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A pre-emptive strike by Zardari

world Updated: Feb 08, 2009 00:45 IST
Amit Baruah

The United States will “have more to say” on the release of disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, but what can it do about an Islamabad court order that torpedoed a deal between George Bush and Pervez Musharraf?

Days before US special envoy for Pakistan-Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, arrives in Islamabad, Pakistan has presented Washing-ton with a fait accompli — the court-ordered release of Khan, who was placed under house arrest after a “pardon” by Musharraf in 2004. Whatever the Obama administration might have to say, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi declared on Saturday that Khan’s nuclear smuggling ring had been “dismantled” and the rogue scientist was “history”. “He (Khan) has no say or access to any of the sensitive areas of Pakistan,” Qureshi told Dawn television.

Khan’s “freedom”, analysts believe, is a political ploy by President Asif Ali Zardari and his associates to demonstrate Pakis-tan’s sovereignty to act as the US and its allies put more pressure on it to deal with jihadi forces. “This is a political game being played by Zardari,” former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra told HT. A Pakis-tani analyst, who preferred anonymity, argued, “At a time when the government is unable to deal with continued terrorist attacks, Khan’s ‘release’ could be an attempt to bolster its image.”

Many in Pakistan consider Khan a national hero, who was made the sacrificial lamb after the CIA cracked his nuclear smuggling network.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was “very much concerned”.

Inputs from V Krishna in Washington