1. The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was jointly awarded to David Julius, 66, at the University of California, San Francisco, and Ardem Patapoutian, 54, at Scripps Research, La Jolla, California, “for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch”.

What is the significance of their work?

The two researchers discovered the molecular mechanism by which our body senses temperature and touch. Being able to do this opens the field for a lot of practical chemistry whereby individual cells and pathways can be tweaked, suppressed or activated to quell pain or sensation. How the body senses external stimuli is among the oldest excursions of natural philosophy. Entire schools of philosophy were based on speculating how the senses influenced the nature of the reality we perceive. Only when physiology developed as an independent discipline and anatomy came into its own did it become widely accepted that specific sensations were the result of different categories of nerves getting stimulated. Thus, a caress or a punch induces cells in our bodies to react differently and convert into specific patterns of electrical stimulation that is then conveyed via the nerves to the central nervous system. Since the Nobel Prizes came to be, at least three of them were for establishing key principles for how sensations travelled along skin and muscle sensory nerve fibres. Much like the length, thickness, material and incident force on their strings elicit specific tones out of a guitar or a piano, there are specific nerve fibre types that in tandem create a response to touch, heat and proprioception, or the sense of our body’s movement and position in space. However, the prominence of molecular biology means that physiology wanted to go a level deeper and find out what specific proteins and which genes are responsible in this symphony of the nerves.

What is the contribution of David Julius towards this?

Capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide), the active component of chili peppers, generates the burning sensation when eating spicy food. Studies on capsaicin showed that when it acted on sensory nerves it induced ionic currents, or the gush of charged particles along a membrane. In the late 1990s, Professor Julius pursued a project to identify a nerve receptor for capsaicin. He thought that understanding the action of capsaicin could provide insights into how the body sensed pain. He and his team went about this by looking for a gene that could induce a response to capsaicin in cells that usually wouldn’t react to it. They found one in a novel ion channel protein, later called TRPV1, where TRP stands for transient receptor potential, and VR1 is vanilloid receptor1. They were part of a super family of TRP and it was found that TRPV1 was activated when temperatures were greater than 40 degrees Celsius, which is close to the body’s pain threshold. Several other TRP channels were found, and this ion channel could be activated by various chemical substances, as well as by cold and heat in a way that differs between mammalian species.

What did Ardem Patapoutian find?

Growing up in Beirut as an Armenian, during the Lebanese Civil War, Patapoutian has related stories of being captured by militants at university, before he moved to the United States. Patapoutian and his colleagues were working on how pressure and force affected cells. Following an approach similar to that of Professor Julius, they identified 72 potential genes that could encode an ion channel receptor and trigger sensitivity to mechanical force, and it emerged that one of them coded for a novel ion channel protein, called Piezo1. Via Piezo1, a second gene was discovered and named Piezo2. Sensory neurons were found to express high levels of Piezo2 and further studies firmly established that Piezo1 and Piezo2 are ion channels that are directly activated by the exertion of pressure on cell membranes. The breakthrough by Professor Patapoutian led to a series of papers from his and other groups, demonstrating that the Piezo2 ion channel is essential for the sense of touch. Moreover, Piezo2 was shown to play a key role in proprioception as well as regulate blood pressure, respiration and urinary bladder control. Independently of one another, Professor Julius and Professor Patapoutian used the chemical substance menthol to identify TRPM8, a receptor activated by cold.

What applications do these discoveries have?

Along with the discoveries of specific genes, proteins and pathways, the scientists pioneered experimental methods that allow insight into the structure of these pain and temperature sensors. The challenge for pain relieving drugs is to precisely target regions without causing imbalance in other necessary functions. These scientists’ work, the Nobel Prize committee said, significantly helped towards reaching that goal.

Source: The Hindu

2. The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2021 has been awarded to climatologists Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, U.S., and Klaus Hasselmann of Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany, and physicist Giorgio Parisi of Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. The prize has been given for their “groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems”. Professors Manabe and Hasselmann will share half the prize and Professor Parisi will receive one-half of the prize. Professors Manabe and Hasselmann bagged the Prize “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming”. Professor Parisi won “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales”.

How is their work linked?

Though the prize-winning work done by the laureates are in different areas, they are broadly linked, as they fall under the umbrella of complex systems, climate on the one hand, and spin liquids on the other, the former a phenomenon that spans length scales ranging from centimetres to the size of the planet and the latter a description of what goes on at a microscopic level. The Nobel is being given to climatologists for the first time since its inception in 1901, and this sends out a message that cannot be repeated too often: there is a solid physics basis to climate science, on which the laureates have spent decades, and many other scientists have striven to establish.

What is the context of Syukuro Manabe’s work?

The incoming short wavelength radiation from the Sun is absorbed by the Earth and re-emitted outwards as long wavelength radiation. The atmosphere absorbs a part of this outgoing radiation and warms up. This is known as the green-house effect. The green-house effect has been known from the work of French mathematician Joseph Fourier two hundred years ago, although it was given its name much later. This warming of the atmosphere and the ground below it is affected by greenhouse gases — water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and other such. The greenhouse effect also has a positive impact: it keeps the surface of the earth warm and makes life possible. However, when the percentage of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases, this warming also increases and can rise to a degree that is harmful to life itself. Around the close of the 19th century, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius estimated that should the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere double, this would cause its temperature to increase by 5-6 degrees.

What is Manabe’s key contribution to climate science?

In the 1950s and 1960s, Professor Manabe and collaborators made pioneering attempts at modelling atmospheric warming due to the increase in carbon dioxide. He estimated that a doubling of carbon dioxide would lead to a temperature rise of 2 degrees. His model confirmed that the rise in temperature was, indeed, due to the increase in carbon dioxide, because it predicted rising temperatures close to the ground and cooling of outer layers of the atmosphere. If the warming had been due to the Sun’s radiation, it would have been uniform. It was Professor Manabe’s model that pinned the quantitative impact of warming due to carbon dioxide.

What are the important aspects of Hasselmann’s work?

The term, weather, refers to day-to-day variations in temperature and rainfall, whereas climate describes long-time effects and also seasonal and average behaviour over a long time. While it is very difficult to predict the former, the latter appears predictable, as for instance, in the anticipated regularity of monsoons year after year. The striking aspect of Professor Hasselmann’s work is that he built a connection between the rapid, randomly varying, “noise-like” weather patterns and inferred from these the “signal” of climate. He built a stochastic climate model that connects the two. He did this around 1980. According to information released by the Nobel Academy, Professor Hasselmann later developed methods to identify the human fingerprint on climate change. The models that he built carried information about warming due to solar radiation, the greenhouse gases and other causes, each of which could be separated. His study, followed by that of others, demonstrated the human impact on climate change through several observations.

Parisi was rewarded for his work on spin liquids. What are these?

To understand the work of Giorgio Parisi, it is necessary to understand four concepts with a dash of abstraction to them — spins, frustration, spin glasses and replica symmetry. Spins are like minimalistic line drawings of magnets. Just as magnets point in the north-south direction, spins are arrows that point along one direction. Consider a triangular array of spins that can either point up or down. Let us say that the neighbouring pairs of spins always like to point in opposite directions. In a triangular array with spins A, B and C, if A points up, and to satisfy the condition, B points down, what will be the direction in which C must point — up or down? If C points down, it will be parallel to B, thus violating that bond. If it points up, it will become parallel to A, thus violating the A-C bond. So, the spin C does not know how to align itself. This is the classic situation called “frustration”. If you extend the description of a triangular arrangement of spins to a triangular mesh or net (triangular lattice) and place spins on each intersection, you will see that it is impossible to find a state where all neighbouring spins are aligned opposite to one another. This is a frustrated system.

The information released by the Nobel Academy describes how when a gas — which can be pictured as a collection of tiny balls flying around at random — is cooled slowly, it condenses first into a liquid and then a solid which most of the time is crystalline (with the balls being fixed into a periodic array). However, if the gas is cooled rapidly, it just goes into a glass state where some periodicity is present and some random placements. Similarly, frustration can lead the spin systems to form a spin glass.

What was the breakthrough made by Parisi?

In the 1970s, many physicists tried to calculate meaningful quantities out of spin glasses by using “a replica trick” — this is a mathematical technique in which many copies of the system (or replicas) are processed at the same time. However, they were not quite successful. Parisi, in a breakthrough in 1979, was able to identify a structure to the replicas and describe it mathematically. This led to the method being used eventually to solve problems in the field of complex systems. This went beyond physics and helped in solving problems in mathematics, biology, neuroscience.

What are the physical examples of Parisi’s work?

Parisi has also studied other phenomena in which simple behaviours give rise to complex collective behaviour like murmurations of starlings. This is a phenomenon that arises when hundreds or thousands of starlings fly together in co-ordinated patterns across the sky. Phillip Anderson’s words aptly describe the philosophy of studying such systems, as quoted in the Academy’s release: “The history of spin glasses may be the best example I know of the dictum that a real scientific mystery is worth pursuing to the ends of the Earth for its own sake, independently of any obvious practical importance or intellectual glamour.”

Source: The Hindu

3. The 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to German scientist Benjamin List of the Max Planck Institute and Scotland-born scientist David W.C. MacMillan of Princeton University “for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis”. Developed by the duo in 2000, this novel technique of catalysis is an efficient, “precise, cheap, fast and environmentally friendly” way to develop new molecules.

What is catalysis?

Catalysis is a term used to describe a process in the presence of a substance (the catalyst) that controls and influences the rate and/or the outcome of the reaction. The substance — the catalyst — which helps in achieving this remains intact and is not consumed during the reaction and neither becomes a part of the final product. The catalyst is subsequently removed so as not to add impurity to the final product. Catalysts are often used to produce new and functional molecules that are utilised in drugs and other everyday substances. For example, catalysts in cars transform toxic substances in exhaust fumes to harmless molecules. When silver is put in a beaker along with hydrogen peroxide, the latter suddenly breaks down to form water and oxygen. The silver, which initiated the reaction, does not get consumed or affected by the reaction.

The Nobel release points out that in 1835, the renowned Swedish chemist Jacob Berzelius started to see a pattern. “He listed several examples in which just the presence of a substance started a chemical reaction, stating how this phenomenon appeared to be considerably more common than was previously thought. He believed that the substance had a catalytic force and called the phenomenon itself catalysis.”

What were the conventional catalysts used before the discovery of asymmetric organocatalysis?

Two very different catalysts —metals and enzymes— were routinely used by chemists before Dr. List and Dr. MacMillan developed the asymmetric organocatalysts. As the name denotes, metal catalysts often use heavy metals. This makes them not only expensive but also environmentally unfriendly as sufficient care needs to be taken to ensure the final product does not contain even traces of the catalyst. There are several other challenges when metal catalysts are used. The heavy metals used in these catalysts are often highly sensitive to the presence of oxygen and moisture. Hence, industrial application of this class of catalysts required equipment that ensured no contact with either oxygen and moisture, which made the process expensive.

In the case of enzyme catalysts, the problem arises from their very large sizes. They are often 10,000 times larger than the actual target medicine and can take just as long to make. Enzymes, which are proteins found in nature, are wonderful catalysts. Our bodies also contain thousands of such enzyme catalysts which help make molecules necessary for life. Many molecules exist in mirror images — left-handed and right-handed. But the molecules of interest will be one of the two mirror images. Many enzymes engage in asymmetric catalysis, which help in producing only one mirror image. They also work in a continuous fashion — when one enzyme is finished with a reaction, another one takes over. In this way, they can build complicated molecules with amazing precision.

What makes asymmetric organocatalysts superior to metal and enzyme catalysts?

Unlike enzyme catalysts which are huge, asymmetric organocatalysts are made of a single amino acid. They are not only environmentally friendly but also quicken the reaction and make the process cheaper. Most importantly, asymmetric organocatalysts allow only one mirror image of the molecule to form as the catalysts are made from a single, circular amino acid. Chemists often want only one of these mirror images, particularly when producing drugs.

Organic catalysts have a stable framework of carbon atoms, to which more active chemical groups can attach. These often contain common elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur or phosphorus. This means that these catalysts are both environmentally friendly and cheaper to produce.

Organocatalysts can allow several steps in the molecule production process to be performed in an unbroken sequence. This is achieved by cascade reactions in which the product of the first reaction step is the starting material for the subsequent one, thus avoiding unnecessary purification operations between each reaction step. This helps in considerably reducing waste in chemical manufacturing. Before organocatalysts could be used, it was often necessary to isolate and purify each intermediate product to prevent the accumulation of a large volume of unnecessary byproducts. This led to loss of some of the substance at every single stage of the process.

How have asymmetric organocatalysts been utilised by chemists and other industries?

Ever since the two laureates developed the novel concept of asymmetric organocatalysis, the field has witnessed rapid development. Since 2000, the asymmetric organocatalysis research area has flourished. A huge number of cheap and stable organocatalysts, which can be used to drive a huge variety of chemical reactions and applications, has been developed. This period is referred to as the ‘organocatalysis gold rush’. Currently, the area is “well established in organic chemistry and has branched into several new and exciting applications”.

Besides helping the generation of novel molecules used in various industries, pharmaceutical companies have used asymmetric organocatalysis to “streamline the production of existing pharmaceuticals”. Thanks to a multitude of catalysts that can break down molecules or join them together, “they can now carve out the thousands of different substances we use in our everyday lives, such as pharmaceuticals, plastics, perfumes and food flavourings”. The fact is, according to the release, it is estimated that 35% of the world’s total GDP in some way involves chemical catalysis.

Source: The Hindu

4. Taxing Big Tech where it earns profits

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Organizations

A majority of the world’s nations have signed a historic pact that could force multinational companies to pay their fair share of tax in markets where they operate and earn profits. One hundred and thirty-six countries, including India, agreed Friday to enforce a minimum corporate tax rate of 15%, and an equitable system of taxing profits of big companies in markets where they are earned. Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have not yet joined the deal.

The move is part of an evolving consensus that big multinationals are funnelling profits through low-tax jurisdictions to avoid paying taxes. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), comprising mostly developed economies, has led talks on a minimum corporate tax rate for a decade. A multilateral convention is to be signed next year.

The biggest impact is likely on Big Tech companies that have largely chosen low-tax jurisdictions to headquarter their operations.

What are the decisions taken?

The decisions effectively ratify the OECD’s two-pillar package that aims to ensure that large multinational enterprises (MNEs) “pay tax where they operate and earn profits”.

Pillar One aims to ensure a fairer distribution of profits and taxing rights among countries with respect to the largest MNEs, including digital companies. This would entail reallocation of some taxing rights over MNEs from their home countries to markets where they have business and earn profits, regardless of whether firms have a physical presence there.

Pillar Two seeks to put a floor on competition over corporate income tax, through a global minimum corporate tax rate that countries can use to protect their tax bases.

The 15% floor under the corporate tax will come in from 2023, provided all countries move such legislation. This will cover firms with global sales above 20 billion Euros ($23 billion) and profit margins above 10%. A quarter of any profits above 10% is proposed to be reallocated to the countries where they were earned, and taxed there.

The move follows an earlier agreement among the G7 economies in London in June. The two-pillar solution will be delivered to the G20 Finance Ministers meeting in Washington DC on October 13, and then to the subsequent G20 Leaders Summit in Rome.

The two-pillar solution, according to Sumit Singhania, Partner, Deloitte India, will result in “a redistribution of $125 billion taxable profits annually”, and ensure MNEs pay minimum 15% tax once this is implemented. A consensus on global minimum tax “will practically make tax competition amongst nations rather unfeasible by narrowing down any such opportunities to rarest circumstances… In the end, two-pillar solutions ought to be reckoned as enduring overhaul of a century old international tax regime, that’s here to change the rule of the global profit allocation amongst taxing jurisdictions completely”.

Why the minimum rate?

The new proposal is aimed at squeezing the opportunities for MNEs to indulge in profit shifting, ensuring they pay at least some of their taxes where they do business. According to Amit Singhania, Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co., the two-pillar solution will ensure that “once again, the world will be global, at least in following the principles of taxation rather than following territorial laws”.

In April this year, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had urged the world’s 20 advanced nations to move in the direction of adopting a minimum global corporate income tax. A global pact works well for the US government at this time. The same holds true for most other countries in western Europe, even as some low-tax European jurisdictions such as the Netherlands, Ireland and Luxembourg and some in the Caribbean rely largely on tax rate arbitrage to attract MNCs.

The proposal also has some degree of support from the IMF. While China is not likely to have a serious objection with the US call, a concern for Beijing would be the impact on Hong Kong, the seventh largest tax haven in the world, according to a study published earlier this year by the advocacy body Tax Justice Network. Plus, China’s frayed relationship with the US could be a deterrent in negotiations.

Who are the targets?

Apart from low-tax jurisdictions, the proposals are tailored to address the low effective rates of tax shelled out by some of the world’s biggest corporations, including Big Tech majors such as Apple, Alphabet and Facebook, as well as those such as Nike and Starbucks.These companies typically rely on complex webs of subsidiaries to hoover profits out of major markets into low-tax countries such as Ireland, the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, or Panama.

The US loses nearly $50 billion a year to tax cheats, according to the Tax Justice Network report, with Germany and France also among the top losers. India’s annual loss due to corporate tax abuse is estimated at over $10 billion.

What are the problems with the plan?

Apart from the challenges of getting all major nations on the same page, since this impinges on the right of the sovereign to decide a nation’s tax policy, the proposal has other pitfalls. A global minimum rate would essentially take away a tool countries use to push policies that suit them. Also, bringing in laws by next year so that it can take effect from 2023 is is a tough task. The deal has also been criticised for lacking teeth: Groups such as Oxfam said the deal would not put an end to tax havens.

Where does India stand?

India, which has had reservations about the deal, ultimately backed it in Paris. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had last week said India is “close” to deciding the specifics of the two-pillar proposal and is in the final stages of deciding on the details.

India is likely to try and balance its interests, while asserting that taxation is ultimately a “sovereign function”. India may have to withdraw its digital tax or equalisation levy if the global tax deal comes through. OECD said the Multilateral Convention (MLC) will “require all parties to remove all Digital Services Taxes and other relevant similar measures with respect to all companies, and to commit not to introduce such measures in the future.”

To address “the challenges posed by the enterprises who conduct their business through digital means and carry out activities in the country remotely”, the government has the ‘Equalisation Levy’, introduced in 2016. Also, the IT Act has been amended to bring in the concept of “Significant Economic Presence” for establishing “business connection” in the case of non-residents in India.

Also, there are apprehensions on the impact of this deal on investment activity. The New York Times reported on October 7: “India, China, Estonia and Poland have said the minimum tax could harm their ability to attract investment with special lures like research and development credits and special economic zones that offer tax breaks to investors.”

Sitharaman on September 21, 2019 had announced a cut in corporate taxes for domestic companies to 22% and for new domestic manufacturing companies to 15%. The Taxation Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019 amends the Income-Tax Act, 1961 to provide for the concessional tax rate for existing domestic companies subject to certain conditions. Also, existing domestic companies opting for the concessional taxation regime will not be required to pay Minimum Alternate Tax.

This, along with other measures, was estimated to cost the exchequer Rs 1.45 lakh crore annually. The effective tax rate, inclusive of surcharge and cess, for Indian domestic companies is around 25.17%.

“While taxation is ultimately a sovereign function, and depends upon the needs and circumstances of the nation, the government is open to participate and engage in the emerging discussions globally around the corporate tax structure. The economic division will look into the pros and cons of the new proposal as and when it comes and the government will take a view thereafter,” said a senior government official. The average corporate tax rate stands at around 29% for existing companies that are claiming some benefit or the other.

Another official said New Delhi was “proactively engaging” with foreign governments with a view to facilitating and enhancing exchange of information under Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements, Tax Information Exchange Agreements and Multilateral Conventions to plug loopholes.

Source: The Indian Express

5. Dr AQ Khan: ‘Father of Pak bomb’ and stealer of nuclear secrets, revered even after fall from grace

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Issues

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, who died in Islamabad on Sunday (October 10) of Covid-related complications at age 85, was revered in Pakistan as the “father” of the country’s “atom bomb”. In popular lore, he is eulogised as the man who single-handedly ensured that Pakistan succeeded in to making nuclear weapons, and in this significant respect, made Pakistan an equal of India.

The international shame he brought Pakistan for running a rogue nuclear network and proliferating for personal profit did not dent his stature at all. Instead, the man who was born in Bhopal in 1936, and whose family migrated to Pakistan during Partition, was seen as a patriot, the victim of an international conspiracy to rob Pakistan of its nuclear jewels, and to defame the country.

Khan’s nation honoured him with the titles of Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Order of Excellence, Pakistan’s highest civilian honour) and Mohsin-e-Pakistan (Benefactor of Pakistan).

But his colleagues at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission scoffed at his nuclear credentials — his main qualification was as a metallurgical engineer — and he was reportedly not the leader of the team that tested Pakistan’s nuclear device in May 1998 after India carried out its tests in Pokharan, although he was present at the test site in Chagai. What everyone acknowledges, though, is his role in providing the first blueprints for Pakistan’s centrifuges, setting it on the path to uranium enrichment.

Stealer of nuclear secrets

In February 2004, months after the US confronted Pakistan’s then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf with evidence that Khan had been selling parts of centrifuges and material to Libya, North Korea and Iran, Musharraf was forced to take action. In an address to the nation, he denounced Khan in strong language.

Following this, Khan made a confession on national television and called it an “error of judgement” on his part. Balancing between opinion at home and intense international scrutiny, Musharraf pardoned him but placed him under house arrest. On the Paksitani street, however, Khan was a hero. His photographs were in shops and marketplaces, and his face painted on the backs of trucks and autos.

Pakistan was shocked, but Khan had been under western intelligence surveillance almost from the start of his nuclear technology career.

In 1975, a year after India detonated its first nuclear device, Khan, then working in Holland in a uranium enrichment facility as a German-Dutch translator, offered his services to then PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who wanted Pakistan to have its own nuclear programme.

The Dutch facility suspected him of stealing blueprints for making centrifuges and other components, but he returned to Pakistan before any action could be taken against him. In 1976, he joined Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s nuclear weapons effort. He was convicted by a Dutch court for the theft.

Already in 2001, Khan had been forced by Musharraf to retire, and given the consolation title of Chief Advisor to the head of Khan Research Laboratories. Musharraf took this step because of suspicion about his activities.

From then on, it was downhill for Khan. Indeed, he had personified Pakistan’s nuclear weapons effort from the 1981 onwards, when General Zia-ul Haq, the then military ruler, renamed Engineering Research Laboratories after Khan. He was a more public personality than any of Pakistan’s other nuclear scientists.

The ‘secret’ Pak bomb

It was Khan who outed that Pakistan had a nuclear device more than a decade before its retaliatory 1998 test. In 1987, ge told the veteran Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar in an interview: “America knows it. What the CIA has been saying about our possessing the bomb is correct, and so is the speculation of some foreign newspapers. They told us Pakistan could never produce the bomb and they doubted my capabilities. But they know we have it.”

Nayar asked him why Pakistan had not announced this achievement. Khan replied: “Is it necessary? America has threatened to cut off all its aid.”

It was seen as a deliberate leak by Pakistan, as a message to Delhi, serving to hasten India’s own nuclear weapons programme.

Rehab after Musharraf

After President Musharraf stepped down in August 2008, Khan petitioned the Islamabad High Court for his release. The new PPP government had already come under tremendous pressure to release him. In 2009, the court declared him a “free citizen,” but only after it had brokered a “secret agreement” between him and the government. The court barred either side from making the details public.

The details of the agreement were contained in a US diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks in 2011. Under the agreement, Khan had agreed to a number of conditions, including not travelling outside Islamabad without informing the authorities in advance, not travelling abroad, and submitting names of visitors to his home for vetting.

According to the cable, then Interior Secretary Kamal Shah had assured the US Ambassador that the government of Pakistan retained all powers to keep him on a tight leash. Shah defended the court order by saying it had given the government “legal cover “ for an “extrajudicial” house arrest.

Within minutes of becoming a “free citizen” though, Khan held an impromptu press conference outside his home in Islamabad’s E-7 sector. He later took to writing a column in the Pakistani daily The News. In 2012, he also tried to float a political party named Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Pakistan, which, despite his personal popularity, sank without a trace by the following year.

The final years

In 2019, Khan moved a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against the restrictions on his free travel across the country. During hearings earlier this year, counsel for Khan complained that he was not being allowed to meet his relatives and friends.

The court asked the government to get a list of the people Khan wanted to meet, and to resolve the matter. The judge described Khan as the “Mohsin (benefactor) of Pakistan”, and said he should be well cared for.

Source: The Indian Express