Dr A.Q. Khan, the supposed architect of our nuclear programme, has always been in the limelight for right or wrong reasons. The gratitude, admiration and love that people had for him arguably can be likened to a worship for a deity. All his actions and activities were a great attraction for the media and the expectant civil society.

The nation, however, was shell-shocked when in 2004, he publicly confessed that he was involved in nuclear proliferation as alleged by the US and that it was his personal act without the involvement of the government or any government functionary at any level. The national media found a lifetime scoop to mull over repeatedly. While the international media took this scandalous episode to unknown heights that not only projected him in the best possible dismal colours, but also made relentless efforts to portray Pakistan as an international pariah.

But things started falling in place after this ephemeral shockwave entered the realm of sanity and the inquisitiveness that goes with it. People started asking how could such a high profile and extremely important personality like him - who is always under protective surveillance of the spy agencies - do this over all those years without being noticed?

The nuclear programme was being handled by the military top brass to the exclusion of the political leadership. The civilian leadership had no access to the nuclear installations. The other question agitating the minds of the people was how could Dr Khan do what he confessed to have done without the consent and involvement of those who were responsible for running the nuclear programme?

The centrifuges and other equipment that, according to some circles and the US intelligence sources, were airlifted to their destinations on C-130 that is used by our military, was beyond the capacity of an individual to handle on his own. The conclusion drawn was that, if at all the proliferation had taken place, it had been done with the involvement of the concerned authorities and Dr Khan was not solely responsible for it.

The general impression then was that by confessing this as his personal act, he had again depicted extreme patriotism by presenting himself as a fall guy in this entire episode to protect the national interests. Because, had the involvement of the country or the government been proved, as the US believed, it would have brought disastrous consequences for Pakistan. Dr Khan was still regarded as a hero whose stature had been exponentially enhanced in the eyes of the masses.

The government by resisting USA’s pressure to directly interrogate Dr Khan and share the details of its own investigations with it, saved the day for Pakistan, although the former still looked askance on the entire rigmarole. As time went by, the issue took the backstage though Pakistan continued to bear the brunt of the fallout from this sordid affair.

Recently, Dr Khan has - god knows for what earthly reasons - made a revelation that the nuclear technology was transferred to two countries on the orders of Benazir Bhutto. What he has said is diametrically opposed to what he revealed during his earlier confession.

It is a recorded history that Benazir was regarded as a security risk by our prestigious security establishment and the military leadership also had some kind of aversion to the PPP as a party, if not unremitting hate. It is also a known secret that the military establishment, even when they were not ruling the roost, was making all the crucial decisions, in regards to defence, nuclear programme, Kashmir and Afghanistan. Against the backdrop of the foregoing, logic belies his new revelation that Benazir had ordered it or was in a position to do so.

Dr Khan, by saying what he has said now, has alluded to the involvement of the government in the nuclear proliferation. He has not only undone the goodwill and respect that his supposed sacrifice for the cause of the nation had generated in the hearts of the people, but his indiscretion has also put Pakistan in a very awkward position.

He has reignited the fire that had almost died down, except for sporadic sparks. Those who understand the gravity of the situation and the sensitivity attached to the issue of nuclear proliferation are appalled by his statement. It will harm Pakistan’s case for transfer of civilian nuclear technology, which has already been denied to us on the basis of the earlier revelations by Dr Khan. India has fully exploited Pakistan’s plight and made US to sign an agreement with it for the transfer of civilian nuclear technology, followed by UK and France. The Pakistani government would find it very difficult to defend its position, what to speak of asking for nuclear technology from any nuclear state or the NSG. Though the US and its European allies have not publicly shown any reaction on this new squib, but the incident for sure has not gone unnoticed. They might have thought it inappropriate to react in view of the quagmire that they are stuck into in this region, particularly Afghanistan where they need Pakistan’s help to extricate them from the quicksand. Who knows, they might use this against Pakistan at an appropriate time and the hawkish lobbies within the US and Europe might even advocate sanctions, or some kind of other punitive measures, whenever they find it convenient to do so or even thwart our efforts to attain parity with India, whom the US is already trying to prop up as a regional superpower. India is also likely to make sure that this issue continues to haunt Pakistan for a long time. It has found a red-herring in the form of the statement by the nuclear scientist. I wonder whether Dr Sahib ever cared to think about the repercussions of his indiscretion. Whether he was lying in 2004 or has lied now, only he can tell but his convulsions have certainly relegated him from the position of a hero to that of a villain.

    The writer is a freelance columnist.

    Email: ashpak10@gmail.com