The death of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan marks the end of an era. Dr Qadeer will always be associated with Pakistan’s achievement of a nuclear weapon, and while he may not have been quite the ‘Father of Pakistan’s Bomb’ as portrayed in some quarters, he certainly played a key role in making the device. It should be kept in mind that Dr Khan was a metallurgist of high calibre, and was in charge of the uranium enrichment process that was a crucial part of the manufacturing process. He had brought the technology for enrichment from Europe, and the components used to make the enriching centrifuges had to be brought in off the grid. He was never forgiven for this, and the West, prompted by India, seemed anxious to portray him as the ‘Father’ of the Pakistani bomb. This may have been helped by his being given a separate
facility, the Khan Research Laboratories, which was not under the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, which was actually tasked with making a bomb. Apart from uranium enrichment, KRL has also done impressive work in missile technology, which has proved another contribution to the national missile programme.
This miasma of illegality hung over him even after Pakistan declared its nuclear status in 1998, and in the Musharraf years he was removed from KRL, after some of his activities came to light, which seemed to show that he was giving enrichment technology to such countries as Iran and North Korea. Whether the allegations were true or not, they certainly provided ammunition to all those enemies of Pakistan, especially India, which tried to portray Pakistan as an irresponsible nuclear power, a proliferator, and thus a sponsor of Islamic terrorism.
The dispute over whether he was the ‘Father of the Bomb’ obscures two important things. The first is that while nuclear status was fiercely opposed by the Great Powers, and did bring sanctions raining down on our heads, it also saved Pakistan from falling into Indian subservience. The 1998 test by India almost immediately resulted in its throwing its weight around against Pakistan. A second issue is that to declare one man ‘Father of the Bomb’ detracts from the collective achievement of a high scientific order. Dr Khan himself, by no means averse to publicity, would not have wanted his own achievements, which were indeed amazing, to obscure that of others.