Khan, Abdul Qadeer

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Khan, Abdul Qadeer

Abdul Qadeer Khan (A. Q. Khan), 1936–, Pakistani metallurgical engineer, often called the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, b. Bhopal, India. He moved (1952) to Pakistan and studied at the D. J. Science College, Karachi (B.S., 1960), Delft Univ. of Technology, the Netherlands (M.S., 1967), and Catholic Univ., Leuven, Belgium (Ph.D., 1972). He worked (1970–75) on uranium enrichment at a Dutch plant, gaining a considerable knowledge of atomic physics, of engineering as it related to the creation of fissionable materials, and of the working of centrifuges, and honing his management skills. Two years after India exploded its first nuclear device (1974), Khan returned to Pakistan, where, with the support of President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he soon assumed leadership of the nation's nascent nuclear program, utilizing secret nuclear technology he had stolen and information and equipment smuggled from the West by Pakistani agents. In 1983 he was tried in absentia by a Dutch court for espionage and found guilty; the conviction was overturned on a technicality. An honored figure in Pakistan, Khan was appointed head of a research institute named for him at Kahuta, which became Pakistan's main nuclear-weapons and uranium-enrichment facility.

In 1998 Pakistan detonated several nuclear devices, and Khan's stature at home grew. In 2003, however, Pakistan launched an investigation into his international nuclear dealings since the 1980s, and a year later he confessed to providing information, for personal gain, on sensitive nuclear technology and nuclear devices to Iran, Libya, North Korea, and China. Dismissed from his post, Khan publicly apologized, but spoke in English so many of his countrymen were unable to understand his confession. He was placed (2004) under house arrest but also pardoned by President Musharraf; a Pakistani court ended his house arrest in 2009. Unrepentant despite his disgrace, Khan remains a national hero to many Pakistanis.

See G. Corera, Shopping for Bombs (2006).

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