Press "Enter" to skip to content

Abdul Qadeer Khan, Father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Program, Dies at 85

“A.Q. Khan is betraying your country,” Mr. Tenet said he told the Pakistani leader. “He has stolen some of your nation’s most sensitive secrets and sold them to the highest bidders.” In his own memoir, Mr. Musharraf called this moment a profound embarrassment.

On Jan. 31, 2004, the government of Pakistan dismissed Dr. Khan. Shortly thereafter it announced that he had admitted helping the nuclear-weapons programs of Iran, North Korea and Libya. He confessed on national television four days later, saying his work was that of a rogue scientist and that his government never approved the sales or transfers of weapons technologies. The explanation was not widely accepted outside Pakistan.

President Musharraf publicly pardoned Dr. Khan, who was suspected of personally profiting from his dealings. But he said the nation’s leading nuclear scientist would spend the rest of his days under house arrest.

Abdul Qadeer Khan was born in Bhopal, India, in either 1935 or 1936; the date is uncertain. He was raised in Pakistan, the largely Muslim nation created by the partition of India in 1947. He studied the science and technology of metals, with graduate work in Germany.

In 1974, he was working in Amsterdam at a company that enriched uranium for a European consortium of nuclear-engineering firms. That same year, India, Pakistan’s regional rival, tested its first nuclear weapon.

Not long thereafter, Dr. Khan returned home with two sets of blueprints for building centrifuges to enrich uranium. According to a later investigation by the Dutch government, those were the first of a series of nuclear-weapons designs and technologies that Dr. Khan purloined from abroad.

“They were importing materials and indeed the design, which was stolen from the Dutch,” Arthur W. Hummel Jr., the American ambassador to Pakistan from 1977 to 1981, said in a 1994 oral history interview. “They were putting together a ‘cascade’ of very high-speed centrifuges into which you put very rarefied, low pressure uranium in gaseous form. You ran it down this cascade long enough — for months and years — and you eventually got very highly enriched uranium,” the crucial material for a nuclear bomb.