Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan is the undisputed hero of Pakistan’s nuclear saga. Called “the father of the Islamic bomb,” Dr. Khan pioneered and led Pakistan’s effort to enrich uranium with gas centrifuges. In 1976 he took charge of the secretive Engineering Research Laboratories at Kahuta, now named the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories in his honor, where he assembled the machinery and manpower it would take to produce weapon-grade uranium. Khan recruited scores of Pakistani scientists living abroad to work with him at Kahuta, boasting that “the scientists and engineers whom I recruited had never heard of a centrifuge, even though some of them were Ph.D.’s.”
Khan had learned about gas centrifuges when he worked on uranium enrichment technology for a Dutch company from 1972 to 1975. Khan says he and his colleagues devised “a strategy to buy everything we needed in the open market to lay the foundation of a good infrastructure and would then switch over to indigenous production.” In 1983 Khan was sentenced in absentia for trying to steal enrichment secrets from the Netherlands. He denies the charges, and his conviction was overturned in 1986.
In 1990, Pakistan President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, lauded A.Q. Khan’s contributions to the nuclear field and declared: “The name of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan will be inscribed in golden letters in the annals of the national history of Pakistan.” And even Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has acknowledged his “invaluable contribution not only in the nuclear field but also in other fields including defense production.”
A.Q. Khan says Western governments repeatedly tried to prevent Pakistan from developing a nuclear weapon capability, but they were foiled by the greed of their own companies: “Many suppliers approached us with the details of the machinery and with figures and numbers of instruments and materials … In the true sense of the word, they begged us to purchase their goods. And for the first time the truth of the saying, They will sell their mother for money,’ dawned on me. We purchased whatever we required…”