How Dr. AQ Khan sparked a flurry of nuclear proliferation in Pakistan, the Middle East, and beyond.
Pakistani nuclear physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan is responsible for bringing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons aspirations to fruition, but his influence on nuclear proliferation didn’t stop there.
Who is Dr. Khan?
Though a metallurgist (one who studies the chemical reactions between different metals) by trade, Abdul Qadeer Khan (AQ Khan for short), with the backing of the Pakistani government is now considered the grandfather of Pakistan’s nuclear program.
In 1974, just after a large scale nuclear test by India, then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, reportedly requested help from Khan in spearheading the country’s uranium enrichment program (the building block for developing nuclear weapons).
Khan – who had been working in the Netherlands as a subcontractor for a nuclear equipment facility as well as an engineering firm at the time – would, as history has it, oblige the prime minister.
Using blueprints for a nuclear centrifuge which Khan absconded from URENCO, the Dutch nuclear fuel company where he worked at the time, he and a team of scientists would succeed in making Pakistan amongst the nuclear capable powers in the Middle East.
AQ Khan’s impact
Khan’s work has had a lasting impact, not just on Pakistan, but all around the middle east and neighboring regions; because the only thing stronger than a nuclear bomb is the knowledge of how to build one.
In addition to helping Pakistan develop a nuclear weapon, AQ Khan also sold his knowhow to rogue nations looking to ready their nuclear strike capabilities.
In fact, Khan is credited with providing Iran, North Korea, and Libya, with designs and materials to make a nuclear bomb – a realization that didn’t come to light until 2004, when Khan admitted to providing the countries with such knowhow publically.
Khan’s syndication of such materials and expertise has even been labeled “the most severe loss of control over nuclear technology ever,” by the Federation of American Scientists.
Despite efforts by the Dutch Government to prosecute Khan for espionage (charges which were eventually dropped on a technicality) Khan remains in Pakistan, closely watched by the government, and regarded as a hero by the Pakistani people.
Khan’s pawning of nuclear secrets (which investigations found were done without the consent of even the Pakistani government), and the subsequent proliferation of nuclear knowhow, was considered by some experts to be an inevitability.
As exemplified by AQ Khan and his network of black market nuclear buyers, nuclear technology and trade has entered an era far more chaotic than the Cold War – when nuclear arsenals were well maintained and regulated.
Today, nuclear technology and intelligence surrounding it is more opaque than ever before – a trend which may very well be here to stay.