WITH the demise of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, an important chapter in the story of Pakistan’s nuclear programme has come to an end. Widely seen as ‘father of the nuclear programme’, Dr Khan experienced the ups and downs that come with being called a hero and a villain and then a hero in one lifetime. In this context, Dr Khan’s death may have closed a chapter, but in some ways the story has yet to run its full course. Therein lies a challenge for Pakistan.
The West saw Dr Khan as a scientist gone rogue. As it so happened, in 2004 the Pakistani state concurred. Gen Musharraf’s government said it had come across evidence that supported the claims that Dr Khan was indeed involved in the proliferation of nuclear material. He was made to confess on national television and subsequently kept confined to his home in Islamabad. However, even at that time, there were a significant number of Pakistanis who believed these charges against Dr Khan were trumped up and part of a larger conspiracy to discredit the man who had made Pakistan a nuclear power.
In later years, Dr Khan was naturally bitter at the way he had been treated, and maintained that he had confessed on TV for a greater cause. He never elaborated. The state never retracted those charges. However on his death, the government accorded Dr Khan a state funeral, an honour reserved for those whose services to the nation require acknowledgement at the highest level. One can assume that giving him this honour can be taken to mean that the state has washed clean the ‘sins’ that he was accused of, and that Dr Khan’s reputation stands restored in official files.
If this be so, there continues to exist a contradiction that cannot, and should not, be brushed under the carpet for the sake of convenience. Confident states do not pretend their problems will go away on their own; they address them and solve them. Dr Khan kept his discretion all these years after his confession, but he never accepted the charges. Was there more to this affair than has come to the fore yet? Was there, in fact, a greater level of collusion that was identified but not acknowledged at that moment in time?
The fact is that since that time, Pakistan has revamped systems and procedures to build safety and security around its nuclear arsenal. Over the years, important countries and experts have praised Pakistan for these safeguards and acknowledged that these safety measures are of the highest level. This is why today, after all these years, Pakistan should be confident enough to order an investigation into the proliferation accusations and get to the bottom of the truth. We owe it to ourselves. We also owe it to Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2021