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Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan: An authentic Pakistani people’s hero

29th Oct 2021
Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan: An authentic Pakistani people’s hero

Portrait photo of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan (Credit: WikiCommons)

April 1, 1936 – October 10, 2021

While there have been State Funerals for top officials, the State Funeral for Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan had a marked difference, particularly in the extent and intensity of the emotionally-charged public participation.

The funeral time was 3:30 pm, and when I left for the funeral at 3 pm, I had difficulty entering the premises of the Faisal Mosque, as there was a sea of grateful Pakistanis who were there to pay homage to their hero whom they loved and respected.

Dr Khan’s contribution as the undisputed Father of The Bomb has immortalised him in the annals of Pakistan’s history. He offered his services to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, soon after India’s May 1974 nuclear explosion.

This Indian test had come soon after the traumatic events of 1971 and the partition of Pakistan, as a consequence of external aggression. Both of these had a profound impact on the young scientist’s mind, and then working in Europe.

He wrote to Bhutto that ‘never again’ should Pakistan find itself in this situation of helplessness, that despite being part of the US-led military alliances, it was dismembered with impunity, having the dubious distinction of being the first country in the Third World to have its map changed due to external aggression. The United Nations Charter, international law, and Pakistan’s foreign alliances could not protect and preserve Pakistan’s territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty.

Dr Khan confidently told Bhutto that he could deliver Pakistan’s national security by building the Bomb, the ultimate deterrent. Only five world powers had this nuclear capability, but now neighbouring India, Pakistan’s nemesis, had also become part of this elite club.

The only condition Dr Khan sought from Bhutto was: ‘just give me a free hand, and I’ll deliver The necessary arrangements were soon underway, given Bhutto’s passion for the Bomb and his ability to get things done. A Special Works Organisation (SWO) was created to build the nuclear site for which Kahuta was chosen, close to Islamabad.

The Pakistan Army’s Corps of Engineers was entrusted with this task of constructing Kahuta, with the SWO commanded by the then Brigadier Zahid Ali Akbar Khan, who was succeeded a year later by Brigadier Anis Ali Syed. Security was entrusted to a special protective force, separate from the normal security apparatus, headed by Lt General Ali Zamin Naqvi.

Prime Minister Bhutto tasked a special, top-secret team led by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, consisting of Agha Shahi and AGN Kazi, three top distinguished civil servants with unimpeachable integrity, which bypassed routine file work and normal bureaucratic procedures like the PC1, a requirement of the Planning Commission to undertake new projects.

The Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL), later renamed by President Zia the AQ Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), was separated from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), allowing the Bomb Project to become an autonomous entity under a clear chain of command, with no bureaucratic red tape to impede its advance. The Bomb Project is an amazing case study of how to promote national goals with tenacity and single-minded determination, especially in a country like Pakistan where coordination, compliance and capacity are key issues undermining decision-making and implementation.

That is why, for 24 years, between 1974, when the Bomb Project was initiated, up to the time when the nuclear tests were carried out in 1998, the Bomb Project never slowed down despite intense foreign pressures, sanctions. and the turnover of four premiers, five presidents and five army chiefs during this period.

The project was conceived by a civilian government and also completed by an elected civilian one, an excellent example of civil-military coordination for a common national strategic objective.
The site of Chaghi was chosen for the nuclear test in October 1979 by the eminent nuclear scientist, Dr Ashfaq Ahmed, and where the test was carried out on May 28, 1998.

My relationship with Dr Khan started in 1983 when I received a moving, handwritten letter from him, lamenting the treatment being meted to Pakistan’s nuclear programme, vilifying Dr Khan and the sustained propaganda against Pakistan’s “Islamic Bomb”. I read his letter and promptly called him for a personal meeting, where I assured him that as Editor of The Muslim, I would be on the frontline of supporting him and our newspaper, then Pakistan’s most influential independent English daily, would be his voice in promoting, protecting and preserving the nuclear programme.

Dr Khan was kind enough to invite me to Kahuta to visit the nuclear site in 1998 when I was the Minister for Information. What he had achieved was nothing short of a miracle. Utilising our meagre resources with an indigenous, home-grown scientific and technological capability that matched the advanced countries of the world, he had succeeded in building the Bomb.

Dr Khan was also the architect of the Ghauri Strategic Missile with a range of 1,500 kilometres, which was tested on April 6, 1998. There was a high-level meeting at the PM House where Dr Khan, accompanied by the Army Chief, General Jehangir Karamat, joined Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and I.

Dr Khan proudly presented the videocassette of the test, which he showed to us on a television screen. While it was agreed to make the announcement via a press release of the Ghauri test, the decision about airing the video cassette on PTV was held in abeyance. When the meeting ended, Dr Khan approached me, handed me the videocassette and whispered: “Shahji, please show the video of the Ghauri Test on PTV”. I promptly complied.

The Ghauri Missile test became the catalyst for India’s nuclear test on May 11, 1998, which, in turn, enabled Pakistan to respond in kind on May 28, 1998. Dr Khan’s quarter-century-old dream was finally fulfilled.

It is thanks to the Bomb that Pakistan escaped the fate of Muslim countries like Iraq. In October 2002, the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was asked why they were going after Iraq, which had no proven nuclear capability while ignoring North Korea’s nuclear programme. Rumsfeld’s cryptic answer: “Because North Korea has the Bomb”.

Libyan leader, Colonel Qaddafi’s daughter, Aisha, now in exile with her mother in Algiers, lamented in 2012 after the overthrow and killing of her father by a NATO-led coalition that “had my father followed Pakistan’s example and not given up on the Bomb Project, Libya would not have met the fate it did.”
Dr Khan was born in Bhopal on April 1, 1936.

Khan moved with his family in the wake of partition to Pakistan in 1952. He leaves behind a widow, Henny Khan, originally Dutch and two daughters: Dina Khan and Ayesha Khan. Pakistan salutes Dr Khan,the Saviour of the Nation, for his invaluable contributions to the security and safety of Pakistan!

Senator Mushahid Hussain
Senate of Pakistan, Islamabad & Chair, Senate Defence Committee of Pakistan and an acquaintance of Dr Khan for 38 years

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