Abdul Qadeer Khan, the controversial figure known as Pakistan’s “father of the nuclear bomb” died on Sunday (10/10) after being ill for some time with Covid-19, his family said. Khan died at the age of 85.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad said Khan, who initiated Pakistan to become a nuclear-weapon nation in the early 1970s, died at a KRL hospital in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
Thousands of people attended a state funeral at the large white marble Faisal Mosque in the capital. His body was taken to the burial site with honor guards, while military and political officials offered prayers. All flags in Pakistan were lowered to half mast in mourning.
Khan’s character is shrouded in controversy, which began even before he returned to Pakistan from the Netherlands in the 1970s, where he had worked at a nuclear research facility.
According to research by the Carnegia Endowment for International Peace, he was accused of stealing uranium centrifugal enrichment technology from a nuclear facility in the Netherlands, which he later used to develop Pakistan’s first nuclear weapon.
Khan, who holds a doctorate in metallurgical engineering from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, initiated the launch of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program in 1974 after neighboring India carried out its first “peaceful nuclear explosion”.
Khan then met with Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to offer technology for Pakistan’s own nuclear weapons program. Since then Pakistan has relentlessly strived to compete in its nuclear weapons program with India. Both were declared nuclear weapons states after carrying out nuclear weapons tests in 1998.
Pakistan’s nuclear program and Khan’s involvement have long been the subject of accusations and criticism. The United States (US) accused Khan of trading nuclear secrets to Iran and North Korea in the 1990s after the US imposed sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program.
During the ten years, when the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, several American presidents repeatedly stated that Pakistan was not developing nuclear weapons. The declaration and certification is required under American law in order to continue to allow aid to the anti-communist Afghan government through Pakistan.
But in 1990, just months after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989, the US imposed crippling sanctions on Pakistan for ending all aid to the country, including military and humanitarian assistance.
Pakistan is accused of selling North Korea nuclear weapons technology in exchange for No-Dong missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
The 2003 Congressional Review Report stated that while it is difficult to pinpoint the nuclear cooperation of Pakistan and North Korea, it likely began in the mid-1990s.
In Pakistan, Abdul Qadeer Khan, is hailed as a hero and father of the nuclear bomb. Radical religious parties call him the sole father of the Islamic nuclear bomb.
After 2001, Khan was sidelined by the then president, General Pervez Musharraf, when details of Khan’s alleged secret nuclear sale came under widespread scrutiny. Khan strongly criticized Musharraf and his efforts to distance the country from his activities. He has also repeatedly denied involvement in the secret sale or exchange of secret nuclear weapons technology.
In recent years, Khan has shut himself out of the public eye.
Expressions of respect were conveyed by many Pakistani scientists and politicians shortly after the news of his death. Among them was from Prime Minister Imran Khan, who tweeted.
Associated Press quoted a resident who said Khan was “our pride.” “I would like to say his death is a national tragedy. Today everyone is very sad,” he added. [em/jm]