Abdul Qadeer Khan is the father of Pakistan's nuclear program -- and, according to Washington officialdom, the architect of the greatest violation to the nuclear non-proliferation regime that the world has ever seen. Starting in the 1980s and continuing for roughly two decades, the nuclear scientist oversaw the transfer of crucial nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Khan, for his part, asserts that he was merely acting on the orders of the Pakistani government -- in this interview, he rejects criticism of his actions as an example of Western "double standards."
Now, the controversial nuclear scientist is entering Pakistan's political arena. He recently announced the formation of the Movement for the Protection of Pakistan -- or Tehreek Tahaffuze Pakistan (TTP) in Urdu -- which he conceives as an organization that will back worthy candidates in the country's upcoming national assembly elections. He responded by email to questions posed to him by Simon Henderson about his political ambitions and his involvement in the spread of nuclear know-how across the globe.
Foreign Policy: Why are you launching this movement now?
AQ Khan: At the moment Pakistan is in an extremely precarious and dangerous condition - no law and order, widespread load shedding, a high crime rate, high unemployment, high inflation, target killing on religious, sectarian or provincial bases, extortions, kidnappings for ransom, etc. In short, it has gone to the dogs thanks to our most incompetent and corrupt rulers and their Western patrons. When there was mortal danger to Pakistan's existence and sovereignty after the first Indian nuclear explosion in May 1974, our successful nuclear and missile programme provided the country with an impregnable defense. At present we are in an even worse position than at that time. I can't simply sit back and see it destroyed. I feel that I must do something to try to save the situation, to make people aware of the importance and the sanctity of their votes and to use their vote judiciously and wisely in the next [national assembly] elections [due to take place in April 2013].
FP:What is the TTP's platform?
AQK: The aim of the Movement is to address the young generation (47% of the voters' bank), the educated, honest and competent government employees, businessmen (and women), lawyers, etc. in order to mobilize and prepare for the coming elections. They must be aware of the importance of selecting good, competent, qualified bureaucrats and technocrats to stand as independent candidates. A team put together by me will go from city to city to interview and investigate the antecedents of aspiring candidates and select them for the coming elections. We will then wholeheartedly support them. In the very short time of our existence, we already have more than two million volunteers.
FP: Do you have any particular prescriptions for Pakistan's economy and its energy shortages that can have an immediate impact?
AQK: As a competent and experienced engineer and scientist, I have ways and means in mind to solve these problems. Writing reports and forming committees serves little purpose. I am a go-getter and have always done my best to deliver what I promise to do. I am confident that we can solve many of these problems within a reasonable span of time.
My own knowledge and capabilities and the trust the people have in my abilities are the greatest assets. They know I am a competent, honest Pakistani and that I can solve problems and help them out of some of their miseries.
FP: How do you define success for your movement?
AQK: The people realize that things need to change and there is some change in their way of thinking already. If we manage to get a reasonable number of good people elected to Parliament, they can play a very important role. Currently the MQM [Muttahida Qaumi Movement, based in Sind province] with 25 seats (out of 342), the JUI [Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, an Islamist party] with 7 seats and the ANP [Awami National Party, supported by ethic Pashtuns] with 17 seats are blackmailing and determining national policy. We could play a restraining and positive role, blocking all anti-state policies and activities. If we can achieve this, and I am very hopeful of being able to do so, then it will be a big success.
FP: Isn't one of the problems of Pakistan the dominant role of the military in politics and public affairs? How can this change? What is your prescription for the Pakistan military?
AQK: The army has been used by corrupt politicians, just as was happening in Turkey. If promotions were made purely on a seniority basis and personal likes and dislikes are not allowed to play a role, then they would never dare to indulge in politics. Right from the time of Ayub Khan [military dictator from 1958 to 1969] down to the present Chief [of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani], the principle of seniority has been ignored and the consequences have been disastrous.
FP: The acronym for your movement, TTP, is the same as that of the Pakistani Taliban. This is at best unfortunate or confusing. Was it intentional?
AQK: This is sheer coincidence and only came to my notice later. I have never been interested in the activities of the Taliban. The best word to convey our message was "Tahaffuz", which means "protection" or "safety". So the name became "Movement for the Protection of Pakistan", thus "Tehreek Tahaffuze Pakistan" (TTP).
FP: What are your own political ambitions? You are sometimes seen as a potential candidate as head of state (president) of Pakistan - would you take on this non-political role?
AQK: None. The love and affection the whole nation has shown me during all my trials and tribulations has given me what no money can buy. I want to help the country out of this rut and for it to become a respected, moderate, peaceful welfare state having friendly relations with all, especially its immediate neighbours, and enmity with none. I do not want this country to play mercenary to foreign powers. As far as the non-political role is concerned, if the majority of the people think I can help them in that way, I would not shrink from what I would consider as a duty to Pakistan. However, I do not aspire to the position and it would only be possible through overwhelming support and desire.
We are quite clear about my role. I am just a guide -- some sort of Lee Kwan [sic] Yew, the former PM of Singapore, Mahathir [of Malaysia] or, hopefully, Mandela. I will only advise on good governance.