Pervez Musharraf has triggered another unfortunate controversy from abroad. This appears to be his favourite pastime. He consistently uses controversy to keep himself relevant in the country’s politics. The presence of a vibrant electronic media in Pakistan he says is owed to country that, according to the former military dictator, owes its emergence to his rule, seems to have provided him with an ideal platform to launch his initiatives in a seemingly effective and meaningful manner. But this time he has committed an act that he may not be able to justify for a variety of reasons: he has reopened the nuclear Pandora’s box at a time when North Korea has decided to show utmost belligerence and the US administration under an unpredictable Donald Trump is mulling over taking military action against the East Asian state. The nuclear proliferation controversy has already cost Pakistan the disgraceful exit of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan from public life. This has earned Pakistan the reputation of a country that has contributed to proliferation of nuclear technology. How could anyone ignore the fact that Libya and Iran were Islamic countries that immensely contributed to undermining Pakistan’s global image.
In his interview to a television channel only recently, Musharraf made a new revelation about the controversial conduct of Dr Khan. According to him, it was the “most disappointing day” of his life when the director of the Central Intelligence Agency showed him “proof” of nuclear proliferation by Dr A. Q. Khan. Musharraf insisted that “in a meeting with me Dr A. Q. Khan cried and apologized, asking for help.” Claiming that a Sri Lankan national was the “front man” of Dr A. Q. Khan, Musharraf also said that though President George W. Bush did not demand Dr Khan’s custody, he described him as an “international criminal.”
Dr Khan has rejected Musharraf’s assertions, describing him as a liar and a traitor who sold the country’s honour “for dollars.” According to him, he himself wanted to go to the US to tell the truth but was denied permission to do so, because there would have been a massive adverse reaction from the public if he had unveiled the facts. He said that Musharraf had repeatedly described him as “my hero” and told him that he was under house arrest due only to the US pressure and would be released “anytime soon.”
Neither of them is telling the whole truth. Whether North Korea, Iran and Libya were assisted by A. Q. Khan or by the establishment, the charge is a stigma on Pakistan. The renewed controversy has provided an embittered PML-N with new ammunition to launch an effective attack on the establishment which it blames for Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification. The party’s Senator from Karachi, Saleem Zia, raised the issue in the Senate and described Musharraf’s remarks as “irresponsible and damaging.” But the observation of the Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, was more pertinent: questioning the timing of Musharraf’s statement, he said that “had the remarks been made by a civilian, he would have been in the dock.”
How ironic that Pakistan, after rendering unmatched sacrifices in terms of human lives and economic losses in the Afghan War and the War on Terrorism is viewed with false suspicions. But the nuclear proliferation controversy has the potential to strengthen such suspicions. Rawalpindi’s flamboyant MNA Sheikh Rashid has questioned why it is that top global terrorists were allegedly found shelter only in Pakistan and then went on to be killed there too. His is a profound observation, which invites deeper thought about the situation and our policies in relation to the region and beyond. Musharraf, the government and others must appreciate the criticality of the situation. They must not lose sight of the fact that point-scoring on the nuclear controversy will only add to the country’s problems. All of them are fully aware of what actually constitutes national interest. As for Musharraf, did he serve, or hurt, the country’s cause by what he said in his television interview?