Abdul Qadeer Khan (1936 - 2021)

Abdul Qadeer Khan
Abdul Qadeer Khan

Abdul Qadeer Khan (A.Q. Kahn) was born on April 1, 1936, in Bhopal, India. As a Muslim, Khan immigrated to Pakistan in 1952. He earned his doctorate in metallurgical engineering from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. There he pioneered studies in phase transitions of metallic alloys, uranium metallurgy, and isotope separation based on gas centrifuges.

He then began working at Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory, a subcontractor of the Dutch partner of URENCO. URENCO, a consortium of British, German, and Dutch companies, was established in 1971 to research and develop uranium enrichment through the use of ultracentrifuges, which are centrifuges that operate at extremely high speeds. Khan used this position to steal drawings of centrifuges and assembled a list of mainly European suppliers where those parts could be procured.

After learning of India's 'Smiling Buddha' nuclear test in 1974, Khan joined his nation's clandestine efforts to develop atomic weapons. Khan initially worked with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), but differences arose with its head, Munir Ahmad Khan. In 1976, he founded the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), for the purpose of developing a uranium-enrichment capability.

In the early 1980s Pakistan acquired from China the blueprints of a nuclear weapon that used a uranium implosion design that the Chinese had successfully tested in 1966. It is assumed that the Chinese nuclear test on May 26, 1990 was in fact done to test the Pakistani bomb design.

Starting in the mid-1980s, Kahn began to create front companies through which he covertly sell or traded centrifuges, components, designs, and expertise in an extensive black-market network. The Iran uranium-enrichment complex is based on the Pakistani model, which was supplied via Kahn's network. This network is suspected of having transferred enrichment technology to North Korea. Libya's nuclear weapons program was also aided by this network.

On January 31, 2004, Khan was arrested for transferring nuclear technology to other countries. On February 4 he read a statement on Pakistani television taking full responsibility for his operations and absolving the military and government of any involvement—a claim that many nuclear experts found difficult to believe. The next day he was pardoned by Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf. In 2009, his verdict was declared unconstitutional by the Islamabad High Court.

On October 10, 2021, Khan died at the age of 85 in Islamabad after being transferred to a hospital after he tested positive for COVID-19 in August. He was given a state funeral at the Faisal Mosque before being buried at the H-8 graveyard in Islamabad.