ISLAMABAD // The scientist who turned Pakistan into a nuclear power and then sold its atomic secrets has launched a political movement, but whether his hero status will make him a kingmaker is far from certain, analysts said yesterday.
Abdul Qadeer Khan, who was at the centre of one of the world's biggest nuclear scandals for selling secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya, said his Tehrik-e-Tahafuzz-e-Pakistan has no plan to contest elections but will endorse candidates.
He said the movement's goal is to encourage voters to elect "honest and competent" people.
"Pakistan has been turned into a jungle where there is no rule of law. Corruption is rampant and the nation is demoralised," Mr Khan told The National yesterday. "I can't see destruction of my country as a silent spectator. Therefore, I have decided to motivate young Pakistanis against corrupt and dishonest politicians."
A general election is expected to be held this year or early next year.
Mr Khan, 76, said he planned to visit universities and colleges as well as lawyers' associations across the country in the coming weeks to seek the support of the young generation for his movement.
"I am getting overwhelmingly encouraging response for my appeal. People are contacting us in large numbers and seeking guidance from us to salvage the country."
Mr Khan has long been considered a national hero for his leading role in developing the country's nuclear weapons programme in the 1970s. He founded and ran Pakistan's main uranium research facility, Kahuta Research Laboratories, near Islamabad until retiring in 2001.
Mr Khan fell from grace in 2004 when in a televised address he admitted to smuggling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
He was sacked as the government's top adviser on science. However, the former military president Pervez Musharraf pardoned him a day later and he was placed under house arrest.
Mr Khan is still revered by many Pakistanis, particularly the conservative Islamist groups for his helping to develop the country's nuclear weaponry, which they call the "Islamic bomb". Pakistan carried out its first nuclear weapon tests in 1998 in response to those carried out by India.
Analysts said it was unlikely Mr Khan's popularity would translate into political support because of his lack of experience in politics, and the political and ideological differences among religious groups.
"He has a big following as many people still consider him a hero. Therefore, he can create some political resonance but he can't shake up things on his own unless he aligns himself with a major political force," said Imtiaz Gul, the executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.
Mr Khan said he had no plan to forge an alliance with either of the two main political parties; Pakistan People's Party of President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistan Muslim League faction led by the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Much of Mr Khan's "support lies in the religious lobby but there is stiff competition for votes within this lobby itself … I believe he can't make much difference except for few statements here and there," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based independent analyst.
Mr Khan's political activities could cause alarm in the West, particularly the United States, which expressed concern after Pakistan relaxed his house arrest on the orders of Islamabad's High Court in 2009 and said he was still a "serious proliferation risk".
Washington has long been pressing Islamabad to let international interrogators question Mr Khan over the nuclear scandal but Islamabad has rejected the demands.
"But such concerns will largely go unnoticed in Pakistan," Mr Gul said.