The nuclear scientist died at 85
“I saved the country for the first time when I made Pakistan a nuclear nation and saved it again when I confessed and took the whole blame on myself,” Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s bombs, said in an interview in 2008.
The nuclear scientist, 85, passed away on Sunday, October 10, leaving the country grieving.
Dr AQ Khan believed in nuclear defence as the best deterrent. He was seen as a national hero for bringing the country up to par with arch-rival India in the atomic field and making its defences “impregnable”.
In 1976, then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto put Khan in charge of the government’s nascent uranium enrichment project.
By 1978, his team had enriched uranium and by 1984 they were ready to detonate a nuclear device, Khan later said in a newspaper interview.
The 1998 nuclear test saw Pakistan slapped with international sanctions and sent its economy into freefall.
But Pakistan’s nuclear establishment never expected to see its most revered hero subjected to questioning.
The move came after Islamabad received a letter from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN watchdog, containing allegations that Pakistani scientists were the source of sold-off nuclear knowledge.
Khan said in a speech to the Pakistan Institute of National Affairs in 1990 that he had dealings on world markets while developing Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
“It was not possible for us to make each and every piece of equipment within the country,” he said.
Khan’s aura began to dim in March 2001 when then-president Pervez Musharraf, reportedly under US pressure, removed him from the chairmanship of Kahuta Research Laboratories and made him a special adviser.
In 2004, the scientist found himself in the crosshairs of controversy when he was accused of illegally proliferating nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.
Consequently, he was placed under effective house arrest in the capital Islamabad after he admitted to running a proliferation network to the three countries. A court ended his house arrest in February 2009, but his movements were strictly guarded, and he was accompanied by authorities every time he left his home in Islamabad.
In 2012, the nuclear scientist stirred a new controversy when in an interview with the Urdu newspaper Daily Jang, he said that he transferred nuclear technology to two countries on the direction of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
He did not name the countries, nor did he say when Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007, had supposedly issued the orders. “I was not independent but was bound to abide by the orders of the prime minister,” Khan was quoted as saying.
Years on, none of the controversies dented Khan’s popularity. He regularly wrote op-ed pieces, often preaching the value of scientific education.
Many schools, universities, institutes, and charity hospitals across Pakistan are named after him, his portrait decorating their signs, stationery, and websites.
Born in Bhopal, India on April 1, 1936, Khan was just a young boy when his family migrated to Pakistan during the bloody 1947 partition of the sub-continent at the end of British colonial rule.
He did a science degree at Karachi University in 1960, then went on to study metallurgical engineering in Berlin before completing advanced studies in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Khan was awarded the Hilal-i-Imtiaz and the Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 1989 and 1999 for his outstanding performance in the world of science and technology.