New controversy: AQ Khan dives into The Atlantic

New controversy: AQ Khan dives into The Atlantic


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In an exclusive interview with iMediaEthics, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the metallurgist blamed by the West for making Pakistan a nuclear power, condemned inaccuracies in The Atlantic magazine’s November 2005 cover story, which he says falsely accused him of a ‘brazen act of illegality’ when it claimed his Rawalpindi house was “built in blatant disregard of the law.”

Khan told iMediaEthics, a website which advocates for fair journalism, by phone that the report in The Atlantic “is totally rubbish and based on lies by William Langewiesche, who is a liar.” The Bani Gala house in sight of Rawal Lake “is totally a legal construction and there are dozens of houses in the row of my house.”

“The court has requested me not to indulge in such interviews and conflicting debates,” Khan said, “but despite this I would like to say that the writer, William Langewiesche, has been involved for a long time in my character assassination campaign.”

Langewiesche’s story sets up a dramatic opposition: the wealthy Khan, with the large country home, against Islamabad’s poor, who ultimately drink water polluted by development near the lake.

Khan did not just build a weekend house, according to Langewiesche. He (and soon his rich, powerful friends) defied zoning laws in his choice of location. Langewiesche wrote: “The attraction was not in the setting on the lake (there are prettier lakes nearby) but, rather, in the open defiance of the law – an opportunity for the display of personal power.”

iMediaEthics found that Langewiesche and The Atlantic fact checkers failed to square that account against the zoning laws and English-language court records that in fact show Khan’s home is perfectly legal.

On June 25, 1992, Pakistan’s Capital Development Authority and Islamabad police launched an operation against residents of Bani Gala to confront supposed encroachment on the lake. Police arrested more than 70 Bani Gala residents, and during a seven-hour standoff, crossfire between the police and the villagers killed two men. The lake development gained instant infamy.

In 1998, Dr Khan was among villagers who filed suits against the CDA, asking for an end to the construction ban or for separate land on which they could build. On June 25, 1999, Justice Muhammad Nawaz Abbassi found in favor of Dr Khan and other petitioners. An order to bulldoze Khan’s and other villagers’ homes was dismissed.

iMediaEthics spoke with SM Zaffar, a senior lawyer and senator, who fought the case in the Islamabad High Court . He confirmed that “the government cleared the position that there is no issue and problem with the house of Khan in Bani Gala” in the case.

When contacted by iMediaEthics, Malik Farukh Nadeem was the teshildar – the senior revenue officer on the sale, purchase and transfer of land, he’s now Islamabad’s city magistrate. “The house of Dr A Q Khan is totally legal,” he said. “… The verdict of the court has legalised this whole area for all kinds of construction.”

Why did Langewiesche accuse Khan of illegality in Bani Gala? Khan told iMediaEthics that the author “never approached me to take my version” before publication – a basic practice of ethical journalism. In the same November 2005 report, Langewiesche also insinuated – by recounting a question to a source – that Khan may have “frequented prostitutes” while working in the Netherlands.

To add insult to the injury, Khan’s full name is misspelled throughout the 13,400-word report as Abdul Quadeer Khan instead of Abdul Qadeer Khan. Langewiesche corrected the spelling in The Atomic Bazaar, a 2007 book. Online, in The Atlantic’s archives, the error persists.

For its part, The Atlantic has stood by the 2005 article and also emphasised the impossibility of hearing Khan’s side of the story.

Natalie Raabe, spokesperson for The Atlantic said: “This article was carefully researched, reported, and fact-checked, and we stand by it. In reporting the story, Mr Langewiesche naturally attempted to interview Dr Khan. Dr Khan, however, was under house arrest and security services denied all access to him. To this point, Langewiesche writes in the article that Dr Khan was ‘…surrounded by guards and security agents, cut off from contact with the outside world, not allowed to read the newspapers or watch television, let alone to use the telephone or the Internet, and held beyond the reach of even the intelligence services of the United States.’ ”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2012.

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