Abdul Qadeer Khan was the “father” of the Pakistani atomic bomb. He died on October 10, at the age of 85, in Islamabad. This metallurgical engineer trained in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands was not only the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program, but a controversial figure, who found himself at the center of one of the world’s biggest proliferation scandals.
For Pakistan, he will remain a hero, whose photo adorns shops, buses and trucks; the man who allowed the country to rise to the level of nuclear powers, like India, the historical enemy. The possession of the supreme weapon has always been considered in the “land of the pure” as an element of national pride.
The race for the atom began in 1971 after the third war with India, which marked the defeat of Islamabad and resulted in the independence of East Pakistan, the future Bangladesh, supported by the Indians. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistani Prime Minister between 1973 and 1977, convinced himself that nuclear capacity could ensure “strategic parity” with his neighbor, better endowed in terms of conventional armament.
But New Delhi had a head start and passed its first nuclear test on May 18, 1974. It was the moment that Abdul Qadeer Khan chose to offer his services to the Pakistani prime minister. Born on 1er April 1936 in Bhopal, India, the scientist has always harbored a personal animosity towards his country of birth that he was forced to leave five years after the partition of the British Empire in 1947 to join Pakistan . He did not support the second partition of the country with the loss of Bangladesh.
Theft of blueprints
Since 1972, he has worked in the Netherlands for the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory, a subcontractor of the Dutch partner Urenco, a consortium of British, German and Dutch companies created to develop the enrichment of uranium through the use of ultracentrifuges. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who was hired as a translator to transcribe German documents into Dutch, manages to acquire crucial information about this technology.
In 1975, he left the Netherlands with his wife, a British national, and his two daughters, after stealing blueprints of centrifuges and the list of suppliers, mainly European, from which he could obtain parts. The Pakistani prime minister appointed him in 1976 to lead the uranium enrichment program.
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