OP-ED: The fallen ‘hero’ —Roedad Khan
The jury is still out on Dr Qadeer Khan. We have to await the verdict of history. Meanwhile, Khan is paying for each one of us
“I take full responsibility for my actions and seek your pardon”, said Dr Qadeer Khan, the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, on national television on February 4. He added that he had acted entirely on his own and he had not had the permission of his superiors to share the technology. “There was never, ever, any kind of authority for these activities from the government”.
In silent footage shown on national television earlier in the day, a forlorn Khan was seen leaning forward, speaking to a grim-looking President Pervez Musharraf sitting stiffly and dressed in a commando uniform. A day later, Musharraf pardoned the father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme for giving away nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, accepting Khan’s plea for mercy after he admitted the leaks in a televised confession. “There is a written appeal for mercy from his side, and there is a pardon written from my side”, General Musharraf said at a news conference.
Khan appeared cowed. He read out the prepared statement as though he were seeing it for the first time. It reminded one of the great Moscow trials of the 1930s with their press campaigns, set-piece confessions and the deadly aftermath. One of the characteristics of these trials was Stalin’s obsession with forcing his victims to sign elaborate confessions. As soon as he received their testimonies from the security agencies, he distributed them to the Politburo who found this deluge of self-incriminations and denunciations hard to refute. “He writes it himself... signs every page”. In return for the promise of a presidential pardon, Khan too agreed to perform in a media show trial in full view of the people at home and abroad. It was like a play with the rules prepared in advance.
Khan’s well-wishers implored him not to tarnish the lustre of his name by participating in such a shady deal. With his literal repetition of his accuser’s pronouncements, Khan in effect was saying to the world: “don’t believe me”. The Romans achieved the same objective differently. They used to tie comic masks over the faces of their prisoners before they let the beast loose on them in the arena; they died not as martyrs but as clowns. Their torturers robbed them of the last shred of their humanity: the dignity of death.
The most disturbing feature of Khan’s case is the fact that he was under considerable pressure to confess. There were various reasons why the effort was deemed worthwhile. The administration needed confession as insurance against the charge of illegal procedures. Everyone from Musharraf down seems to have been careful to maintain the appearance and semblance of legality. Although all kinds of reasons have been put forward to explain the confession, it is obvious that there can be no single explanation. Fear of persecution, harassment, threats, sense of isolation, helplessness, and inducements, all played their part. No one, not even his lawyer, visited him, there was no scope for heroics and no opportunity for courtroom speeches. It was easy to persuade Khan that he was no longer needed and would best serve the interests of his country by confessing his crime and disappearing in the shadows.
It is axiomatic that before pardoning him, Khan had to be proved guilty. He was not produced in a court of law. The first question that arises is: Did his accusers prove the guilt of the scientist? The case against Khan is based almost entirely on his confession. In criminal cases, a confession made by the accused voluntarily is evidence against him of the facts stated and, if true, can form the basis of his conviction. But a confession induced by any promise or threat relating to the charge and made by or with the sanction of a person in authority, even if true, is deemed not to be voluntary and is inadmissible because such confession is untrustworthy. In determining this question, the following circumstances have to be considered:
(i) Khan was not a free person when he made the confession. He was in the protective custody of the security agencies and his movements were restricted.
(ii) The confession by Khan was not made to a magistrate, nor was it made in the course of legal proceedings. It is an extra-judicial confession which is highly suspect and calls for greater caution and care. Our courts are most reluctant to act upon such confessions.
(iii) Khan made the confession on a presidential promise of pardon. Such a confession, made as it is on the faith of a complete immunity from everything but the moral and social consequences of acknowledged guilt, is untrustworthy. Consequently, it has never been questioned by our courts that a confession made in consequence of a promise of pardon held out by a person in authority is inadmissible and cannot form the basis of a finding of guilt. The inescapable conclusion is that the entire proceedings beginning with Khan’s “debriefing”, followed by his televised confession and ending with a presidential pardon, are null and void.
Be that as it may, these are times when every Pakistani must hang his head in shame. ‘Pakistan-first’ is an empty, hypocritical slogan. Nobody believes in it. Today all patriotic Pakistanis are saddened and bewildered. Meanwhile, our rulers, terrified of what tomorrow may bring, take refuge in clever lies and play on words. The country is demanding the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Why single out Khan and scapegoat him? Why did he have to be humiliated? Why this selective accountability? Why not unmask all those who are up to their elbows in it? These are irritating misprints in history but truth shall prevail. Le verite en marche: the truth is on the march and nothing shall stop it. The first act has ended. The curtain has fallen on this appalling drama. Another will follow, then another, and then the final act. It is a mathematical certainty.
“Governments can err. Presidents do make mistakes”, Franklin D. Roosevelt told the 1936 convention, “but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine Justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and sins of the warm-hearted in different scales”. How will Divine Justice weigh the sins of Khan? The jury is still out on Dr Qadeer Khan. We have to await the verdict of history. Meanwhile, Khan is paying for each one of us.
Roedad Khan is a former secretary-general of the ministry of interior. He wrote this exclusively for Daily Times