Abdul Qadeer Khan PDF Print Email
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Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, HI, NI (twice) (Urdu: عبدالقدیر خان); born April 27, 1936), known as Dr. A. Q. Khan, is a Pakistani nuclear scientist and a metallurgical engineer, widely regarded as the founder of gas-centrifuge enrichment technology for Pakistan's nuclear detterent program. A founder of the gas-centrifuge-based uranium enrichment program of Pakistan, dr. A.Q. Khan is known in much of the world for his involvement in acquiring critical nuclear technology designs and using them to build Pakistan's gas-centrifuge program. His middle name is occasionally rendered as Quadeer, Qadeer or Gaudeer, and his given names are usually abbreviated to A.Q.

In interviews from May through July 2008, Khan recanted his previous confession of his involvement with Iran and North Korea. He said ex-president Pervez Musharraf forced him to be a "scapegoat" for the "national interest."[2][3] Khan accuses the Pakistan Army and ex-President Musharraf of proliferating nuclear arms.[4] He said centrifuges were sent from Pakistan in a North Korean plane loaded under the supervision of Pakistani security officials. He also said that he had traveled to North Korea in 1999 with a Pakistani Army general to buy shoulder-launched missiles from the government there.[5]

Islamabad High Court on February 6, 2009 declared Khan as a free citizen of Pakistan with freedom of movement inside the country. The verdict was rendered by Chief Justice Sardar Muhammad Aslam.[6]. In September 2009, expressing concerns over the Lahore High Court’s decision to end all security restrictions on Khan, the United States has warned that Dr.Khan still remains a ’serious proliferation risk’.

Early life

Khan is an ethnic Pathan or Pashtun [7] born in Bhopal, India in 1936. His father Abdul Ghafoor Khan was an academician who retired from Education Department in 1935 and settled permanently in Bhopal[8]. In 1947, the family, emigrated from India to Pakistan. Khan studied in St. Anthony's High School and then enrolled at the D. J. Science College of Karachi, where he studied physics and mathematics under the supervision of noted solar physicist dr. Bashir Syed. He obtained a B.Sc. degree in 1960 from the University of Karachi, majoring in physical metallurgy. After his graduation, he worked as an inspector of weight and measures in Karachi. In 1961, he resigned from his position and went to West Germany to study metallurgical engineering at a technical university there. He then obtained an engineer's degree (Technology) in 1967 from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and the Doctor of Engineering degree in metallurgical engineering under the supervision of Martin Brabers from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium[9], just outside of Brussels, in 1972. Khan is very fluent in German and he wrote his thesis in German rather than using English.

Work in the Netherlands

In 1972, the year he received his D. Eng., Khan joined the staff of the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. FDO was a subcontractor for URENCO, the uranium enrichment facility 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 the European nuclear reactors. The URENCO facility used Zippe-type centrifuge technology to separate the fissionable isotope uranium-235 out of uranium hexafluoride gas by spinning a mixture of the two isotopes at up to 100,000 revolutions a minute. The technical details of these centrifuge systems are regulated as secret information by export controls because they could be used for the purposes of nuclear proliferation.

In May 1974, India carried out its first nuclear test, codenamed Smiling Buddha, to the great alarm of the Government of Pakistan. Around this time, Khan having a distinguished career and being one of the most senior scientists at the nuclear plant he worked at, had privileged access to the most restricted areas of the URENCO facility as well as to documentation on the gas centrifuge technology. India's surprise nuclear test and the subsequent Pakistani scramble to establish a deterrent caused great alarm to the Pakistani government.

Relationship with Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Khan did have a good and mutual relationship with Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto(late). After India’s first successful nuclear test on May 18, 1974. Khan, at this time working in a centrifuge production facility in the Netherlands, began to approach Pakistani government representatives to offer help with Pakistan’s nuclear program. At first, he approached a pair of Pakistani military scientists who were in the Netherlands on business. In spite of his offers, the Pakistani military scientists discouraged him by saying: "As a metallurgical engineer, it would be a hard job for him to find a job in PAEC (Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission)".

Undaunted, Khan wrote a letter to Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His letter addressed to Prime Minister Bhutto that "he sets out his experience and encourages Prime Minister Bhutto to make a nuclear bomb using uranium, rather than plutonium, the method Pakistan is currently trying to adopt under the leadership of Munir Ahmad Khan".

On December, 1974, Khan came back to Pakistan to meet Prime Minister Bhutto and PAEC Chairman Munir Ahmad Khan, where he tried to convince Bhutto to adopt his Uranium route rather than Plutonium route. Bhutto did not agree to halt the plutonium route but decided on the spot to place Khan in charge of the uranium program as a parallel nuclear program advantage.[10] Later that evening, Bhutto met with his close friend and PAEC Chairman Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan in his house, where he told him that "He [Abdul Qadeer Khan] seems to make sense."

Development of nuclear weapons

In 1976, Khan and Lieutenant-General Zahid Ali Akbar Khan were put in charge of Pakistan's uranium enrichment program with the support of the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The uranium enrichment program was announced in 1972 and the work itself began in 1974 by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as Project-706 under the guidance of Munir Ahmad Khan, Khan joined the project in the spring of 1976. Khan took over the project from another Pakistani nuclear engineer, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood in the same year. In July of that year, he took over the project from PAEC and re-named the enrichment project as the Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL) at Kahuta, Rawalpindi, subsequently, renamed the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) by the then President of Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq(late). The laboratories became the focal point for developing a uranium enrichment capability for Pakistan's nuclear weapons development programme.

Competing Against Munir Ahmad Khan and PAEC

But Kahuta Research Laboratories led by Khan was not mandated or involved with the actual design, development and testing of Pakistan's nuclear weapons which was the responsibility of PAEC. Nor was Kahuta Research Laboratories responsible for developing the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle, which comprised uranium exploration, mining, refining and the production of yellow cake as well as the conversion of yellow cake into uranium hexafluoride gas which is the feed material for enrichment and nuclear fuel fabrication or the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle comprising the civil and military nuclear reactor projects and the reprocessing program, all of which was developed and led from 1972 onwards by Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission under Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan.

Khan initially worked under Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), headed by Munir Ahmad Khan, for a short period. But the pair fell out, and in July 1976, Prime Minister Bhutto gave Khan autonomous control of the uranium enrichment project, reporting directly to the Prime Minister's office, which the arrangement has continued since Khan founded the Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL) on 31 July 1976, with the exclusive task of indigenous development of Uranium Enrichment Plant. Within the next five years the target would be achieved.[11]

Kahuta Research Laboratories, led by Khan and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, which was led by Munir Ahmad Khan created a tough institutional rivalry against each other. Khan was also a staunch critic of Munir Ahmad Khan's work. The Monthly Atlantic described Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan and Abdul Qadeer Khan as a "mortal enemy" of each other. According to the The Monthly Atlantic, A.Q. Khan tried to convince Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that Uranium route would be faster than Munir Ahmad Khan's pursuit of plutonium reprocessing, then under way.[12] However, Munir Ahmad Khan and his team of nuclear engineers and nuclear physicists at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission believed that they could run the reactor without Canadian assistance, and they insisted that with the French extraction plant in the offing, Pakistan should stick with its original plan. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did not disagree, but he saw the advantage of mounting a parallel effort toward enriched uranium and decided on the spot to place A.Q. Khan in charge.[12]

In the early 1980s, Khan's Kahuta Research Laboratories also sought to develop nuclear weapons in competition with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and claimed to have carried out at least one cold test in 1983, but it seems that this effort did not prove to be successful since the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission led by Munir Ahmad Khan had carried out the first cold test of a working nuclear device on March 11, 1983, and in the following years continued to carry out 24 cold tests of different weapons designs. That is why the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission also conducted the 1998 nuclear tests for Pakistan at Chagai and Kharan.

Missile Program Competition

The Kahuta Research Laboratories also launched other weapons development projects in competition with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission such as the development of the nuclear weapons-capable Ghauri missile. In early 1980s, the PAEC was given green signal to developed the solid-fuelled Shaheen ballistic missile. The KRL, in competition with the PAEC, sought develop the liquid-fuelled Ghauri ballistic missile.

Kahuta also set up its own laboratories and produced its both weapon and reactor grade level plutonium to leveled the competition with the PAEC. However, while the PAEC developing the indigenous capability to developed the program, Khan, accompained with his team of fellow scientists, anticipated and richly contributed in the developement of the country's first Battlefield Range Ballistic Missile (BRBM), the Hatf BRBM program. Khan and his team had closely collaborated and heavily partcipated with the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) in the development of the missile.

1998 Pakistan Atomic Weapon Testing

The competition between KRL and PAEC became highly intense when India tested its nuclear bombs, Pokhran-II in 1998. India's second nuclear test caused a great alarm in Pakistan but the situation in Pakistan became more critical when then-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif came into intense public pressure from Pakistani society to reply to India by conducting its own nuclear tests. Abdul Qadeer Khan repeatedly met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in which he tried to get Prime Minister's permission to test Pakistan's nuclear weapons in Chagai. Despite his efforts, Nawaz Sharif instead granted permission to PAEC, under Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad to test country's first nuclear test.

The decision made by Nawaz Sharif was questioned by the Pakistani civil society. However, Nawaz Sharif avoided an intense rivalry between PAEC and KRL and asked A.Q. Khan to provide KRL's enriched uranium to the PAEC to test Pakistan's first nuclear tests in 1998. Nawaz Sharif also urged both KRL and PAEC to work together in the national interest of country. It was the enriched uranium in KRL that ultimately led to the successful detonation of Pakistan's first nuclear device on 28 May 1998.[11] Two days later, on May 30, 1998, PAEC tested a Plutonium-based nuclear device, according to a Pakistani defense analyst, the plutonium-based device was much more powerful than the Uranium device.