Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered to be the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme and later accused of smuggling technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, has died aged 85. The atomic scientist, who spent the last years of his life under heavy guard, died in the capital, Islamabad, where he had recently been hospitalised with Covid-19.
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The south Asian nuclear race had begun on May 18, 1974, when India tested its first nuclear weapon, codenamed Smiling Buddha. India called the test a “peaceful nuclear explosion”, but Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the prime minister of Pakistan, responded by saying that his government would now develop nuclear arms. There was, Bhutto said, “a Christian bomb, a Jewish bomb and now a Hindu bomb. Why not an Islamic bomb?” By then Khan, who had completed a PhD in metallurgic engineering in Europe, was working in Amsterdam for a subcontractor of Urenco, the nuclear fuel company. Urenco had been established in 1970 by Britain, West Germany and the Netherlands to supply the enriched uranium nuclear fuel used in European nuclear reactors. At about the time that India detonated its first nuclear device, Khan had access to the most secret areas of the Urenco facility and to documentation about its gas centrifuge technology, including the consortium’s secret uranium enrichment plant at Almelo, near the Dutch-German border. Whether he approached the Pakistani government about nuclear espionage or whether it approached him remains unclear. Whichever way, in January 1976 he left the Netherlands suddenly for “an offer I can’t refuse in Pakistan”, emerging there as the leader of his country’s nuclear-weapons programme.
Times 11th Oct 2021 read more »