Thursday 14 August 2014

Father of the Bum?

Thoughts on Dr. AQ Khan's proliferation activities and his recent diatribes.

(Originally published by The Nation)

On 20th January, 1972, Chief Martial Law Administrator and President of Pakistan—Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto—called a meeting of the country’s most eminent scientists in Multan. Pakistan had faced the ignominy of a terrible defeat at the hands of the Indian army a few months ago. Mr. Bhutto asked the scientists to start working on the assembly of a nuclear bomb. While the experienced heads declined to commit to this venture, younger scientists unanimously responded that it could be done in five years. Mr. Bhutto was satisfied by the response and left for a tour of Islamic countries soon afterwards.

In July 1974, a letter arrived at the Prime Minister’s secretariat (Mr. Bhutto had assumed the office of Prime Minister after passage of a new constitution in 1973) from the Netherlands. The correspondent claimed to be a physicist working for a European nuclear consortium. He claimed to have obtained blueprints for a revolutionary new process involved in building a nuclear bomb. The person, let’s call him AK, was working as a technical translator for the multinational URENCO consortium. In his letter, he claimed ‘writing innumerable research papers and an internationally renowned book.’ Son of migrants from the Indian state of Bhopal, AK had been living in Europe for 13 years and was passionate about ‘debates about the Hindus over the border, who had ransacked his old home in 1947.’ Mr. Bhutto tasked an Intelligence Agency to investigate the whereabouts of this mysterious scientist named AK. It was found that he had worked as Inspector of Weights and Measures for the Karachi post office in the 1960s, after obtaining a science degree from Karachi University. He left for West Germany for further studies and received an offer to attend a series of introductory lectures in Metallurgy in September 1962, by West Berlin Technical University. He moved, with his newly wed wife, to Holland in 1963 and continued his education at Delft Technological University. In his spare time, he used to write letters to European Newspapers and magazines that he felt had misrepresented Pakistan.

Mr. Bhutto was satisfied by AK’s track record and invited him to start the process of assembling a nuclear bomb for Pakistan. He was provided a laboratory to run, and unlimited funding as well as official patronage. After smuggling different parts required for building the bomb from a plethora of countries, and through not-so-legal channels, AK succeeded in completing the crucial step in manufacturing a nuclear bomb. The rest of the hard work was done by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), an organization that AK hated with a vengeance.

By this time, AK had developed an acute case of megalomania. AK’s psychiatrist at that time, Professor Haroon Ahmed mentioned in his reports that by this time, ‘he was suffering from depression, and was classically manic.’ He used to boast, “Jinnah built Pakistan, but I saved it.” AK even had an intelligence team follow his Dutch wife and daughters because he thought they were more loyal to Europe than they were to Pakistan. In 1984, he called a reporter at a local Urdu digest and asked him to send him a list of questions for an interview. He was so disappointed with the list that he threw it away and drafted his own set of questions. He asked himself: “What do you think was your greatest achievement?” and “Did the government recognize your contribution?” In February 1984, he called Nawai Waqt and used the same formula. He used to give charity to mosques and schools, all of which had to bear his name as ‘testimony to his greatness.’ In 1986, he invited a journalist from a small-circulation weekly digest called Hurmat to interview him at his laboratory. It resulted in a series of articles and a biography full of accolades for Mr. AK. One of the articles echoed AK’s inner thoughts: “In order to overcome the energy crisis in Pakistan, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission should be overhauled and its leadership should be handed over to this Mard-e-Momin of Iqbal”.

After Pakistan’s requirements for nuclear materials were fulfilled, AK started selling different parts as surplus to the highest bidder. He first chose Dubai and later Timbuktu as his operational base for nuclear proliferation. The Afghan War prevented the United States from clamping down on his activities, but the noose started tightening in the 90’s. His footprints were all over the nuclear proliferation racket around the world, from Libya to Iran to North Korea, earning him the nickname “Typhoid Mary of Nuclear Proliferation.” In 2001, Musharraf was forced by the International community to get rid of AK and his crime syndicate, after two of AK’s ex-colleagues were found to have travelled to Afghanistan to meet Osama bin Laden (OBL) there. Intelligence sources in India and the US allege that AK co-owned Al-Shifa chemical factory in Sudan with OBL, and OBL had financed the construction of the Hendrina Khan Hotel in Timbuktu. In 2004, AK apologized to the nation in a televised address for his “errors of judgment related to unauthorized proliferation activities.” Musharraf noted in his memoir, “The truth is that he was just a metallurgist, responsible for only one link in the complex chain of nuclear development. But he had managed to build himself up into Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer rolled into one”.

The arrogant “Father of the Bomb” started writing elementary school-style essays for a national newspaper a few years ago, continuing his crusade against common sense and reason. He has made hundreds of factual errors in his “columns” over the years along with an attempted whitewash of history. His most recent diatribes have been directed against chairman of PAEC Munir Ahmed Khan and Dr. Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s only nobel laureate. AK has accused them of selling Pakistan’s nuclear secrets while comfortably ignoring his own efforts to sell the same secrets to the highest bidder.Without the efforts of these gentlemen, technicians such as AK would have failed. Perhaps people living in stone houses should avoid throwing stones at others.

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