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?
A: I'm afraid your information is incorrect. If one reads the Parliamentary Report issued by the Dutch government on this topic, one sees that I was never suspected of any wrongdoing. Certain orders were placed by Pakistan in that period which indicated that an enrichment programme had been initiated, but these were all for non-classified equipment and/or materials, information for which was obtainable from the open market. The case that was initiated against me in Holland was for writing 2 letters from Pakistan to ex-colleagues requesting specific information which, according to the Public Prosecutor at that time, was of a secret nature. The case was quashed on procedural matters but the right of appeal was not utilized by the Dutch government because a) I had obtained 7 affidavits from world-renowned professors and scientists confirming that the information in question had been in the public domain for decades and b) the letters in question had been written nearly 10 years earlier and were no longer relevant. The reason for my requesting the information was that there were no scientific libraries containing books on this subject in Pakistan at the time and my own library and household goods had not yet arrived. Furthermore, one should remember that I had worked on that specific subject and was therefore asking for information which I had perfected. It should also be noted that I went to Holland many times after that to visit my parents-in-law, the last time being in July 1992, with the full knowledge and permission of the Dutch authorities. Would that have been possible if I had done anything wrong?
Q: When did you realize that you had enough knowledge and information to build the bomb?
A: One never has enough knowledge or information on one's own to start a project and bring it to completion. The knowledge I had gained referred to the enrichment of uranium, not to the building of a bomb. From my past experience I knew who the suppliers were and I also knew that, being businessmen, they were willing to sell whatever was required. Later on, export laws became much more stringent and embargoes were put in place. The making of the device itself was a totally different field. I had gathered a team of competent engineers and scientists and when Gen. Zia instructed us to do the job, we managed to do so in 2 years.
Q: Could you describe your feelings on May 28th, 1998, when Pakistan successfully tested its first atom bomb and you became a national hero?
A: The feeling that anyone has who has just seen the accomplishment of years of hard work. However, that feeling was not mine alone. It was shared by the whole team that had been built up, without whom nothing would have been possible, and by the nation as a whole. Not only was it the first time that something of this nature had been achieved in Pakistan, but it also ensured the existence and sovereignty of the country.
Q: Looking back, what was the most difficult period on the path to the atom bomb?
A: I would not like to mention a specific period, even though the embargoes placed on us did make things more difficult, but difficulties are there only to be overcome. What I found most difficult during the course of my work was the professional jealousy, rumours and active antagonism from some quarters within the country. That is, of course, not speaking of all that has happened over the past 5 years.
Q: On February 4th 2004 you admitted that you passed atomic secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya. What was the motivation for this transfer?
A: I am afraid I am unable to answer this question as the Islamabad High Court has passed a judgment forbidding me to speak on such matters. I can only say that I did nothing wrong and whatever I did was done in good faith and in the national interest.
Q: There has been a lot of speculation that you have sold parts and blueprints for a nuclear weapon. What exactly have you sold? And to whom?
A: Because of the court order, I am not in a position to reply to this question. Let me only say that I never SOLD anything to anyone.
Q: In October 2003 a freighter loaded with nuclear material was stopped on its way to Libya. Thereafter Libya gave up its secret nuclear program. Among the documents the Libyans handed over to the IAEA, the Agency found blueprints for a nuclear weapon. They were packed in two shopping bags of "Good Looks Fabrics and Tailors", your personal tailor in Islamabad. There are reports in books and media stating that agents of the Pakistani Secret Service ISI saw you in 2000 carrying two shopping bags of "Good Looks Fabrics and Tailors" into an airplane from Islamabad to Dubai. There they observed how you carried the bags in a hotel and delivered them to some men of Arabian origin. What was in those bags you carried to Dubai? And who were the men to whom you delivered the bags?
A: I have had many safari suits made from Good Looks Tailors. They were delivered to me in 4-foot long zipper bags with a see-through panel in the front. Many of these suits I took to Dubai with me, but I NEVER carried them by hand. They were always put in my suitcase and left at the apartment in Dubai where I had one room for my use. Is carrying a clothing bag such an unusual event, even had it taken place, that it should be noticed by ISI agents? If they knew about the bags, wouldn't they also be able to find out to whom they were given? If I was carrying such sensitive documents, would it not have made more sense to carry them in a briefcase, sports bag or such like? If we read the book "DECEPTION - Pakistan, the U.S. and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons" written by Adrian Levy & Catherine Scott-Clark we see on page 375: "......In the early hours of 12 December 2003, as the M16-CIA team walked out to their unmarked plane at Tripoli airport, Libyan officials rushed on to the tarmac. They handed over half a dozen brown envelopes. Inside one were blueprints for a nuclear bomb. Another contained instructions on how to manufacture and assemble a device". Then on page 383, the authors write: "In a bizarre ceremony that took place in a meeting room of the Libyan National Board of Scientific Research in late January 2004, 'Triple M' emerged with all of the nuclear warhead blueprints, schematics and manuals that Libya had bought from Pakistan. He handed them over to the IAEA, stuffed into a plastic bag emblazoned with the logo of a well-known Islamabad gentleman's outfitter - Good Looks Fabrics and Tailors". If we are talking about FACTUAL events, would there be such disparity in the handing over of such important information?
Q: Who wrote the words that you spoke in your televised apology in February 2004? In that statement you used the words "in good faith". What did you mean by them?
A: The statement was prepared by the SPD and thrust into my hands to read. I immediately realised that it was mischievous to put all the blame solely on me. The Attorney General, Makhdoom Ali Khan, who was present, had the statement saved on his laptop. I refused to read it out as it was and insisted that the words "I did it in good faith" be inserted. These words carried a lot of weight and meaning to the whole world. One doesn't do anything wrong "in good faith". This saved my reputation, as was later reiterated in an article by Mr. Roedad Khan.
Q: Is it true that the script originally stated the words "error of judgement" but you exchanged them with "in good faith"?
A: Yes, that is correct. I changed them because the two phrases have totally different meanings. "In good faith" meant that what I had done was with the conviction that I was not doing anything wrong. Later statements on TV by former army chief, Gen.(R) Aslam Beg, Gen. Faiz Ali Chishti, Gen. Hamid Gul, Gen. Abdul Qayum, Mr. Ch. Shujaat Hussain, former Law Minister, Mr. S.M. Zafar and a former Secretary General of the Interior Minister, Mr. Roedad Khan, that I had not done anything wrong, clearly vindicated my position.
Q: On October 16, 2008 you wrote in a letter to the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that Pervez Musharraf had forced you to take the responsibility of nuclear proliferation on state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) in the name of national interest. You wrote that you were told that "we are doing this only to show to the Americans" and that you would be free after three to four months. Why do you think this promise was broken?
A: Because he was a characterless dictator acting under threats from Armitage, Bush, etc. and because he was afraid of what I might reveal. That is also the reason behind the Islamabad High Court's decision prohibiting me from talking about any nuclear matters or my subsequent debriefing. Gen.(R) Kidwai, DG SPD and his wife came to see us in April 2004 and told me that everything would be over in 3 to 4 months, after which I would be able to lead a normal life. That turned out to be a blatant lie. Now, 5 years later, I am still under house arrest I was made a scapegoat by Gen.(R) Musharraf. Many former generals and civilian authorities have openly said on TV that I did not do anything wrong. I was not involved in any unauthorized activities and there NEVER EVER was a question of money-making.
Q: Talking to journalists last July your counsel, Iqbal Jaffrey, urged the government to amicably resolve Dr. Khan's issue, otherwise several "dignitaries" would be exposed and it would open up a Pandora's Box. What "dignitaries" did he mean and what would be the content that would expose them?
A: Only Mr. Jaffrey could answer that question completely. I guess he meant that the truth could hurt many people and the government and prove that they were not as innocent as they were claiming to be.
Q: Your case has not yet been resolved amicably by the government. Do you see any chance that this will happen in the near future under the Zardari government? What will your next action be in order for this to happen?
A: At present my lawyer has initiated a case in the Islamabad High Court on my behalf. Let's wait and see what happens.
Q: Do you consider talking to representatives of the IAEA sometime in the future?
A: Pakistan was not, and is not, a signatory to the NPT, so why should Pakistan be answerable to them?
Q: In an interview with Al Hayat Newspaper on 8th January 2008, Mohammed Al-Bradei, director of IAEA said: "He (Khan) admitted to being part of the nuclear network and we conducted numerous interviews with most of its members. Many of them were part of a commercial enterprise, but I believe that Khan had ideological motives. He believed that he succeeded in neutralizing the Indian program by launching the Pakistani program as a parallel to the Indian program. He was trying to repeat the same success between the Israeli program and other Arab and Islamic programs." Can you comment on this statement?
A: The Libyans and the Iranians had their own programs and motives. Naturally, if they had had nuclear weapons, Israel would not have been occupying Arab lands for 40 years and killing Palestinians armed only with stones. Is it all right for the Israelis to have nuclear weapons but not for their neighbours to have the same? Allow me to point out that the IAEA/CIA never conducted any interviews with any Pakistani scientists from KRL. As far as Pakistan's nuclear program was concerned, it was not a question of ideology, but a question of survival and saving the dignity of the country. No people on earth have suffered so much torture, death and destruction as the Palestinians. If the US, UK, France, etc. had been serious about the matter, it could have been solved within a matter of weeks, but they didn't want it solved. They wanted the same to happen to us at the hands of the Indians. Why do you think the US has a specific nuclear agreement with India? Their designs were frustrated by our nuclear capability, hence I became the bad guy - the spoiler.
Q: On several occasions you have stated that you have no doubts why you and Pakistan have been singled out for international condemnation. You mentioned two reasons: a) because Muslims were the only religion that threatened Western civilization; and b) because you broke the monopoly of the West. Can you explain in more detail?
A: I still stand by those two statements. Yes, Muslims had shaken the very foundations of Western civilisation through their exemplary character, equality, absence of any discrimination, simple way of life and a clear, easily understandable message through the Quran providing a complete code of life. This was the basis of the Crusades. Unfortunately, as George Bernard Shaw (a famous British writer) said, Islam was the best religion, but the Muslims were the worst followers. Fundamentalism and fanaticism were adopted by a minority and soon distorted the image of Islam.
Yes, the Western world, especially the USA, could never ever have considered the possibility that a backward, Muslim country like Pakistan, which could not even produce bicycle chains, ordinary ball bearings, sewing needles or durable roads, was able to make a breakthrough in the most advanced and complicated technology of uranium enrichment. It also meant the end to their ability to blackmail us. Unfortunately, there is a general hatred, consciously or unconsciously, against Muslims in the Christian world. We all saw how almost 250,000 innocent people were murdered in Bosnia before the eyes of "civilized" Christians. For 60 years Palestinians are being killed with no protest from the Christian world. One million Iraqi Muslims have been murdered under false and fabricated accusations of possessing weapons of mass destruction. More than a million Afghans have been killed without any tangible proof of their involvement in 9/11. However, when Indonesia tried to suppress the Christians of East Timor, the whole Christian world forced it to give up its independence. Even more unfortunate is the fact that almost the whole blame for most of these events goes to the corrupt, spineless Muslim rulers for not standing up to these injustices. One month's oil embargo could force the USA and the Western World to enforce an equitable solution in Palestine, but 8 years of rule by Pres. Reagan, 4 years of Pres. Bush the elder, 8 years of Pres. Clinton and 8 years of Pres. Bush the younger have passed with promises of a Palestinian Homeland without anything materializing. The aim all along has been to allow Israel to build more settlements and occupy more Palestinian land. This attitude can be traced back to Muslim conquests of Eastern Europe, Spain, etc. The spirit of the Crusades has never died. It always appears in one form or another against Muslims. I am a moderate Muslim, have a European wife, don't hate or profess against Western countries or Christianity, but I can't shut my eyes to what has happened in the past and is still happening today to Muslims and Islamic countries. I lived in Europe for 15 years and received higher education there and nobody can accuse me of having conservative or orthodox ideas.
Interview conducted by Urs Gehriger of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche.