Pakistan bars A.Q. Khan from speaking about proliferation

Ruling comes weeks after nuclear scientist implicates Musharraf in the delivery of nuclear technology to North Korea.

Khan 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Khan 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A court silenced the disgraced architect of Pakistan's atomic weapons program, weeks after he implicated President Pervez Musharraf in the delivery of nuclear technology to North Korea. Abdul Qadeer Khan's wife said the scientist may appeal Monday's ruling, which bars him from speaking about nuclear proliferation and could end his role in throwing more light on Pakistan's murky record of spreading nuclear know-how. Khan has been kept under de facto house arrest in the Pakistani capital since 2004, when he took sole responsibility for leaking atomic secrets to countries including Iran and Libya. However, he recently began agitating for an end to his confinement, disowning his confession in media interviews and saying the army had known all about at least one act of proliferation in 2000 - a claim swiftly denied by Musharraf, who was then chief of the armed forces. The Islamabad High Court, ruling Monday on a petition filed by Khan's lawyer, said the 72-year-old must be allowed to meet close friends and relatives subject to security clearance. But Presiding Judge Sardar Mohammed Aslam also said that Khan "will not convey, transmit, relay any comment or give interview to any channel, news reporter, print or electronic media, in any manner whatsoever in respect of (the) issue of proliferation." In a written order, Aslam also banned Khan from discussing proliferation with family or friends. Contacted by cell phone, Khan's wife said she and her husband were disappointed. Hendrina Khan said her husband viewed the ruling as a blanket ban on speaking to reporters. She predicted that the ruling would bring Khan no greater freedom because intelligence agents watching over Khan could "refuse anything on security grounds." At present, only six "old friends" as well as Khan's son and daughter appear on a list of people allowed to visit him, she said. Officials insist Khan is not formally under house arrest, but that restrictions are needed for his own safety and to prevent others from tapping his knowledge of state secrets. A government lawyer appeared pleased with the ruling and suggested it could blunt growing calls for the release of Khan, a hero to many Pakistanis for making their country only nuclear power in the Muslim world. "The court has certainly given tangible relief to Dr. Qadeer, and that is reflecting the aspiration of the people of Pakistan," Ahmer Bilal Sufi said. The United States, which counts Musharraf as a key ally against terrorism, has praised Pakistan's role in shutting down the international nuclear smuggling ring. In 2004, Khan confessed to playing a major role in the ring but was quickly pardoned at the time by Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and only resigned as army chief last year. The revelation spared Pakistan even greater international condemnation over the leaking of nuclear technology to three countries which, at the time, were all at loggerheads with the West. But this year, Khan has revived interest in the subject by giving a series of interviews in which he portrayed himself as a patriot who took a fall in order to shield the nation from harm. Khan said he only agreed to the televised confession after officials promised he would be quickly freed. He sent a handwritten note to the Islamabad court claiming he had been misquoted in various articles.