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Pakistan court frees ‘rogue’ nuke scientist

world Updated: Feb 07, 2009 00:02 IST
Kamal Siddiqi
Pakistan sets free scientist AQ Khan

The Islamabad High Court on Friday declared disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, under virtual house arrest for the past five years, a free man. It said there was no proof Khan was involved in any nuclear technology proliferation or criminal activity.

The release is bound to inflame Western nations, especially the US, which have long wanted to question Khan, said to be the kingpin in an international nuclear weapons’ smuggling ring busted five years ago. Khan, detained as a part of a deal between Pakistan and the US, will now stand out as a symbol of defiance.

Ruling on a petition filed by Khan challenging his house arrest, Chief Justice Sardar Muhammad Aslam said Khan could enjoy fundamental rights accorded to all Pakistanis.

Under detention arrangements since 2004, he could not leave his house or meet visitors except those cleared by the government. On two occasions, however, Khan was taken to the hospital on grounds of failing health.

After Friday's judgment, Khan can leave home and receive visitors but must give 48 hours notice if he wants to leave Islamabad. It is believed that the Zadari government has pushed for Khan's release.

It may be recalled Khan made a televised admission to transferring nuclear secrets to other countries in 2004, but was later pardoned by former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf as part of a deal.

Khan said he was delighted with the decision. At the same time, he said the responsibility of his security rests on the government. “These things happen,” said a beaming Khan, adding Asif Zardari had spent eight years in jail while Nawaz Sharif had spent an equal amount of time in exile. “Let us leave the past behind and move forward,” he told reporters in an impromptu press conference.

Khan said that he would like to go to perform Umrah in Saudi Arabia, if the government permitted. He said that he was thankful to the democratic government for getting his detention lifted.

Pakistan's most famous nuclear scientist said that his detention was most unfortunate and he blamed former president General Musharraf for his troubles. "Look at him now. He can't even come before the public. And look at me. I am free and happy to move around my people."

It may be recalled that in July 2008, Khan told the media that Pakistan had transported uranium enrichment equipment to North Korea in 2000 with the full knowledge of the country's army then headed by Gen Musharraf.