Abdul Qadeer Khan



The father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Pakistan exploded six nuclear weapons in the desert of Baluchistan, on 28 May 1998, (two weeks after India’s re-tested theirs), to scenes of national ecstasy, and Abdul Qadeer Khan was hailed as a hero. For three decades, at the top secret Kahuta Research Laboratories (now renamed Khan Research Laboratories) on the outskirts of Islamabad, Dr. Khan boosted uranium to weapons-grade and obtained enough of it to fuel Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions.

Khan moved to Europe to specialise in metallurgy at Berlin and at Leuven, in Belgium. In 1975, he joined a uranium enrichment plant in the Netherlands run by the British-Dutch-German consortium Urenco.

“When India conducted its nuclear explosions in 1974 and I felt that Pakistan’s security is in danger, I left everything and came back here,” Dr Khan reported to have said. In 1976 he returned to Pakistan and set in motion a nuclear weapons programme. Dr Khan promised the then President, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he could bring Pakistan back to parity with India, if the government could promise him unqualified support. Both promises were kept.

Dr Khan was awarded with Pakistan’s countless official decorations including 13 solid gold medals and many more public honours – the only Pakistani to have twice received the Nishan-I-Imtiaz, the country’s highest civilian honour. His image – wreathed in roses or electron rings – is a common sight on billboards and the sides of lorries that rumble down the roads of Pakistan. Ordinary Pakistanis revere Dr Khan as a great patriot and innovator who put him at risk to obtain the nuclear grail.

Dr Khan was charged in 2003, under the relentless pressure of the US, with overseeing the sale of nuclear technology and know-how to Iran, Libya and North Korea. He later made a public apology, saying he took full responsibility for the proliferation activities. Although, President Musharraf officially pardoned him in 2004, Mr Khan was confined mainly to his house, except for a trip to Karachi in 2007 for cancer treatment at a hospital.

However, in his first western media interview, in 2008, (since 2004) Mr Khan said President Musharraf had forced the confession upon him. “It was not my own free will. It was handed into my hand”, he told the London’s The Guardian. On some other occasion, he reported to have said, “I am not unhappy with the people of Pakistan. But I am not happy with the hypocrite rulers.”

Abdul Qadeer Khan was born in Bhopal in India, he moved to Pakistan in 1952, five years after the partition of British India. He passed away in Islamabad and was accorded a state funeral.

Compiled by:M. Nauman Khan

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Dear Obituarist,

with reference to your statement "Dr Khan was charged in 2003, under the relentless pressure of the US, with overseeing the sale of nuclear technology and know-how to Iran, Libya and North Korea. He later made a public apology, saying he took full responsibility for the proliferation activities" - this chimes with many of the obituaries in the Western media that accuse him [and Pakistan] of "illegal" activities.

This brings to mind the remark by the late Khurshid Drabu, a distinguished British Muslim judge, who once said in a different context but apt in this case, "What we are looking for is equality of treatment when international law is breached. When a Muslim country does that the weight of the world is on them, why does Israel have such impunity?"

Firstly, Israel has had its hand in proliferation:

The Guardian, 7/02/2006: "Israel provided expertise and technology that was central to South Africa's development of its nuclear bombs. Israel was embarrassed enough about its close association with a political movement rooted in racial ideology to keep the military collaboration hidden."

Secondly, many nations are complicit in aiding and abetting Israel in building its nuclear arsenal, while at the same time calling for non-proliferation on the world stage:

BBC News 10/12/2005, "The government has been accused of covering up the sale of 20 tonnes of heavy water to Israel for its nuclear programme in the 1950s."

New Statesman 10/03/2006, "We can reveal that while Harold Wilson was prime minister the UK supplied Israel with small quantities of plutonium despite a warning from British intelligence that it might 'make a material contribution to an Israeli weapons programme' . . .

Britain also sold Israel a whole range of other exotic chemicals, including uranium-235, beryllium and lithium-6, whch are used in atomic bombs and even hydrogen bombs. And in Harold Macmillan's time we supplied the heavy water that allowed Israel to start up its own plutonium production facility at Dimona - heavy water that British intelligence estimated would enable Israel to make 'six nuclear weapons a year'."

The Observer 12/10/2003, ". . . the US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton, [who] told British journalists last week that America was not interested in taking Israel to task for its continuing development of nuclear weapons because it was not a 'threat' to the United States."

Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat writing in the Guardian, 9/1/2003, "In my opinion, far too little attention has been given to the consequences of Israel possessing a military nuclear capability. Israel's formal stand on this issue beggars belief, 'Israel will not be the first nation to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.' This blatant lie is repeated in the face of the fact that, for many years, Israel has possessed a nuclear arsenal."

David Hirst in the Guardian, 24/2/1995 "In the 1950s and 1960s, Israel simply lied to the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations about the real purpose of its top-secret Dimona nuclear plant, telling them first it was a textile factory, then a pumping station . . . in the late 1960s, the US sought to make a sale of F-4 fighter-bombers contingent on Israel signing the newly concluded NPT (Non-proliferation Treaty). Israel refused . . . Failure to expose what it knew about Dimona would ultimately weaken, even wholly undermine, the NPT . . ."