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Revered in Pakistan, Khan was seen by West as dangerous renegade for smuggling nuclear technology to other countries.

He was seen as a national hero for bringing the country up to par with neighbours India in the atomic field and making its defences “impregnable”.  Abdul Qadeer Khan, revered as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, died on Sunday. He was lauded in Pakistan for transforming it into the world’s first Islamic nuclear weapons power. But he was seen by the West as a dangerous renegade responsible for smuggling technology to rogue states.

The nuclear scientist died at 85 in the capital, Islamabad, after recently being hospitalised with COVID-19.  But he found himself in the crosshairs of controversy when he was accused of illegally proliferating nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Khan was placed under effective house arrest in Islamabad in 2004 after he admitted running
a proliferation network to the three countries. In 2006 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but recovered after surgery. A court ended his house arrest in February 2009, but his movements were strictly guarded, and he was accompanied by authorities every time
he  left his home in an upmarket sector of leafy Islamabad.Security personnel stand guard near the residence of late Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan after his death

Crucial contribution

Born in Bhopal, India, on April 1, 1936, Khan was just a young boy when his family migrated to Pakistan during the bloody 1947 partition of the sub-continent at the end of British colonial rule. He completed a science degree at Karachi University in 1960, then went on to study metallurgical engineering in Berlin before completing advanced studies in the Netherlands and Belgium.

The crucial contribution to Pakistan’s nuclear programme was the procurement of a blueprint for uranium centrifuges, which transform uranium into weapons-grade fuel for nuclear fissile material. He was charged with stealing it from the Netherlands while working for Anglo-Dutch-German nuclear engineering consortium Urenco, and bringing it back to Pakistan in 1976.

On his return to Pakistan, then-PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto put Khan in charge of the government’s nascent uranium enrichment project. By 1978, his team had enriched uranium and by 1984 they were ready to detonate a nuclear device, Khan later said in a newspaper interview.The 1998 nuclear test saw Pakistan slapped with international sanctions and sent its economy into freefall. Khan’s aura began to dim in March 2001 when then-President Pervez Musharraf, reportedly under United States pressure, removed him from the chairmanship of Kahuta Research Laboratories and made him a special adviser.

But Pakistan’s nuclear establishment never expected to see its most revered hero subjected to questioning. The move came after Islamabad received a letter from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations watchdog, containing allegations that Pakistani scientists were the source of sold-off nuclear knowledge.

Khan said in a speech to the Pakistan Institute of National Affairs in 1990 that he had dealings on world markets while developing Pakistan’s nuclear programme.“It was not possible for us to make each and every piece of equipment within the country,” he said. ‘I saved the country’ Khan was pardoned by Musharraf after his confession but later retracted his remarks.

“I saved the country for the first time when I made Pakistan a nuclear nation and saved it again when I confessed and took the whole blame on myself,” Khan told AFP news agency in an interview in 2008 while under effective house arrest.

The scientist believed in nuclear defence as the best deterrent.After Pakistan carried out atomic tests in 1998 in response to tests by India, Khan said Pakistan “never wanted to make nuclear weapons, it was forced to do so”.

Nearly a decade ago, Khan tried his luck in the political arena, forming a party – the Tehreek-e-Tahafuz Pakistan (Save Pakistan Movement) – in July 2012 in hopes of winning votes

on the basis of the respect he still commands in Pakistan.But he dissolved it a year later after none of its 111 candidates won a seat in national elections.

Khan also stirred a new controversy that same year when,in an interview with Urdu newspaper Daily Jang, he said he transferred nuclear technology to two countries on the direction of slain prime minister Benazir Bhutto. He did not name the countries,nor did he say when Bhutto, the twice-elected PM who was assassinated in 2007, had supposedly issued the orders.

“I was not independent but was bound to abide by the orders of the prime minister,” he was quoted as saying.Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party denied the claim as “baseless and unfounded”.  

None of the controversies appear to have dented Khan’s popularity, even years on. He regularly wrote op-ed pieces, often preaching the value of a scientific education, for the popular Jang group of newspapers. Many schools, universities, institutes and charity hospitals across Pakistan are named after him, his portrait decorating their signs, stationery and websites.


Nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan passed away in Islamabad on Sunday morning at the age of 85. He was given a state funeral at Faisal Mosque before being laid to rest at the H-8 graveyard.

According to Radio Pakistan, he was admitted to a local hospital where his health deteriorated early morning. PTV said that he died after being transferred to a hospital with lung problems. A large number of people, including cabinet members, parliamentarians and military officers, attended the funeral prayers.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed earlier said that under the directions issued by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Dr Khan was given a state funeral. Speaking to the media in Islamabad, he said that the premier had directed cabinet ministers to attend the funeral. The interior minister said that the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the services chiefs would also  be in attendance.

Rashid said two graves were prepared; one at Faisal Mosque and another at the H-8 graveyard. He later said his family decided that as per his will he would be buried at the H-8 graveyard. "The whole nation is grieving," the minister said, adding that the flag would be flown at half-mast. He said that he had also directed law enforcement agencies and the Islamabad commissioner to make security arrangements.

'National icon for Pakistanis'

Prime Minister Imran Khan said Dr Khan was loved by the nation because of his critical contribution in making Pakistan a nuclear weapon state. "This has provided us security 
against an aggressive much larger nuclear neighbour. For the people of Pakistan he was a national icon," he said, adding that he would be buried in Faisal Mosque "as per his wishes". President Dr Arif Alvi said that he had personally known Dr Khan since 1982. "He helped us develop nation-saving nuclear deterrence, and a grateful nation will never forget his services  in this regard," he said.

Last month, Dr Khan had complained that neither PM Imran nor any of his cabinet members inquired after his health while he was under treatment at a hospital. According to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan, Dr Khan had been admitted to Khan Research Laboratories Hospital on August 26 after he tested positive for Covid-19. Later, he was shifted to a military hospital in Rawalpindi but was discharged after recovering from the virus.

'A huge loss for Pakistan'

According to a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Nadeem Raza and all services chiefs expressed sorrow over Dr Khan's passing. The ISPR statement also quoted Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa as saying that he had rendered invaluable services to strengthen Pakistan's defence capabilities. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif said that the nation had lost "a true benefactor who served the motherland with heart and soul." "The passing of Dr Khan is a huge loss for the country. His role in making Pakistan an atomic power remains central," he said.

Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said he was "deeply grieved" over his passing and called it  a "great loss".  "Pakistan will forever honour his services to the nation! The nation is heavily indebted to him for his contributions in enhancing our defence capabilities," he said.

Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said that Dr Khan had played an important role in making the country "invincible". He also offered prayers for the deceased. Born in 1936 in Bhopal, India, Dr Khan had immigrated along with his family to Pakistan in 1947 after partition of the subcontinent. He did a science degree at Karachi University in 1960, then went on to study metallurgical engineering in Berlin before completing advanced studies in the Netherlands and Belgium. After learning of India's nuclear test in 1974, he had joined the nation's clandestine efforts to develop nuclear power. He had founded the Khan Research Laboratories in 1976 and was its chief scientist and director for many years, according to 
Radio Pakistan. He was awarded the Nishan-i-Imtiaz for his services to the country.

In 2004, Dr Khan was at the centre of a massive global nuclear proliferation scandal. In a series of dramatic developments, he was accused by then army chief and president Pervez Musharraf of running a rogue proliferation network for nuclear material. Shortly after Musharraf’s announcement, a recorded confession by Khan was aired in which he took sole responsibility for all the nuclear proliferation that had been revealed. He was subsequently placed under house arrest. A court ended his house arrest[/url] in February 2009, but his movements were strictly guarded, and he was accompanied by authorities every time he left his home in Islamabad. Later, he had filed a plea in the Lahore High Court seeking enforcement of his fundamental rights, including free movement. The LHC had rejected the plea in 2019 on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction in view of special security measures adopted by the state.

He had then moved the Supreme Court against the LHC's decision, which had asked the attorney general to meet the nuclear scientist and allay his concerns.

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