Lahore, Pakistan – Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the disgraced nuclear scientist known as Pakistan's "father of the bomb," was released from house arrest Friday in a move that could bring some much needed relief to the Pakistani government at home, though it is likely to pose problems for the country's image abroad.
Dr. Khan confessed in 2004 to selling the country's nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Though he received a presidential pardon by former premier Gen. Pervez Musharraf, he remained under strict confinement at his home until last year, when his restrictions were eased somewhat. Khan himself spoke to reporters on the lawn of his Islamabad home, proclaiming his happiness and saying he had been freed with the "blessing of the government."
Khan is lionized among large segments of the population for providing Pakistan with the nuclear technology it needed to match its longstanding rival India. Though the Islamabad High Court cleared him of any wrongdoing and termed allegations against him "unsubstantiated," in 2008 a United Nations nuclear watchdog said his smuggling ring was active in a total of 12 countries. The Monitor reported in 2008 that Khan may have had plans for a complex and sophisticated nuclear warhead.
Last month, the US State Department imposed sanctions against 13 individuals as well as three private companies for their
involvement in the network. Rasul Baksh Raees, a political-science professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences, says his release opens up a can of worms.
"The interesting thing to see will be what information, if any, he chooses to provide the media. Was the apology he issued to the
nation under duress? Was he acting alone when building the smuggling ring or was he acting on behalf of the government? Was he a fall guy?"
Retired Army Gen. Talat Masood, however, believes there may have been an understanding between the government and the international community, as well as an assurance from Khan that he would not talk candidly to the media. "Externally, there will be some apprehension as to how he is likely to conduct himself in future. The government must have assured at least some members of the international community, including the Americans, that he will be kept under scrutiny," he says, adding: "He himself has said that he will devote his time toward education, and perhaps that's an understanding he has with the government. We'll have to wait and see."
Speaking to the Times of India, Anand Sharma, Indian minister of State for foreign affairs, termed Khan's release "detrimental to global peace and security," adding the "the move is another example of deception by Pakistan."