Pakistan government has reportedly put fresh curbs on disgraced nuclear scientist AQ Khan after the world community expressed serious concerns over setting him free, after nearly five years of house arrest.
The rogue scientist, who had confessed to having passed on nuclear know how to Iran, North Korea and Libya, is not being given access to visitors and has to notify the government 48 hours in advance before leaving Islamabad.
Sources close to Khan told the Dawn newspaper that a few people met the scientist after the Islamabad High Court declared him a “free citizen” last week, but no one was allowed to enter his residence on Monday.
The court order on Friday effectively ended Khan’s house arrest. The order was issued in the wake of a secret agreement between Khan and the government, the details of which were not made public by the court.
According to US officials, Pakistan has told the United States that it has put restrictions on Khan to prevent him from becoming a renewed nuclear proliferation threat.
An unnamed Pakistani official was quoted by The New York Times as saying that President Asif Ali Zardari had assured the US that Khan “is still restricted in his movement and activities”.
Khan will be barred from "foreign travel, monitored closely, allowed to receive visitors only from an approved list of family and friends and barred from making financial transactions", the official said.
But despite this US was still skeptical and wanted more as well as “solid assurances” from Pakistan that he (Khan) will not be a threat after his release.
“I’m sure there is more that the Pakistanis can do, and we expect that they will do more to make sure he is no longer a proliferation risk,” a US embassy official said.
“We want to make sure these assurances are solid and we expect them to explain to us how they plan to do so,” the official said.
The official said the US Ambassador here received these assurances from the Pakistani government officials during a meeting over the weekend.
Legal experts said unless the secret agreement between the government and Khan is made public, restrictions on the scientist’s movement could be considered as contempt of court because he was allowed by the court to meet anyone and go anywhere he wanted to.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi too has said that the government reserved the right to appeal against the court’s order.
Reacting to these developments, Khan told Dawn: "If they have a right to contest, I too reserve the right to ask the court to uphold its decision.“
Khan said though restrictions had been tightened, he was allowed to meet only those people who are cleared by security personnel deployed at his residence.
Khan brushed aside the West’s concerns that he could again be involved in nuclear proliferation, saying he had nothing to do with the Khan Research Laboratories, a key organisation in Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
“I have no links with KRL since 2001,” he said.
The scientist said he had nothing to do with Pakistan’s nuclear programme and could not resume work because of his bad health.
“What I was doing in KRL was very sophisticated work and I cannot resume it because it required continuous involvement,” he said.
“Now I am passing my time reading poetry and with my family. I have passed a very difficult time in detention, but now I feel relief as my family is with me.”
Khan was put under house arrest in February 2004 and released only after the High court order last week.
He retracted his confession last year and alleged he had been forced by former President Pervez Musharraf to make the statement.