Just last week I described A.Q. Khan, Pakistani nuclear trafficker extraordinaire, as “secret wrapped inside a riddle inside an enigma.” I wrote of how he recently stepped into the online world with a new personal website, despite being under house arrest in Islamabad for his role in smuggling nuclear bomb designs and production materials to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.
Well, it now looks like we’ll be hearing a lot more from Khan. Today, a Pakistani court freed him from house arrest, enabling the 73-year old nuclear smuggler—at once a Pakistani national hero and international pariah—to move about freely within Pakistan’s borders. Khan’s wife told reporters that the Pakistani government has retained her husband’s passport, suggesting that he will not be permitted to leave Pakistan, at least for now. (Then again, his sudden release is indicative of how quickly things can change.)
Emerging from his house to speak with reporters, Khan said that he was “satisfied with the decision of the court,” which he described as “a matter between me and the government,” and refused to discuss his past exploits on the nuclear black market, calling it a “matter of the past.” He went on to say that, despite his popularity in Pakistan, he will not pursue political office and would not seek retribution against anyone for what he considers to be his mistreatment at the hands of weak-willed politicians. He could not resist taking aim at former President Pervez Musharraf, whom he blames for caving to US puppet masters. Musharraf, he said, cannot move about freely because he is so hated, a fact that no doubt gives Khan great satisfaction and is not free of irony. As for his future plans, Khan said he has no intention of returning to nuclear research. Rather, he’ll devote himself to performing good works, like building social welfare and educational institutions.
But even if Khan wants to move on, I suspect that US intelligence agencies will not let him. It’s difficult to imagine that his release occurred without any input or knowledge from the US government, and will be interesting to see if he might finally give a full accounting of his activities to the CIA. Perhaps his freedom comes at the cost of his silence? We will probably never know.