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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 118, 7 July 2020

AQ Khan:

Free man, but in chains everywhere

What are Dr AQ Khan’s grievances, for which he has approached the Supreme Court? And what does Dr AQ Khan want now?

D. Suba Chandran, Lakshmi V Menon & Abigail Miriam Fernandez


Dr AQ Khan, the fallen nuclear scientist of Pakistan, was in the media recently, not related to his nuclear proliferation linkages and black market during the 1990s, or for his stolen designs from Europe in the 1970s.

He has been in the news during the last few months - for a different reason – regarding the legality of his confinement in his residence.

On 23 June 2020, according to Dawn, a Supreme Court bench headed by three judges “postponed proceedings for three weeks with a directive to the AG (Attorney General of Pakistan) to meet Dr Khan or nominate someone to find out what his grievances were and how they should be redressed.” (“Apex court asks AG to meet AQ Khan to allay his concerns,” Dawn, 24 June 2020).


So, what are Dr AQ Khan’s grievances, for which he has approached the Supreme Court? According to two advocates Taufiq Asif and Sheikh Ehsanuddin, who are representing Dr AQ Khan in the court, “the real issue was the removal of restrictions on the movement of Dr Khan since he could not openly meet his relatives and friends, not even his lawyers.” (Dawn, 24 June 2020).
What does Dr AQ Khan want now, for which he has approached the Supreme Court?

Access to Free Movement, Access to Counsel and Access to the Courts
According to Dawn, the Supreme Court, “had taken up an appeal of Dr Khan seeking enforcement of his fundamental rights, including free movement” and it had “directed that arrangements should also be made to facilitate meetings between Dr Khan and his counsel.” Dr AQ Khan's first demand, therefore, is free movement.

The Supreme Court had taken up the appeal from Dr Khan, after the Lahore High Court rejected his appeal earlier in September 2019, that it “lacked jurisdiction in view of special security measures adopted by the state.”

In May 2020, the Supreme Court ordered the government to arrange a meeting between Dr AQ Khan and his Counsel Taufiq Asif. This was following the inability of Dr Khan’s Counsel to meet with his client in private. According to Dawn, Taufiq Asif told a two-judge bench “that he could only exchange greetings with Dr Khan on the premises of the apex court but could not seek instructions from him in the presence of officials of intelligence agencies.” Asif was quoted to have stated: “I want an exclusive meeting with my client in complete privacy where no one, not even the government’s lawyer, should be present.” (“SC orders govt to arrange AQ. Khan's meeting with lawyer,” Dawn, 14 May 2020)

On 13 May 2020, Dr AQ Khan had filed an application before the Supreme Court seeking “direction for the government to produce him before the apex court in the interest of justice so that he could address the bench hearing the case.”(“SC orders govt to arrange AQ. Khan's meeting with lawyer,” Dawn, 14 May 2020) According to Dawn, though AQ Khan was brought to the Supreme Court “no exclusive meeting with the advocates was allowed in violation of the court’s direction since some officials of the intelligence agencies insisted on remaining present during the meeting.”

So, his second demand is to have access to his Counsel.

Also, according to Dawn, Dr AQ Khan wants to “appear before the Supreme Court in person to address the court and explain that it was his fundamental right to be a free person as his movement had not been restricted under any law but on baseless excuses.” (“SC orders govt to arrange AQ. Khan's meeting with lawyer,” Dawn, 14 May 2020)
So, who is blocking his movement and access to Counsel? And why?
The government of Pakistan. Obviously. However, the harsh reality in Pakistan is, since the 1990s, the elected government never had access to either AQ Khan or the country's nuclear programme. Even the Prime Ministers had limited access to both. It deepened after the information about AQ Khan's illegal network came to the fore at the global level.
Today AQ Khan’s physical movements are decided neither by the elected government nor by the judiciary. The intelligence agencies control his movement and guard his residence. This has been the case since, especially after his confession in 2004 for selling nuclear secrets to countries like Libya and Iran. Though the Courts acquitted Dr Khan in 2009, and declared him “a free citizen”, his movements are limited by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.

Why are the intelligence agencies blocking the movement of AQ Khan, and also preventing others from meeting him? Perhaps, there is a fear within the Deep State, that open access to AQ Khan would lead to more revelation of what he did. Perhaps, there is also a fear within the Deep State, that AQ Khan would reveal the nature of State involvement in the nuclear black market. As of now, Dr Khan has taken responsibility for the illegal network absolving the State. In his confession, he states it explicitly. Perhaps, there is more. From the State agencies across the world to independent analysts, there is a global interest to interview Dr AQ Khan and find out more about the nuclear black market. Perhaps, the Deep State in Pakistan is against that.
Perhaps, the Deep State is also apprehensive that AQ Khan feels let down and want to talk about the same. In the statement, he made while withdrawing his confessions, to a promise that he would be allowed to lead a respectable life.
AQ Khan’s public confession in 2004, and its withdrawal in 2008
In 2004, Dr Khan appeared on television and made a public confession, in which he apologized to the nation for his illegal nuclear dealings. He stated: "I take full responsibility for my actions and seek your pardon. I offer my deepest regrets and unqualified apologies to a traumatized nation." (“I offer my deepest regrets to a traumatized nation,” The Guardian, 5 February 2004)
In a 12-page document, he confessed to selling nuclear weapons secrets to some of the world's most notorious "rogue states" and further added that he had provided the secrets to other countries including Iran and Libya so that they could become nuclear powers and strengthen the Islamic world. He also confessed that the transfer to North Korea was done "to divert the attention of the international community from Pakistan".

In his confession, Dr Khan absolved the Army of any wrong-doing. (Ahmed Rashid, Anton La Guardia, “I've sold nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and N Korea,” The Telegraph, 3 February 2004) Further, he claimed the technology sales were made for "personal greed" and did not involve the government of Pakistan. (“Dr Khan 'admits' he transferred N-technology: Action to be decided by NCA,” Dawn, 2 February 2004)

Following the confession, the then President Pervez Musharraf pardoned Dr Khan. However, he remained under house arrest in Islamabad with massive military surveillance due to concerns regarding safety. ("Dr A.Q. Khan pardoned: Other scientists' fate hangs in the balance, Beg, Karamat cleared: Musharraf,” Dawn, 6 February 2004) (“Dr Khan not given blanket pardon: Investigations continuing – FO,” Dawn, 10 February 2004)

However, in October 2008, Dr Khan expressed his regret over the confession made in 2004. He told the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that Gen Pervez Musharaf had persuaded him to make the confession in the name of “national interest” and on the promise of keeping him a “free man and a hero.” (“Musharraf forced confession: Khan,” Dawn, 17 October 2008) 

In a handwritten letter in Urdu, he alleged that the confession was given to him by the SPD (Strategic Planning Division) with an assurance that he would be a free man after four months as “all is being done to satisfy the US”. “But four months have stretched to four years and I am still under house arrest” adding that he was ‘betrayed by his friends’ who had promised that nothing wrong would happen to him and he would live a respectable life. (Nasir Iqbal, “Musharraf persuaded me to confess, says Dr Khan,” Dawn, 17 October 2008)

Further, he stated that he had been made a ‘scapegoat’ and was forced to confession in the larger interest of the country. In his statements to the media, he said “I think the confession was my mistake,” further he added “I should not have read the written statement. I should have spoken in my own words and changed things.” (Syed Irfan Raza, “AQ. Khan regrets 'confession',” Dawn, 30 May 2008)
AQ Khan’s acquittal in 2009
In 2009, the Islamabad High Court declared Dr Khan "a free citizen" after an appeal was made by his lawyers, but a government prosecutor said security measures would remain. (“Court orders release of Dr A.Q. Khan,” Dawn, 7 February 2009) (“Disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist 'freed',” The Telegraph, 6 February 2009)

Dr Khan’s lawyer Ali Zafar stated that the High Court had declared he was not involved in nuclear proliferation or criminal activity and thus there is no case against him, therefore was declared a free citizen. (“Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan now a free bird,” Dawn, 1 September 2009; Augustine Anthony, “Pakistani court declares nuclear scientist free,” Reuters, 6 February 2009) 

Soon after the court ruling that declared him a free citizen, the court had instructed the government to facilitate the scientist's movement, this was subjected to the mutually agreed upon security arrangements.
AQ Khan's "Illegal and Clandestine" network
There is so much available in the public discourse on AQ Khan's illegal and clandestine nuclear network. Much before Pakistan's first nuclear test, AQ Khan began closing deals with other nations interested in acquiring the classified documents and his lab's findings. AQ Khan's Network quickly grew. In 2008, a UN nuclear watchdog claimed that Khan's network was active in 12 nations and smuggled nuclear blueprints to North Korea, Iran and Libya. ("Pakistan releases 'father' of nuclear bomb from house arrest,” The Guardian, 6 February 2009) Connections with four countries were identified. (“AQ Khan Nuclear Chronology,” Carnegie, 7 September 2005) (“AQ. Khan Nuclear Smuggling Network,” Journal of Strategic Security, Number 1 Volume 9, No. 1, Special Issue Spring 2016: Designing Danger: Complex Engineering by Violent Non-State Actors, 2016) 

First, in 1987, Dr Khan made a $3 million deal with Tehran for the centrifuge designs and required materials. In 1989, the laboratory held international conferences on uranium enrichment and marketed the in-house technology. Second, Khan's deals with Iraq that fell through with the commence of the First Gulf War. Third, from 1992 Islamabad started trading uranium enrichment technology for missile technology with North Korea. In 2000, the US shared evidence of centrifuge trading between North Korea and Pakistan to then PM Pervez Musharraf. Although Pakistan quickly blamed Khan in entirety, Khan continued his work as the US turned a blind eye during the War on Terror since 2001. ("US informed Pakistan about Khan network in early 2001: report,” Dawn, 27 October 2004) (“‘Khan nuclear network was beyond state control’,” Dawn, 9 May 2007)

In 2003, International Atomic Energy Agency discovered traces of enriched uranium twice on Iranian equipment; Tehran quickly shifted the blame onto the origin of the “secondhand materials” – Pakistan, in effect onto AQ Khan. Last, in 2003, the US and the UK intercepted a vessel headed for Libya with material to build nuclear weapons onboard. Links to Khan were quickly made as Libya’s plans for an implosion device and enrichment facility were based on the stolen URENCO design, just as Pakistan’s was. (“Father of Pakistani Bomb Sold Nuclear Secrets,” Arms Control Association) (“Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan, AQ. Khan and the Rise of Proliferation Networks : a Net Assessment,” IISS Strategic Dossier, 2007) (“A Tale of Nuclear Proliferation: How Pakistani Built His Network,” The New York Times, 13 February 2004)

Purchases by another customer were also discovered. The Network referred to this unnamed customer with codenames. Some analysts suspect the customer to be India. Various reasons to make this assumption were Khan’s lack of compunctions; the special degree of secrecy maintained with the identity of the last customer; overlapping technologies; similar centrifuge designs (in the early 2000s); and suspicions coupled with flimsy excuses. Pakistan’s ex-President Musharraf’s memoirs talk about A Q Khan admitting to a “strong probability” of his network supplying to India and India utilizing the Dubai middlemen. (“The AQ. Khan Network and its Fourth Customer,” Carnegie, 23 January 2012)
AQ Khan’s early life and the building of Pakistan’s nuclear programme
Born in Bhopal, India in 1936, Abdul Qadeer Khan moved to Pakistan five years after the violent India-Pakistan partition in 1947. Finishing his college in Karachi, he quickly shifted to Europe for graduate studies. Khan obtained a masters degree in Germany and completed his PhD in metallurgical engineering from Belgium. After moving to Amsterdam in 1972 with his wife, he started working for the European Uranium Enrichment Centrifuge Corporation (URENCO). (“Abdul Qadeer Khan,” The Guardian, 6 February 2009)

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was then developing a secret team to acquire nuclear capabilities/weapons. In 1974, this moto intensified with the detonation of India’s first nuclear device. AQ Khan reached out to Bhutto offering to help. Bhutto quickly accepted. Khan methodically stole/acquired confidential plans for a centrifuge capable of creating bomb-grade uranium and quietly relocated to Pakistan as suspicions rose. (“The Scientist Who Sold Nuclear Technology,” Nuclear Weapons – Outrider) (A. Q. KhanAtomic Heritage Foundation)

In 1976, the Engineering Research Laboratories (now Khan Research Laboratories) was founded in Kahuta, Pakistan to build and run a uranium enrichment facility with A Q Khan heading the project. Dr Khan used his Western connections to procure dual-use materials (with both military and civilian purposes) through a network of companies/firms spread across different locations, to thwart global attention. Although the US was aware of these developments, the supply flow remained uninterrupted due to the lack of stringent European export control laws. (“The Long Shadow of AQ Khan,” Foreign Affairs, 31 January 2018)

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