“Pakistanis will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will have our nuclear bomb.” – Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan.
The man of complex profiles and intentions. Who was dear for a fraction and exactly the opposite for the rest, who was hailed to the utmost glory in his land but held the position of a cautionary threat in the western world. Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, revered as the ‘father of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal’ took his last breath on October 10th, 7 p.m. (local) at the KRL hospital, Islamabad. He departed at the age of 85.
The reason behind his demise is attributed to his early contact with Covid-19 in August when he was admitted for adequate treatment, following which, his condition progressively deteriorated. Ultimately his lungs collapsed and consequently, he succumbed to organ failure.
Having achieved a milestone for Pakistan’s exquisite weaponry, Abdul Qadeer Khan holds deep respect among millions of Pakistani civilians and leaders who credit Pakistan’s grand entry into the ‘nuclear power club’ solely to him.
Khan was originally born in the Indian city of Bhopal on April 1, 1936, but eventually, in 1951-52, he moved to the newly carved Pakistan, following partition. He attained his first degree in metallurgy from the University of Karachi and later on went to Berlin, the Netherlands, and Belgium for his higher studies and doctorate. While working to the best of his capacity, in the west, he was deeply disturbed by the humiliation faced by Pakistan in the 1971 war against India, and to add to this humiliation was India’s first nuclear test in 1974.
He returned home, not empty-handed, but with the roadmap for the development of nuclear weapons in Pakistan itself. Having worked in the close vicinity of the Dutch nuclear developers, Khan persuaded the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto into choosing the path of uranium enrichment through the use of ultracentrifuge as a major step to make Pakistan the first Islamic country to have achieved the status of being nuclear backed. Fortunately, it did happen. In 1998 Pakistan conducted its first nuclear test following India’s Pokhran explosion and gained the status of being a nuclear power.
But since Pakistan and controversies go hand in hand, Pakistan’s entry into the alleged nuclear power club, in the hands of Dr Khan was not devoid of criticisms and backlashes. Initially, Khan was held guilty of allegedly stealing the uranium-sponsored nuclear development technology from the west. But later to make the situation even worse, several charges were issued against Dr Khan for having initiated an underground nuclear proliferation network spanning primarily in three countries – Libya, North Korea, and Iran.
He was accused by the United States of unscrupulously trading the nuclear secrets with the aforementioned countries in return for other potential weapons, posing threats for not only the states but for the entire globe. Consequently, some of the premier western journalists equated Dr Khan with the globally infamous terrorist Osama Bin Laden, for their deeds were destruction-centric.
It was in the year 2001 that Khan was severely scrutinized for his highly questionable deeds under the then Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and was put under strict house arrest. In the year 2009, although he was set free, every action and movement of his was constantly watched over.
A man so dynamic, a personality so conflicting. Dr Khan was surely not just a nuclear physicist. He was maybe a hotchpotch of an unmatched intellectual, a sly underground network operator, a patriot, but for the majority of those millions of Pakistanis, he was a national hero, for he was the one who brought his nation at par with its dominant neighbour. On his departure from this world, maybe the rest of the world celebrates, but Pakistan mourns silently, for Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan was not ordinary.
“From now on, I will visit you very often, or never.” – pronounced Dr Qadeer on his last visit to Bhopal, India (his ancestral home) but sadly it is the latter that stood true.