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Abdul Qadeer Khan

From dKosopedia

Abdul Qadeer Khan (born 1935, Bhopal, India) is a Pakistani engineer widely regarded as the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. (His middle name is also occasionally rendered as Quadeer, Qadir or Gadeer and his given names are often abbreviated to AQ). In January 2004, he confessed to having been involved in an international network of clandestine nuclear proliferation from Pakistan to Libya, Iran and North Korea. On February 5, 2004, president Pervez Musharraf announced that he had pardoned Khan. On February 16, The Times of India reported that Khan had suffered a heart attack.[1] The Pakistani government denies this.


Early career

Born in 1935 into a middle-class Muslim family in Bhopal, India, Khan migrated to Pakistan in 1952 following the country's partition from India five years earlier. He trained as an engineer at the University of Karachi before moving after graduation to West Germany and Belgium for further studies, earning a doctorate from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 1972.

That same year, he joined the staff of the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory, or FDO, in Amsterdam. FDO was a subcontractor for the URENCO uranium enrichment plant at Almelo in the Netherlands, which had been established in 1970 by the United Kingdom, West Germany and the Netherlands to assure a supply of enriched uranium for European nuclear reactors. The URENCO plant used highly classified centrifuge technology to separate fissionable uranium-235 from U-238 by spinning a mixture of the two isotopes at up to 100,000 revolutions a minute. The technical complexity of this system is the main obstacle to would-be nuclear powers developing their own enrichment facilities.

In May 1974, India tested a nuclear bomb, to the great alarm of Pakistan's government. Around this time, Khan had privileged access to the most secret areas of the URENCO plant as well as to documentation on centrifuge technology. A subsequent investigation by the Dutch authorities found that he had passed highly classified material to a network of Pakistani intelligence agents, although they found no evidence that he was sent to the Netherlands as a spy, nor were they able to determine whether he approached his government or whether it was the other way around. He left the Netherlands suddenly in January 1976 and was put in charge of the Pakistani nuclear programme with the support of then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Development of nuclear weapons

Khan established the Engineering Research Laboratories at Kahuta in July 1976, subsequently renamed as the Dr. A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), as the focal point for developing a uranium enrichment capability. KRL also took on many other weapons projects, including the development of the nuclear-capable Ghauri ballistic missiles. KRL occupied a unique role in Pakistani industry, reporting directly to the Prime Minister's office, and having extremely close relations with the military: former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has said that during her term of office, even she was not allowed to visit the facility.

Pakistan very rapidly established its own uranium enrichment capability and was reportedly able to produce highly enriched uranium by 1986. This progress was so rapid that international suspicion was raised as to whether it had had outside assistance. It was reported that Chinese technicians had been at the facility in the early 1980s, but suspicions soon fell on Khan's activities at URENCO. In 1983, he was sentenced in absentia to four years in prison by an Amsterdam court for attempted espionage, although the sentence was later overturned on appeal on a legal technicality. Khan rejected any suggestion that Pakistan had illicitly acquired nuclear expertise: "All the research work [at Kahuta] was the result of our innovation and struggle," he told a group of Pakistani librarians in 1990. "We did not receive any technical know-how from abroad, but we can't reject the use of books, magazines and research papers in this connection."

In 1987, a British newspaper reported that Khan had openly confirmed Pakistan's acquisition of a nuclear capability. He was quoted as confirming that American intelligence reports "about our possessing the bomb is correct and so is speculation of some foreign newspapers" and criticised Pakistan's detractors, who had "told the U.S. that Pakistan could never produce the bomb and they now know we have done it." Khan's statement was subsequently disavowed by the Pakistani government and Khan himself initially denied giving it, although he later retracted his denial. The Pakistani newspaper The Dawn reported in October 1991 that Khan repeated his claim at a dinner meeting of businessmen and industrialists in Karachi, which "sent a wave of jubilation" through the audience.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Western governments became increasingly convinced that covert nuclear and ballistic missile collaboration was taking place between China, Pakistan and North Korea. According to the Washington Post, "U.S. intelligence operatives secretly rifled [Khan's] luggage ... during an overseas trip in the early 1980s to find the first concrete evidence of Chinese collaboration with Pakistan's bomb effort: a drawing of a crude, but highly reliable, Hiroshima-sized weapon that must have come directly from Beijing, according to U.S. officials." The activities of the Khan Research Laboratories led to the United States terminating economic and military aid to Pakistan in October 1990, following which the Pakistani government agreed to a freeze in the nuclear programme. According to the Federation of American Scientists, this came into force in 1991. However, Khan later claimed in a July 1996 interview with the weekly Friday Times that "at no stage was the programme (of producing weapons-grade enriched uranium) ever stopped" [2].

The American clampdown may have prompted an increasing reliance on Chinese and North Korean nuclear and missile expertise. In 1995, the U.S. learned that the Khan Research Laboratories had bought 5,000 specialized magnets from a Chinese government-owned company, for use in uranium enrichment equipment. More worryingly, it was reported that Pakistani nuclear technology was being exported to other aspirant nuclear states, notably North Korea. In May 1998, Newsweek magazine published an article alleging that Khan had offered to sell nuclear know-how to Iraq, an allegation that he denied. A few weeks later, both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests that finally confirmed both countries' development of atomic weapons. The event was greeted with jubilation in both countries and Khan was feted as a national hero. President Rafiq Tarrar awarded him a gold medal for his role in masterminding the Pakistani nuclear programme. The United States immediately imposed sanctions on both India and Pakistan and publicly blamed China for assisting the Pakistanis.

Investigations into nuclear proliferation

Khan's open promotion of Pakistan's nuclear and missile capabilities became something of an embarrassment to Pakistan's government. The United States government became increasingly convinced that Pakistan was trading nuclear technology to North Korea in exchange for ballistic missile technology. In the face of strong American criticism, the Pakistani government announced in March 2001 that Khan was to be dismissed from his post as chairman of KRL, a move that drew strong criticism from the religious and nationalist opposition to President Pervez Musharraf. Perhaps in response to this, the government instead appointed Khan to the post of special science and technology adviser to President Musharraf, with ministerial rank. While this could be presented as a promotion for Khan, it removed him from hands-on management of KRL and gave the government an opportunity to keep a closer eye on his activities.

Khan came under renewed scrutiny following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan to oust the fundamentalist Taliban regime. It emerged that al-Qaeda had made repeated efforts to obtain nuclear materials to build either a radiological bomb or a crude nuclear bomb. In late October 2001, the Pakistani government arrested three Pakistani nuclear scientists, all with close ties to Khan, for their suspected connections with the Taliban. Two of the scientists were subsequently said to have admitted having had talks with Osama bin Laden.

The Bush administration continued to investigate Pakistani nuclear proliferation, ratcheting up the pressure on the Pakistani government in 2001 and 2002 and focusing on Khan's personal role. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed "senior Pakistani officials" as conceding that Khan's dismissal from KRL had been prompted by U.S. suspicions of his involvement in weapons technology transfers with North Korea. It was alleged in December 2002 that U.N. intelligence officials had found evidence that an unidentified agent supposedly acting on Khan's behalf had offered nuclear expertise to Iraq in mid-1990, though Khan strongly denied this allegation and the Pakistani government declared the evidence "fraudulent". The United States responded by imposing sanctions on KRL, citing concerns about missile technology transfers.

Khan and the Iranian nuclear programme

In August 2003, reports emerged of dealings with Iran; it was claimed that Khan had offered to sell nuclear technology as long ago as 1989. The Iranian government came under intense pressure from the United States and European Union to make a full disclosure of its nuclear programme and finally agreed in October 2003 to accept tougher investigations from the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA). The IAEA reported that Iran had established a large uranium enrichment facility using centrifuges based on the stolen URENCO designs, which had been obtained "from a foreign intermediary in 1987." The intermediary was not named but many diplomats and analysts pointed to Pakistan and specifically to Khan, who was said to have visited Iran in 1986. The Iranians turned over the names of their suppliers and international inspectors quickly identified the Iranian centrifuges as Pak-1s, the model developed by Khan in the early 1980s. Two senior staff at the Khan Research Laboratories were subsequently arrested in December 2003 on suspicion of having sold nuclear technology to the Iranians.

That same month, on December 19, Libya made a surprise announcement that it had weapons of mass destruction programmes which it would now abandon. Libyan government officials were quoted as saying that Libya had bought nuclear components from various black market dealers, including Pakistani scientists. In particular, American officials who visited the Libyan uranium plants shortly afterwards reported that the centrifuges used there were very similar to the Iranian ones.

The Pakistani government's blanket denials became untenable as evidence mounted of illicit technology transfers. It opened an investigation into Khan's activities, arguing that even if there had been wrongdoing, it had occurred without government knowledge or approval. Although he was not arrested, Khan was summoned for "debriefing". On January 25, 2004 the investigators reported that Khan and Mohammed Farooq, a high-ranking manager at KRL, had provided unauthorised technical assistance - allegedly in exchange for tens of millions of dollars - to Iran's nuclear-weapons program in the late 1980s and early 1990s. General Mirza Aslam Beg, a former chief of army staff at the time, was also said to have been implicated; the Wall Street Journal quoted government officials as saying that Khan had told investigators that nuclear technology transfers to Iran had been authorised by General Beg. On January 31, Khan was sacked from his post as the presidential science adviser, ostensibly to "allow a fair investigation" of the nuclear proliferation scandal.

It remains to be seen whether Khan, Farooq and Beg will face any charges. Khan remains an extremely popular figure in Pakistan. He is known as an outspoken nationalist and for his belief that the West is inherently hostile to Islam; in Pakistan's strongly anti-American climate, tough action against him poses political risks for President Musharraf, who already faces accusations of being too pro-American. An additional complicating factor is that few believe that Khan acted alone and the affair risks gravely damaging the Pakistani army, which controlled the nuclear programme and of which Musharraf is still the commander-in-chief. The same investigation also exposed South African businessman Asher Karni as having sold nuclear devices to Khan's associates. Karni is currently in US prison, awaiting trial.

U.S. reaction to the pardon

The United States government decided to leave the fate of Kahn in the hands of president Musharraf, imposing no penalties on the Pakistani government or on individuals. Officials explained that in the War on Terrorism it was not their goal to denounce or imprison people, but "to get results." The White House chose not to sanction Pakistan or to demand an independent investigation of the Pakistani military. "It's just another case where you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," an official explained.

However, in a speech to the National Defense University on February 11, 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed to reform the IAEA: "No state under investigation for proliferation violations should be allowed to serve on the IAEA Board of Governors -- or on the new special committee. And any state currently on the Board that comes under investigation should be suspended from the Board. The integrity and mission of the IAEA depends on this simple principle: Those actively breaking the rules should not be entrusted with enforcing the rules." [3]

The Bush proposal was seen as targeted against Pakistan, which currently serves a regular term on the IAEA's Board of Governors. It has not received attention from other governments.


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References and Exteral links

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This page was last modified 23:47, 11 July 2006 by Chad Lupkes. Based on work by dKosopedia user(s) Lestatdelc. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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