Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

Peeking into the Abyss: What Pakistan and the A.Q. Khan Network Tell Us about the Future of Nuclear Nonproliferation

Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

Peeking into the Abyss: What Pakistan and the A.Q. Khan Network Tell Us about the Future of Nuclear Nonproliferation

Article excerpt


In a young country only half a century removed from its colonial yoke, A.Q. Khan held the position of a national hero as the man who gave Pakistan its nuclear arsenal. Known as the " Father of the Bomb, " he could even cheer on a cricket team named after him: the Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan Eleven.1 Not satisfied with the honors he received and the memorials to his work, he even wanted a city renamed Qadeerabad.2 To the west, however, Khan is a reckless proliferator who put the entire world at risk solely to satisfy his own vanity and greed.3 Mohammed ElBaradei, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), described Khan's global network as a "Wal-Mart of private-sector proliferation."4 One former CIA director even considered Khan "at least as dangerous as Osama bin Laden."5 Khan has rejected that view, arguing: "I am not a madman or a nut . . . . They dislike me and accuse me of all kinds of unsubstantiated and fabricated lies because I disturbed all their strategic plans, the balance of power and blackmailing potential in this part of the world."6 Yet one cannot grasp the current state of nuclear nonproliferation without first understanding Khan and his network. As one of Khan's biographers, Gordon Corera, explains: "Two related phenomena call for pessimism about the future of proliferation?one is the growing supply of nuclear technology, in which Khan's legacy is vital. The other is the growing demand, which Khan has also fuelled."7


A. Khan's Early Life

Abdul Qadeer Khan was born in 1936 in Bhopal, British India.8 As a boy, he witnessed firsthand the violent dissolution of British India into Muslim-controlled Pakistan and Hinducontrolled India in 1947.9 Though a Muslim, Khan stayed in Hindu India until 1952, when he left to live with his brothers in Pakistan.10 His departure by train, punctuated by thievery and abuse from Indian soldiers, scarred him for life, and a "fiery picture of the last train out of India still hangs in Khan's study in his home in Islamabad."11

Once in Pakistan, Khan attended school in Karachi before leaving to study metallurgy in Europe in his mid-twenties, intending to return to Pakistan as a university professor.12 He attended several schools throughout Western Europe before finally obtaining a Ph.D. in metallurgy in Belgium.13 According to Corera, "[t]hose who knew Khan in this period remember an affable young man who had an uncanny knack of easily getting to know people from all over the world,"14 which would be key to his later career as a nuclear proliferator.

Though he did not come to Europe as a spy, it was at this point that Khan began to build his network of academics, businessmen, and engineers that would later serve him so well. When he completed his Ph.D. in 1971, one of his professors recommended him for a position at Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO) in the Netherlands.15 At the time, FDO was a subcontractor of the Dutch wing of URENCO?a consortium of companies from the United Kingdom, West Germany, and the Netherlands that pioneered nuclear innovation and exposed Khan to advanced centrifuge technology.16 Khan, who was fluent in English, Dutch, and German, worked as "part translator-part scientist" in helping URENCO shift to a new German-designed centrifuge.17 From this position, "he learned not only how the new technology functioned, but also the identities of the suppliers who provided the parts that were assembled to make the new centrifuges." 18

But most importantly, the year that Khan accepted the position coincided with one of the greatest disasters in Pakistan's short history. After the division of British India, the state of Pakistan originally consisted of two large landmasses separated by more than 1,000 miles of India: West Pakistan and East Pakistan.19 But when East Pakistan rebelled against the unequal rule of the West, India invaded the region to support its bid for freedom. …

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