Counter-Terrorism: What Am I Bid For This National Hero?

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September 6, 2009: The latest money raising effort by the Pakistani Taliban is believed to be an attempt to kidnap Pakistani national hero, nuclear weapons scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. He made himself rich, selling nuclear weapons technology in the 1990s, after stealing some of the tech from Europe in the 1970s. Kahn eventually got caught. But because he was a national hero for leading the development of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, he got put out to pasture, with his money. The Pakistani government has refused to let the United States, or anyone else, interview Khan.

The Pakistanis had Kahn under house arrest for five years, until earlier this year, when a judge freed him from those restrictions. Khan lives in a well guarded neighborhood, but now the government has, in effect, returned him to house arrest status. This decision is believed to have been driven by the Taliban kidnapping threat. Maybe not, as no one will confirm anything.

But such a high profile kidnapping is the kind of grandstanding stunt the Taliban favors. If they managed to grab Khan, and get him back to the tribal territories, they could offer him to either Pakistan, or the United States, depending on who offered the most money. For the Pakistani government, we are talking national hero here. For the United States, Khan is a criminal, who did more for nuclear proliferation than anyone single individual, ever. Even if the Taliban did not manage to pull off this sort of super auction, they would have scored a tremendous propaganda victory.

But grabbing Khan, and getting away with it, even when he was not under house arrest, would have been extremely difficult. One thing the Taliban are not concerned about is how much most Pakistanis would hate them if Khan were snatched. That's because the Taliban have read the recent popularity polls, and know that their popularity cannot sink much lower. And they do need the money.

 


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