Mar 14, 2009

Dr A.Q. Khan in the picture

IT appears that Pakistan has not seen the last of the controversy surrounding its scientist Dr A.Q. Khan who in 2004 confessed to having run a nuclear proliferation ring that provided nuclear weapons technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea. Several US lawmakers from both sides of the party line introduced legislation in the House of Representatives on Thursday that would make American military aid to Pakistan conditional on Pakistan’s willingness to monitor Dr Khan’s activities and also make him available for US questioning. Since the government did not hand over the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb to American interrogators when the network had been unearthed in 2003 and the going was tough for Islamabad, one wonders what has prompted the US legislators to believe Washington can still have its way in the matter. The fact is that the shadow of those who earlier had serious reservations about allowing Dr Khan to speak to anyone outside the military’s inner ring on an issue that is no doubt highly secret and sensitive, continues to hover over Pakistan’s political landscape.
It is, therefore, a futile exercise on the part of the American lawmakers to impose such conditions which one is fairly sure will never be met. One suspects that US legislators realise this very well and also understand how the cessation of military aid to Pakistan will affect its conduct of the war on terror. At a time when militancy is rearing its ugly head in different spots in South Asia and is no longer confined to Afghanistan and our frontier region, Pakistan cannot afford to have its grip on the war weakened. Since 9/11 it has received billions of dollars in military aid that was used for the purchase of weapons, training and supplies.
It seems the Americans are also aware of these compulsions. Hence the provision in the bill allowing for a waiver of the restrictions on military funding if the president deems it to be in the interest of US security. Dr A.Q. Khan remained under house arrest for five years and was released only last month. His mobility has been severely restricted as per the understanding between him and the administration. Given the freedoms he otherwise enjoys — he has been writing weekly columns for newspapers — he should not really be complaining in the present circumstances. It would seem advisable not to upset the nuclear applecart at the moment.

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