Abdul Qadeer Khan
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Abdul Qadeer Khan (born 1935) is a Pakistani
engineer widely regarded as the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons
programme. (His middle name is also occasionally rendered as Quadeer,
Qadir or Gadeer and his given names are often abbreviated to AQ).
He has recently confessed to having been involved in an international
network of clandestine nuclear proliferation from Pakistan to Libya,
Iran and North Korea.
Dr. Khan's face is often reproduced on patriotic
posters and signs.
Table of contents [showhide]
1 Early career
2 Development of nuclear weapons
3 Investigations into nuclear proliferation
4 Khan and the Iranian nuclear programme
5 References and links
Born in 1935 into a middle-class Muslim family in Bhopal, India, Khan
migrated to Pakistan in 1952 following the country's partition from
India five years earlier. He trained as an engineer at the University
of Karachi before moving after graduation to West Germany and Belgium
for further studies, earning a doctorate from the Catholic University
of Leuven in Belgium in 1972.
That same year, he joined the staff of the
Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory, or FDO, in Amsterdam. FDO was
a subcontractor for the URENCO uranium enrichment plant at Almelo
in the Netherlands, which had been established in 1970 by the United
Kingdom, West Germany and the Netherlands to assure a supply of enriched
uranium for European nuclear reactors. The URENCO plant used highly
classified centrifuge technology to separate fissionable uranium-235
from U-238 by spinning the a mixture of the two isotopes at up to
100,000 revolutions a minute. The technical complexity of this system
is the main obstacle to would-be nuclear powers developing their own
In May 1974, India tested a nuclear bomb, to
the great alarm of Pakistan's government. Around this time, Khan had
privileged access to the most secret areas of the URENCO plant as
well as to documentation on centrifuge technology. A subsequent investigation
by the Dutch authorities found that he had passed highly classified
material to a network of Pakistani intelligence agents, although they
found no evidence that he was sent to the Netherlands as a spy, nor
were they able to determine whether he approached his government or
whether it was the other way around. He left the Netherlands suddenly
in January 1976 and was put in charge of the Pakistani nuclear programme
with the support of then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Development of nuclear weapons
Khan established the Engineering Research Laboratories at Kahuta in
July 1976, subsequently renamed as the Dr. A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories
(KRL), as the focal point for developing a uranium enrichment capability.
KRL also took on many other weapons projects, including the development
of the nuclear-capable Ghauri ballistic missiles. KRL occupied a unique
role in Pakistani industry, reporting directly to the Prime Minister's
office, and having extremely close relations with the military: former
prime minister Benazir Bhutto has said that during her term of office,
even she was not allowed to visit the facility.
Pakistan very rapidly established its own uranium
enrichment capability and was reportedly able to produce highly enriched
uranium by 1986. This progress was so rapid that international suspicion
was raised as to whether it had had outside assistance. It was reported
that Chinese technicians had been at the facility in the early 1980s,
but suspicions soon fell on Khan's activities at URENCO. In 1983,
he was sentenced in absentia to four years in prison by an Amsterdam
court for attempted espionage, although the sentence was later overturned
on appeal on a legal technicality. Khan rejected any suggestion that
Pakistan had illicitly acquired nuclear expertise: "All the research
work [at Kahuta] was the result of our innovation and struggle,"
he told a group of Pakistani librarians in 1990. "We did not
receive any technical know-how from abroad, but we can't reject the
use of books, magazines and research papers in this connection."
In 1987, a British newspaper reported that
Khan had openly confirmed Pakistan's acquisition of a nuclear capability.
He was quoted as confirming that American intelligence reports "about
our possessing the bomb is correct and so is speculation of some foreign
newspapers" and criticised Pakistan's detractors, who had "told
the U.S. that Pakistan could never produce the bomb and they now know
we have done it." Khan's statement was subsequently disavowed
by the Pakistani government and Khan himself initially denied giving
it, although he later retracted his denial. The Pakistani newspaper
The Dawn reported in October 1991 that Khan repeated his claim at
a dinner meeting of businessmen and industrialists in Karachi, which
"sent a wave of jubilation" through the audience.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Western governments
became increasingly convinced that covert nuclear and ballistic missile
collaboration was taking place between China, Pakistan and North Korea.
According to the Washington Post, "U.S. intelligence operatives
secretly rifled [Khan's] luggage ... during an overseas trip in the
early 1980s to find the first concrete evidence of Chinese collaboration
with Pakistan's bomb effort: a drawing of a crude, but highly reliable,
Hiroshima-sized weapon that must have come directly from Beijing,
according to U.S. officials." The activities of the Khan Research
Laboratories led to the United States terminating economic and military
aid to Pakistan in October 1990, following which the Pakistani government
agreed to a freeze in the nuclear programme. According to the Federation
of American Scientists, this came into force in 1991. However, Khan
later claimed in a July 1996 interview with the weekly Friday Times
that "at no stage was the programme (of producing weapons-grade
enriched uranium) ever stopped" .
The American clampdown may have prompted an
increasing reliance on Chinese and North Korean nuclear and missile
expertise. In 1995, the U.S. learned that the Khan Research Laboratories
had bought 5,000 specialized magnets from a Chinese government-owned
company, for use in uranium enrichment equipment. More worryingly,
it was reported that Pakistani nuclear technology was being exported
to other aspirant nuclear states, notably North Korea. In May 1998,
Newsweek magazine published an article alleging that Khan had offered
to sell nuclear know-how to Iraq, an allegation that he denied. A
few weeks later, both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests that
finally confirmed both countries' development of atomic weapons. The
event was greeted with jubilation in both countries and Khan was feted
as a national hero. President Rafiq Tarrar awarded him a gold medal
for his role in masterminding the Pakistani nuclear programme. The
United States immediately imposed sanctions on both India and Pakistan
and publicly blamed China for assisting the Pakistanis.
Investigations into nuclear proliferation
Khan's open promotion of Pakistan's nuclear and missile capabilities
became something of an embarrassment to Pakistan's government. The
United States government became increasingly convinced that Pakistan
was trading nuclear technology to North Korea in exchange for ballistic
missile technology. In the face of strong American criticism, the
Pakistani government announced in March 2001 that Khan was to be dismissed
from his post as chairman of KRL, a move that drew strong criticism
from the religious and nationalist opposition to President Pervez
Musharraf. Perhaps in response to this, the government instead appointed
Khan to the post of special science and technology adviser to President
Musharraf, with ministerial rank. While this could be presented as
a promotion for Khan, it removed him from hands-on management of KRL
and gave the government an opportunity to keep a closer eye on his
Khan came under renewed scrutiny following
the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent US invasion
of Afghanistan to oust the fundamentalist Taliban regime. It emerged
that al-Qaeda had made repeated efforts to obtain nuclear materials
to build either a radiological bomb or a crude nuclear bomb. In late
October 2001, the Pakistani government arrested three Pakistani nuclear
scientists, all with close ties to Khan, for their suspected connections
with the Taliban. Two of the scientists were subsequently said to
have admitted having had talks with Osama bin Laden.
The Bush administration continued to investigate
Pakistani nuclear proliferation, ratcheting up the pressure on the
Pakistani government in 2001 and 2002 and focusing on Khan's personal
role. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed "senior
Pakistani officials" as conceding that Khan's dismissal from
KRL had been prompted by U.S. suspicions of his involvement in weapons
technology transfers with North Korea. It was alleged in December
2002 that U.N. intelligence officials had found evidence that an unidentified
agent supposedly acting on Khan's behalf had offered nuclear expertise
to Iraq in mid-1990, though Khan strongly denied this allegation and
the Pakistani government declared the evidence "fraudulent".
The United States responded by imposing sanctions on KRL, citing concerns
about missile technology transfers.
Khan and the Iranian nuclear programme
In August 2003, reports emerged of dealings with Iran; it was claimed
that Khan had offered to sell nuclear technology as long ago as 1989.
The Iranian government came under intense pressure from the United
States and European Union to make a full disclosure of its nuclear
programme and finally agreed in October 2003 to accept tougher investigations
from the International Atomic Energy Authority. The IAEA reported
that Iran had established a large uranium enrichment facility using
centrifuges based on the stolen URENCO designs, which had been obtained
"from a foreign intermediary in 1987." The intermediary
was not named but many diplomats and analysts pointed to Pakistan
and specifically to Khan, who was said to have visited Iran in 1986.
The Iranians turned over the names of their suppliers and international
inspectors quickly identified the Iranian centrifuges as Pak-1s, the
model developed by Khan in the early 1980s. Two senior staff at the
Khan Research Laboratories were subsequently arrested in December
2003 on suspicion of having sold nuclear technology to the Iranians.
That same month, on December 19, Libya made
a surprise announcement that it had weapons of mass destruction programmes
which it would now abandon. Libyan government officials were quoted
as saying that Libya had bought nuclear components from various black
market dealers, including Pakistani scientists. In particular, American
officials who visited the Libyan uranium plants shortly afterwards
reported that the centrifuges used there were very similar to the
The Pakistani government's blanket denials
became untenable as evidence mounted of illicit technology transfers.
It opened an investigation into Khan's activities, arguing that even
if there had been wrongdoing, it had occurred without government knowledge
or approval. Although he was not arrested, Khan was summoned for "debriefing".
On January 25, 2004 the investigators reported that Khan and Mohammed
Farooq, a high-ranking manager at KRL, had provided unauthorised technical
assistance - allegedly in exchange for tens of millions of dollars
- to Iran's nuclear-weapons program in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
General Mirza Aslam Beg, a former chief of army staff at the time,
was also said to have been implicated; the Wall Street Journal quoted
government officials as saying that Khan had told investigators that
nuclear technology transfers to Iran had been authorised by General
Beg. On January 31, Khan was sacked from his post as the presidential
science adviser, ostensibly to "allow a fair investigation"
of the nuclear proliferation scandal.
It remains to be seen whether Khan, Farooq
and Beg will face any charges. Khan remains an extremely popular figure
in Pakistan. He is known as an outspoken nationalist and for his belief
that the West is inherently hostile to Islam; in Pakistan's strongly
anti-American climate, tough action against him poses political risks
for President Musharraf, who already faces accusations of being too
pro-American. An additional complicating factor is that few believe
that Khan acted alone and the affair risks gravely damaging the Pakistani
army, which controlled the nuclear programme and of which Musharraf
is still the commander-in-chief. The same investigation also exposed
South African businessman Asher Karni as having sold nuclear devices
to Khan's associates. Karni is currently in US prison, awaiting trial