Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan – the man who gave Pakistan the nuclear weapons capability was born in 1936 in the Bhopal State (present day India). His father was a teacher and young Khan received his early education in a local school. However in 1954, some seven years after the independence of Pakistan, the Khans immigrated to Pakistan. After graduating from school in Karachi he went to Europe in 1961 to continue his studies. Starting from Germany, he attended the Technische Universität of West Berlin, then in Holland where he received a degree in metallurgical engineering at the Technical University of Delft in 1967. A Q Khan obtained his Ph.D. in metallurgy from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 1972. While in Holland, A Q Khan married Henny, a Dutch-speaking South African holding a British passport.
Khan and the Centrifuges After graduation Khan went to work for the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO), a subsidiary of Verenigde Machine-Fabrieken, in Amsterdam in May 1972. FDO was a subcontractor to Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland (UCN) – the Dutch partner of the tri-national European uranium enrichment centrifuge consortium URENCO, made up of Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Dr A Q KHan was tasked with translating highly classified technical documents describing the centrifuges in detail. In his first two years Khan worked with two early centrifuge designs, the CNOR and SNOR machines, then in late 1974 UCN asked Khan to translate highly classified design documents for two advanced German machines, the G-1 and G-2. These represented the most sophisticated industrial enrichment technology in the world at the time.
Khan and Pakistan’s Nuclear Programme In 1974, Khan offered his services to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and thus began the long road to finally grant the status of nuclear state to Pakistan in 1998. Prime Minister Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto was over enthusiastic about the whole project and provided every assistance to Dr Khan. Dr Khan initially worked under the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), headed by Munir Ahmad Khan. A small centrifuge pilot facility was initially set up at Sihala, several kilometres southeast of Islamabad. In July 1976 Bhutto gave Khan autonomous control of the uranium enrichment project, reporting directly to the Prime Minister’s office. Dr Khan founded the Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL) in July 1976, near the small town of Kahuta (near Islamabad), with the exclusive task of indigenous development of Uranium Enrichment Plant. Construction on Pakistan’s first centrifuges began that year.
Due to Dr Khan’s efforts, Pakistan made rapid progress in developing U-235 production capability. The first enrichment was done at Kahuta on 4 April 1978. The plant was made operational in 1979 and by 1981 was producing substantial quantities of uranium. In recognition of Dr Khan’s contributions, the ERL was renamed as Khan (Dr A Q Khan) Research Laboratories (KRL) by President Zia ul-Haq on 1 May 1981. In February 1984, Dr A Q Khan claimed that Pakistan had achieved nuclear weapons capability.
Yom-e-Takbeer: On 28 May, 1998, Pakistan conducted a series of five nuclear tests at Chagi, Balochistan in response to the Indian tests at Pokhran on 11 May. The Prime Minister of Pakistan in a a Press Conference in Islamabad, 28 May 1998 said, “Pakistan today successfully tested five nuclear tests. The results were as expected. There was no release of radioactivity. I congratulate all Pakistani scientists, engineers and technicians for their dedicated teamwork and expertise in mastering complex and advanced technologies.
The entire nation takes justifiable pride in the accomplishments of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories and all affiliated organizations. They have demonstrated Pakistan’s ability to deter aggression. Pakistan has been obliged to exercise the nuclear option due to the weaponisation of India’s nuclear programme. This had led to the collapse of the ‘existential deterrence’ and had radically altered the strategic balance in our region.”
Nuclear Proliferation: The issue of nuclear proliferation, associating Dr Khan has somewhat overshadowed the events that have lead to the present day nuclear capability of Pakistan. But despite all charges and realities, Dr Khan continues to be the hero of 150 million Pakistanis, who still respect and love him as he was before such revelations. Perhaps after Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, he is the most revered and respected personality by the people of Pakistan. Dr A Q Khan even though confined to his residence in Islamabad, still enjoys popular public support. The public sympathies have been multiplied since the news that he is suffering from prostrate cancer.