Read an exclusive interview with AQ Khan here.
In contemporary history, few men are as controversial as Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Celebrated at home as the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, he saw his international reputation tarnished after it emerged that he handed over crucial nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. The uranium enrichment centrifuges spinning at Iran's giant Natanz facility near Isfahan and the Fordow plant buried deep under a mountain near Qom are based on a design Khan brought to Pakistan from the Netherlands in the 1970s. For his proliferation sins, he was personally sanctioned by the United States in 2009.
Even now, mere mention of his name in some official circles in Washington leads to invective that makes the often vicious rhetoric of the current presidential campaign seem tame by comparison.
The latest developments in Pakistan, then, will likely have some U.S. officials reaching for their blood-pressure medication: AQ Khan is becoming a political force in his country, and is trying to become a player in the national assembly elections due to take place in April 2013. He recently launched the Movement for the Protection of Pakistan, or in Urdu, Tehreek Tahaffuze Pakistan (TTP). He responded by email to questions posed to him by Foreign Policy about his political ambitions and whether he has any lingering regrets about supplying nuclear know-how to some of the world's worst rogue states.
"Pakistan is in an extremely precarious and dangerous condition ... it has gone to the dogs thanks to our most incompetent and corrupt rulers and their Western patrons," he responded when asked his reason for launching the party."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 elections."
Despite reports that the TTP is an actual political party, AQ Khan appears to conceive of it as a broad-based movement whose goal is to direct Pakistanis to worthy candidates. Nevertheless, while Khan did not mention the two principal political parties -- the ruling Pakistan People's Party and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League -- by name, it is clear that he has little time for the career politicians who make up their ranks. He told me that he wants his movement to appeal to "the young generation, the educated, honest and competent government employees, businessmen (and women), lawyers, to mobilise 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."
Many Pakistanis who have been educated abroad and traveled widely, like Khan, can appear very worldly. But Khan, whom I interviewed twice for the Financial Times in the 1990s, always struck me as less cosmopolitan than others. He is also prone to some degree of political naivete. "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," he wrote, by way of explanation for how the movement would expand. "In the very short time of our existence, we already have more than two million volunteers."