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Random thoughts

September 25, 2019

Fate

Opinion

September 25, 2019

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. File photo

Today I am going to write about the initial days of our nuclear weapons programme. You all know that I was born in Bhopal, a paradise on earth. There are no words to describe the natural beauty of that state.

At the time of Partition, my two older brothers migrated to Karachi. One joined the police and the other went to Dhahran to work at Aramco. In 1950 my oldest sister got married to our distant cousin, who came from Karachi to Bhopal for this purpose. When he and my sister were leaving Bhopal, my third brother joined them and came to Karachi. He also joined the police department but then left for Saudi Arabia (Dhahran).

After passing my high-school exam, I joined a family who were leaving for Karachi via Munabao and Khokhrapar. In Karachi, I joined the DJ Sind Government College, obtained my BSc Degree and then worked as Inspector of Weights and Measures until August 1961, after which I left for Berlin to join the Technical University of Berlin for higher technical education.

Unexpectedly, it was a very difficult initial period as hardly anyone spoke English, there were no English programms on TV and no English newspapers. I used to go to the railway station to buy the Sunday Observer and that kept me busy the whole week.

I loved travelling and used to visit neighbouring countries (Belgium, Holland, England, etc).

During one such visit to The Hague (Holland) I met my future wife (the beginning of fate). I invited her to Düsseldorf (where I learnt to speak German) and later she joined me in Berlin so we could get to know each other better. We got engaged on October 6, 1962, which we celebrated at my hostel with many foreign and local students.

In December 1962, we went to The Hague during the Christmas holidays to see her parents. There my fiance suggested I should consider moving to Delft Technological University, which at that time was considered the MIT of Europe. In August 1963 I joined Delft. On March 9, 1964 we got married at the Pakistan embassy in the Hague. The late Mr Qudratullah Shahab was the ambassador; he was my witness. The late Mr Jamiluddin Hasan performed our nikkah ceremony and the embassy hosted a reception for us.

I passed my Masters in 1967 with very good marks and had meanwhile learnt Dutch (fate continues). I worked as research assistant for one year with the famous Prof Dr WG Burgers. Meanwhile, I received many offers for PhD programms from England, the USA, Australia, etc, but we wanted to stay near Holland to be close to my ageing in-laws, so I accepted a fellowship at the University of Leuven near the Dutch border (fate that was to come in useful a few years later). I defended my thesis in April 1972. Just before my defence, I received a call from an old colleague from Delft, asking me to join him in Holland’s largest company (VMF/FDO) in Amsterdam.

When I joined, I was set to work on a most secret project (a joint venture between England, Germany, and Holland) of enriching uranium by the centrifuge method. They had been working on it for almost 20 years. There I solved many metallurgical and other problems. (A progression of fate). I was aware of the importance of this work but never thought it would be useful to Pakistan. Because of my knowledge of German, English, and Dutch I was appointed by Holland as its representative to the Scientific Advisory Group of the EEC.

On May 18, 1974, India exploded its nuclear device and tore the NPT to pieces. After three to four months I wrote a letter to PM Bhutto suggesting a matching response. We came to Karachi on our annual Christmas holiday in 1974 and I met Mr Bhutto. He asked me about our plans. I told him we would be returning to Holland on January 15. He quite unexpectedly asked me not to go back and instead help Pakistan with the making of nuclear weapons.

It came as a bombshell to me. I said I wanted to discuss the matter with my wife and inform him of my answer later. She was shocked. We were happily settled in a suburb of Amsterdam (Zwanenburg) and I had an excellent job. Then she asked if I would feel I was doing something worthwhile for Pakistan. My answer was: “Nobody else can do it for Pakistan but me”. “Okay” she said, “then we stay”.

I wanted to go to sort out my things but Bhutto Sahib pleaded with me not to. He said that, since I had done this work, I would be able to do it from memory. I had no option. My wife went back to settle our affairs and had the hard task of informing her parents and that was that. I then, with a dedicated team, began the long and arduous work that made us a nuclear power.

Email: [email protected]

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