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Q&A With A.Q. Khan

Father of the Islamic bomb.

11:00 PM, Jan 26, 2009 • By URS GEHRIGER
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Editor's note: This interview originally appeared in the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche.

Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan is a Pakistani metallurgist and the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. In Pakistan, Dr. Khan is considered a national hero despite his admission in 2004 that he sold nuclear technology to several countries. According to nuclear investigators around the world, he is a rogue scientist who has failed to reveal the true extent of the dangers posed by the shadowy network he created.

In an interview with the Swiss weekly DIE WELTWOCHE, Khan explains how he built the atomic bomb for Pakistan and how easy it was to purchase the necessary technology, and he reveals why he confessed to having helped other states that were seeking atomic weapons.

There is a court order prohibiting Dr. Khan from answering any further questions about the illicit nuclear network he confessed to running. The following interview was conducted via email over a lengthy period that commenced before the court order.

Q: When did you make the decision to found an atomic program with a view to building an atom bomb for your nation and what was your motivation?

A: After India exploded its so-called "peaceful" nuclear bomb in 1974, I felt it to be imperative that Pakistan should have a similar programme. In this connection I wrote a letter to Mr. Bhutto, who invited me to come to Pakistan to discuss the matter with him. I met him in December 1974 while we were visiting Pakistan over the Christmas/New Year holidays. Before the Indian nuclear test of 18th May Bhutto said: "We will eat grass, we will go hungry if India makes the bomb". Mr. Bhutto was pivotal to our nuclear programme. Without his go-ahead, full support and giving me full freedom of action, nothing would have materialized.

Q: How did you gather the necessary information and technical resources for building the program?

A: During the course of my work for the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO) in Holland I gained the necessary expertise regarding the enrichment of uranium by the centrifuge method. Other necessary information and technical resources were procured from the suppliers. Lots of useful information was already available in published literature. In this kind of programme, the fissile material is the main thing. The rest is not so difficult.

Q: Why did you suddenly leave Holland in December 1975?

A: Officially Pakistan's nuclear programme was started at the beginning of 1975. After my initial discussions with Mr. Bhutto, the (Pakistani) Atomic Energy Commission was asked to start building the necessary infrastructure while I returned to Holland to my job. When I visited Pakistan in December 1975 I realized that nothing worthwhile had been achieved and a whole year had been wasted. Having reported this to Mr. Bhutto, he requested that I resign from my job and remain in Pakistan to lead the programme. After consulting with my wife and family, the decision was taken to comply with this request. I did not leave Holland suddenly. We came to Pakistan every year to spend the Christmas/New Year holidays here. What was sudden was my decision not to go back.

Q: During your work with FDO you had privileged access to the most restricted areas of the facility as well as to documentation on the gas centrifuge technology. An investigation by the Dutch authorities found that you had passed highly classified material to a network of Pakistani intelligence agents. Was this done on your own initiative or did the Pakistani government suggest/tell you to do this?