U.S. Skeptical About Pakistan's Restrictions on Nuclear Scientist
Monday, February 9, 2009
Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who was released Friday from five years of house arrest for selling nuclear secrets, faces a new set of restrictions on his movement and contacts, according to Pakistani officials.
Under an agreement reached among Khan's lawyers, the judge who ordered him released and the government, officials said, the Pakistani Interior Ministry will limit and monitor Khan's telephone calls, visitors and activities. The ministry will also prohibit his travel outside the country.
U.S. officials, who last week sharply objected to Khan's release, expressed skepticism yesterday about the new arrangement, which they said had been reported to them by the Pakistani government.
"We're very concerned," a U.S. official said yesterday. Pakistan has "given us some initial commitments but we're going to be following [the situation] very closely. The important thing is that they know we are still very serious about this individual."
Asked yesterday about Khan, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the government had decided not to appeal the court ruling on Khan's release, but had "taken all measures" to ensure that he would be unable to resume the spread of nuclear secrets or technology. "We have broken the network and we will not let that happen again," he said. "We simply cannot afford that."
Qureshi, who spoke at an international security conference in Munich, did not elaborate on the "measures" taken, and the government made no public mention in Pakistan of any new restrictions.
Khan, 72, is revered in Pakistan as the father of the country's nuclear weapons program. Although never charged, he has admitted selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. His secret network collapsed in 2003, after more than a decade of investigation by the CIA and other agencies.
Then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, confronted with evidence of his guilt, persuaded Khan to make a public confession but then publicly pardoned the scientist and refused to allow U.S or international officials to question him.
The house arrest, imposed for the past five years by Pakistan's Defense Ministry, was a compromise that collapsed last week when a judge ordered Khan released. Surrounded by Pakistani news media on the front lawn of his Islamabad home Friday, Khan claimed complete vindication.
The case has long been a political football in Pakistan, with opposition parties and elements of the judiciary citing Khan's detention as evidence of President Asif Ali Zardari's obeisance to the United States.
"The proof is in the pudding," said the U.S. official, who added that Washington would be watching carefully to determine whether the new Interior Ministry restrictions were real.