The cable notes that Zardari understood the negative reaction lifting restrictions [on Dr. Khan] would have in Washington.
Months before he became President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari told the United States Ambassador in Pakistan that if he had his way, he would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to question Abdul Qadeer Khan, the nuclear scientist accused of running a proliferation racket.
Mr. Zardari is quoted as saying so in a U.S. diplomatic cable dated April 18, 2008 (150415: secret), accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.
In April 2008, a few days after the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) took office, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson and Deputy Chief of the Mission Peter Bodde met Mr. Zardari, the party's co-chairperson, to seek assurances that the new government would not release Dr. Khan. Separately, she sought such an assurance from Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai, the head of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which is the Pakistan nuclear establishment's top body.
The scientist, who had admitted in 2004 to running a proliferation racket and had been placed under de facto house arrest after Mr. Musharraf's “presidential pardon,” is a hero in Pakistan. The new government was under pressure to release him. Concerns had risen in the international community that the PPP would succumb to the pressures.
“Zardari said flatly that reports about GOP [Government of Pakistan] interest in releasing Khan were untrue,” Ms. Patterson wrote. “He had ordered the Foreign Minister to stop making statements about Khan.”
The PPP leader told the U.S. officials: “I told Foreign Minister [Shah Mahmud] Qureshi, who has no decision-making role on this issue, to stop talking about Khan.” He alleged that “false information was being leaked” to embarrass the PPP.
“If I had my way,” said Mr. Zardari, “I would give the IAEA access to Khan.”
Recalling that a similar statement, but one that was made publicly, by the PPP leader's late wife Benazir Bhutto in 2007 had provoked much criticism, the cable commented that “Zardari's options for delivering on Benazir's promise are more limited.” It noted further: “The good news is, however, that Zardari understands the negative reaction lifting restrictions [on Dr. Khan] would have in Washington.”
Giving away no secret about how the U.S. conducts its diplomacy the world over, the cable mentioned that “not coincidentally, Ambassador raised the issue during a briefing on the extensive nature of U.S. aid to Pakistan.”
Lt. Gen. Kidwai was more circumspect, although he said he understood the international concern. His “first response,” the cable noted, “was to recommend we discuss the issue with the new civilian government. For its part, he insisted that SPD had not made any statements about Khan and had been concerned to read the recent press comments.”
The General said he “did not yet know the new government's thinking on Khan but said he suspected that FM Qureshi's comments that Khan should be released had been made off-the-cuff without due consideration.”
Dr. Khan had admitted his guilt, he said, and received a presidential pardon. “Therefore, his legal status was that he was a free man. The GOP had been providing security for ‘personal and national security' reasons, but Khan had accepted this agreement voluntarily and had not challenged his restrictions to date. If he tried to walk out today, however, the GOP had no legal grounds to stop him.”
The General told the Ambassador that Dr. Khan remains a national hero. And “there were domestic political pressures stemming from statements made by the political parties during the campaign. Khan may now be ‘in a mood to get more human privileges'.”
The Pakistan Cables are being shared by The Hindu with NDTV in India and Dawn in Pakistan.