I don't damn care."
The international community will have to ensure that authority and appeal of Dr. Khan is kept under control by the Government of Pakistan. Though Dr. Khan is no longer associated with Pakistan's nuclear establishment, his pardon and release could embolden others for indulging in illicit nuclear proliferation activities.