Pakistans disgraced scientist A Q Khan,accused of running a clandestine nuclear proliferation ring,was today declared a free citizen by a court here amid reports of a secret pact with the government,five years after being placed under house arrest.
Shortly after the Islamabad High Court announced its order,72-year-old Khan,wanted for questioning by US and other investigators,said he was not obliged to answer to any foreigner or anybody,except his government.
Relief for Khan,considered as the father of the countrys atomic bomb,came from the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court Sardar Mohd Aslam who said the scientist was a free citizen subject to certain security measures. The petitioner (Khan) is a free citizen, the judge said while disposing off a petition after hearing counsels for the government and the scientist in a closed-door session.
Pakistani media reported that the government had come to a secret out-of-court settlement on easing restrictions imposed on Khan,who has been accused of being actively involved in the nuclear proliferation network selling technology and material to Iran,North Korea and Libya.
A visibly relieved Khan spoke to reporters outside his heavily guarded home in the heart to Islamabad for the first time in five years after the High Court said he was not under arrest or imprisonment.
Asked about international institutions wanting to question him in connection with nuclear proliferation,Khan shot back,Nonsense,no comments. I am not obliged to give answers to anybody else. I am obliged only to answer to my government,not to any foreigner or anybody.
The US had last month slapped sanctions on Khan,12 associates and three firms and barred them from doing business with the American government or private companies while pledging to work for squeezing out the entire network.
Responding to a petition filed by Khan seeking further easing of restrictions on him,the High Court he could freely move around within the country and visit the Science Foundation for research. There is also no bar on close friends and relatives meeting him,it said.
Asked if he would be able to move without any hindrance,Khan said,As far as I have been told,I can go anywhere in Pakistan without restrictions and that I will be provided whatever security I was given earlier. Khan was pardoned in 2004 by then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf but had been kept under house arrest,guarded by intelligence personnel and the army.
Last year,he retracted his confession about being involved in nuclear proliferation,saying it had been made under pressure. In recent months,some of the restrictions imposed on him were eased slightly. He now writes a column on science and other issues in The News daily.
Asked if he had any advice for coping with possible threats from India in the wake of the Mumbai attacks,Khan said: There is no threat,nothing like that has happened. He said he had no plans to associate himself again with Pakistans nuclear programme and that he would dedicate himself to educational activities.
Khans lawyer Ali Zafar said the High Court order was issued as Khan was not involved in nuclear proliferation or any criminal activity and there was no case against him.
I was secure before,I am secure now. I was travelling all over the world when I was making the bomb and nobody could hurt me, Khan said. Now I have been away from my project for the last eight years. Nobody would like to hurt me, he said,adding the government had informed him that he would be given the same level of security as before.
Asked if he would take action against former President Pervez Musharraf,who had ordered his detention,Khan said: Allah has punished him. He cant even appear in public like I can. I challenge him to go with me (to) Aabpara (market in Islamabad) or Raja Bazar (in Rawalpindi),and I may have to give him my shirt for his protection.