In an interim ruling on a petition from A.Q. Khan, the Lahore High Court ruled on Friday that no restrictions should be placed on the movements of the top scientist who was freed from a five-year long house arrest earlier this year.
The development is likely to send ripples of worry across the international community which remains concerned about the “A.Q. Khan proliferation network”. Chief among the fears is that Al Qaeda should not be able to lay its hands on any nuclear bomb know-how.
But the internationally disgraced Khan is widely revered in Pakistan for giving the country its nuclear bomb.
In February 2009, acting on a petition from him, the Islamabad High Court declared him a “free citizen”, ending a house arrest that began in February 2004 with his nationally televised confession of selling nuclear secrets abroad.
However, the court’s order also made clear it was subject to “terms and conditions” that had been “voluntarily accepted” by the scientist in a “secret agreement” with the government.
Although the terms of the deal remain outside the public realm, it was apparent that many of the restrictions on Mr. Khan continued, including a massive presence of government security personnel around his house. Though his house arrest ended, the terms of his “freedom” entailed that he had to give advance information about all his movement.
On Thursday, the scientist appealed to the Lahore High Court that the “official protocol” provided to him be removed as it was restricting his movements.
In an interim order, Lahore High Court judge Ejaz Ahmed ruled that there should be “no limitations” on Khan’s movement. The next hearing is on September 4.
The government was quiet about the ruling, but it is highly doubtful if Pakistan, which is under a constant international scanner, can give the disgraced scientist the freedom he seeks.
Reacting to the court’s ruling, Khan told reporters at his home in Islamabad’s plush E-7 sector that if the government did not remove the restrictions on him even after this, he would move the Supreme Court to obtain his freedom.
“I was living life as a prisoner under the official protocol,” he said. “I do not need it. I want to go freely.”
The scientist said he wanted to go to Karachi to visit his brother, who is unwell.
He told Geo News that if he continued to be treated badly by the government, he would reveal “sensitive secrets”.
Khan gave no interviews after his brief interaction with the press following the February 2009 court verdict, possibly under the terms of his restricted freedom. His only visible activity is a weekly column in The News, but even this has not been entirely free of controversy.
A letter-writer to the daily, a Phd student at Carnegie Mellon, pointed out earlier this week that large chunks of his recent column on computer education were lifted paragraph for paragraph from the undergraduate prospectus of the University of Sussex, the website of London’s Imperial College and the University of Cambridge.
There have been no reactions to the accusation of plagiarism, and the newspaper published the second part of the column titled Science of Computer this week.