Abdul Qadeer Khan died at the age of 85 after suffering from coronavirus. From the failed leap into politics to house arrest.
The father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, died this Sunday at the age of 85, he is a national hero for some and a dangerous architect of nuclear proliferation for others.
The nuclear scientist, considered “the father of the Pakistani atomic bomb,” died after testing positive for COVID-19 and being hospitalized several times in Islamabad.
AQ Khan became a national hero in May 1998 when the Islamic Republic of Pakistan officially joined the list of atomic military powers, thanks to tests carried out a few days after those of India, its eternal rival. But he ended up embroiled in controversy after being accused of illegally spreading technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya, and, starting in 2004, he was placed under de facto house arrest in Islamabad.
In 2006 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he was cured of thanks to an operation. In 2009, a court-ordered his house arrest to end, but he continued to be subjected to strict measures and had to inform the authorities in advance of his every move.
In 2012 he launched into politics by creating the Tehreek-e-Tahafuz Pakistan party (Movement to Save Pakistan) ahead of the 2013 legislative elections but it was a failure. No candidate was elected, thereby dissolving it.
Khan was born on April 1, 1936, in the Indian city of Bhopal, 11 years before the bloody partition of the British Empire that resulted in the creation of Pakistan and India on August 14 and 15, 1947.
The young man emigrated to Karachi (southern Pakistan) where he obtained a scientific diploma before studying metallurgy in Germany. He also studied in Belgium and the Netherlands. In the 1970s he was hired by a laboratory commissioned to start centrifuges used by the nuclear industry on behalf of the Anglo-German-Dutch consortium Urenco.
Upon his return to Pakistan in 1976, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appointed him as head of the civilian nuclear program, in particular thanks to documents from Urenco. Dutch justice convicted him in 1983 for stealing them, but the sentence was overturned on appeal.
In 1978 Pakistan was in a position to produce enriched uranium and in 1984 to carry out a nuclear explosion, Khan said in 1998. According to him Islamabad “never wanted to make atomic weapons, it was forced to do so” by the need to deter India.
In 1981 the main Pakistani atomic research establishment near Islamabad was christened the “Khan Research Laboratory” (KRL) in his honor. But Khan’s aura began to fade in March 2001. Under pressure from the United States, General Pervez Musharraf, in power since the October 1999 coup, removed him from the KRL leadership.
The Pakistani authorities launched investigations in December 2003 on a dozen scientists and officials of the nuclear program to shed light on possible proliferation activities.
In February 2004 Khan was placed under house arrest, charged with transferring nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea in the 1990s.