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A free bird becomes talk of the town

The release of Pakistan’s most prominent nuclear scientist, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, this week on a judgment given by the Islamabad High Court caught many by surprise.

world Updated: Feb 12, 2009 00:00 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

The release of Pakistan’s most prominent nuclear scientist, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, this week on a judgment given by the Islamabad High Court caught many by surprise.

Local media reported that the judgment came only after a secret understanding between the government and Dr Qadeer. This is something both sides deny.

But the government did take the credit for pushing his case, a point that advisor to the interior, Rehman Malik, repeatedly emphasized. Politicians from various parties also lost no time in visiting Dr Qadeer at his house in Islamabad’s elite E-7 locality, once the restrictions were gone.

If there were anything missing it were the people. There were no crowds at his gate, there were no public rallies and there was no distribution of sweets as would have merited the occasion.

While many Pakistanis has been quick to condemn placing Dr Qadeer under house arrest, few came out on the streets to welcome his release.

Aside from some small gatherings in Islamabad and Rawalpindi at the behest of religious parties, it remained a quiet affair. One of the reasons possibly was that Dr Qadeer himself has decided to keep a low profile and not talk about the past.

Another may be that Pakistanis are becoming wary of the various developments — good or bad, that have been taking place in their country.

Debate in the local media focused on the fact that while Dr Qadeer is a national hero and his release is welcome, more should have been done to investigate the charges against him. Input by the general public in the form of letters to the editor and talkback on radio indicated that most Pakistanis thought that Dr Qadeer was put under house arrest not for his role in any alleged proliferation but because he gave the Muslim world its nuclear bomb.

The point also came up when the Western governments did not welcome his release.