The story of how Abdul Qadeer Khan helped Pakistan develop the nuclear bomb is nothing short of a Hollywood spy thriller of the highest caliber.
Abdul Qadeer Khan was neither a scientist nor a physicist. He was a metallurgist.
A metallurgist at the right place at the right time
He did not invent the bomb through indigenous research. He stole the blueprints. His genius did not lie in science. His genius lay in people management, relationships and networking.
He was working as a translator in a European consortium researching a new way of Ur enrichment
The centrifuge process, that sounds U238 at blinding speeds to extract U235 isotopes.
AQK managed to get his hands on the blueprints by chance as a translation project.
He didn’t know science. But he knew this was something important. He started secretly making copies.
Back in the late sixties when Bhutto had that famous Multan meeting with the scientists to make the bomb, AQK was sitting in Europe dreaming of coming back to Pakistan to work in Steel Mills. He wanted to serve the nation in any way he could.
So when he got his hands on these blueprints, he knew this was something important. And he contacted the appropriate staff at the embassy to arrange a meeting with PM Bhutto.
Bhutto received word. He arranged for the ISI to verify background on this chap.
They said it’s legit.
AQK was flown to Islamabad. Meeting was had. He was told to keep working, keep making copies. And wait for the word when the time is right. This was the beginning of the world’s greatest theft orchestrated by a group of individuals with unerring clockwork accuracy, a huge feat.
And so one fine day sometime in the 70s AQK got instructions to come to Pakistan. He arrived with three briefcases full of photocopied documents detailing how to manufacture centrifuges for weapons grade uranium enrichment.
Khan Research Laboratories was born.
What followed was nothing short of a spy thriller. AQK, the genius, established a worldwide clandestine smuggling operation, the kind that was seen before nor been seen since. Parts and materials needed to make the centrifuge setup were smuggled under “dual purpose” guise
All of this happened under the nose of the international watchdogs (and with the knowledge and blind eye of the United States government who kept lying to the Senate regarding Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions).
AQK succeeded in carrying out that entire operation smoothly.
He had business contacts in Europe, US, South Africa, Middle East, East Asia etc. Suppliers, businessmen, corrupt government officials, bureaucrats you name it. AQK was like Pablo Escobar minus the violence.
Pakistan had the bomb by 1984. We had it ready and cold tested.
China helped us with the final process of developing the warhead in the 90s for our first hot test.
When General Zia first toured Khan Research Laboratories in late 70s he was shocked to find a world class establishment run by “men in pristine white coats”
The scale of the operation ran by AQK can be fathomed by this small eerie detail:
Out of the 100s of people heading various supply and government organizations who helped AQK in smuggling parts to Pakistan, only AQK survived (house arrested but alive).
Over the years those helpers and collaborators died mysteriously or were jailed for espionage charges. By the 90s, this smuggling operation was over, done with. Cracked down upon. Finished.
The watchdogs had arrived and removed any remaining ambiguity from “dual purpose” parts
During this entire crackdown, it was discovered that Pakistan had lent assistance to Iran with developing their nuclear capabilities.
The State was being painted as malicious all around the world. So the State decided that AQK had to be the fall guy.
We disgraced our hero.
We said this whole thing was not the fault or failing of the State, but of this one rogue scientist. And suddenly AQK the hero, the saviour, was a source of national embarrassment.
It is my opinion that we were grossly unfair to that man. He gave us a gift. He was a blessing.
He orchestrated one of the modern time’s greatest steals just so that he could serve his country and his countrymen and to give them a perpetual ticket for survival in the face of any global adversity.
He was the father of our bomb. And for that we must remain eternally grateful
Thank you Doctor Abdul Qadeer Khan. We are sorry. We did you wrong. You are our hero and will remain so.
Rest In Peace AQK. May God bless your soul.