WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's national nuclear hero, was also a nuclear black market pariah. He sold and smuggled bomb-making secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya, and was put under house arrest by former President Pervez Musharraf for five years (2004-09).
This week, A.Q. Khan was back in business -- to pull his country out from under what he called "the slavery of the United States." He had a receptive audience of tens of millions as the latest Pew Foundation survey indicates three out of four Pakistanis agreeing the United States is their "main enemy."
In 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush conferred on Pakistan the title of "major non-NATO ally."
A metallurgist by training, Khan stole nuclear bomb making secrets from the Netherlands where he was working and fathered Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, the first Islamic nation to acquire one.
Pakistan's first nuclear bomb test in 1998 came only two weeks after India detonated its first five nuclear explosions.
Following his release from house arrest three years ago, Khan, 75, quietly went to work off stage to form a coalition of former military leaders and prominent anti-U.S. politicians.
Khan's new political party is named "Tehrik-i-Tahaffuz Pakistan," which means "Movement to Protect Pakistan." There is already another TTP -- Tehtik e Taliban Pakistan -- which stands for the "Black Tornado."
Khan will serve as "patron in chief" of the new party. Addressing his new anti-American flock, he said, "I never wanted to join politics but when your country is on the verge of total collapse, it is not right to remain a spectator.
"Incompetent rulers have destroyed our country," he said, pinning the blame on former Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, convicted last April of contempt of court for refusing to ask Swiss authorities to reopen corruption proceedings against President Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated Dec. 27, 2007.
Khan described Gilani as former head of the "thief family."
Zardari has already served 11 1/2 years in prison for massive corruption that was never proved.
Last month, Raja Pervez Ashraf replaced Gilani as prime minister pending national elections before February 2013.
Khan has left no doubt that he expects to be the next president of Pakistan. And he has already picked the man he wants as prime minister: Imran Khan, chairman of Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement of Justice Party), dubbed Pakistan's Ron Paul, and one of the world's eight all-time great cricketers. He recently canceled a U.S. lecture tour.
Provided his "grateful nation" wants him as president, A.Q. Khan said he wants Imran Khan as prime minister.
The most powerful opposition leader is former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who was convicted of hijacking and treason in 1999. Sharif, then in his second term as prime minister, refused to let an airliner carrying his dismissed military chief, Musharraf, to land in Pakistan on his return from a conference in Sri Lanka.
Runways had been scattered with obstacles, which the army removed, allowing Musharraf's plane to land with less than 5 minutes of fuel in its tanks. The army then deposed Sharif in a bloodless coup.
Musharraf became president and Sharif was convicted of hijacking and treason, sentenced to life in prison.
A compromise was negotiated -- Sharif is immensely wealthy -- and he was allowed to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia, provided he stayed out of politics for the next 10 years. He has been cleared of all charges -- and Musharraf is now in self-imposed exile.
As head of the "Pakistan Muslim League (N)," Sharif has been prime minister twice and has been biding his time for a return to high office.
Imran Khan is certainly more popular than Sharif -- but Sharif has more political clout. He was arguably the most powerful prime minister in the country's 65-year history.
A.Q. Khan is a close friend of the notorious Hamid Gul, the onetime Pakistani intelligence chief who was a partner of the late terrorist chief Osama bin Laden and of Mullah Omar, the Taliban chief now underground in Pakistan, protected by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
A.Q. Khan and Gul together have a wide circle of friends and supporters whose principal objective is to move the United States and its NATO allies out of Afghanistan, coupled with a de facto alliance with Taliban to maneuver the United States out of Afghanistan, in effect sealing victory for Taliban, whom they believe they can control.
When and if the anti-U.S. coalition moves as a cohesive front, and takes over Pakistan from the top down, they will be faced with a quagmire of seemingly insuperable crises. These range from banned terrorist networks operating increasingly above ground to an economic disaster in a nuclear power.
It all adds up to something bigger than all the combined threats now facing the remainder of the moderate democratic world.
This is no Vietnam redux. It is bigger than all the combined threats facing the moderate world.
ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE || UPI Editor at Large