By Harihar Swarup
Pakistan’s father of nuclear science, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who died recently was born in Bhopal. “This child appears to me prodigy…. Look in his eyes.” In 1936, these were the words of Maharani of Narasinghar, a tiny princely state, 45 kms from Bhopal. Zulekha Begum, mother of Qadeer Khan, who turned out to be father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and the Maharani were good friends and both ladies visited each other frequently. In one of her visits to Narasingarh, Zulekha Begum has taken young Qadeer along with her.
The Maharani took Qadeer in her lap and counseled the Begum that she would summon the “Raj Jyotshi” to prepare the horoscope of two-month old infant, born in Bhopal. The astrologer, asked the exact time and date of child’s birth and prepared the horoscope which looked extraordinary to him. He then saw Qadeer’s palm and made two forecasts; the child will rise very high in life and perform a feat and bring lot of wealth to his mother. That was in 1936.
Zulekha Begum was surprised and asked: Panditji where would I get wealth. My husband—a superintendent of schools– has retired and we subsist on his pension”. The Raj Joytishi told the Begum; “I do not know where the wealth would come but that is what the stars of the child foretell”.
The Begum returned to Bhopal and life went on as usual. Lo and behold one fine morning a distant cousin landed in Bhopal with an iron box. “Look my sister”, said the cousin “your mother before her death left this and had willed it should be handed to you. We put the box in the iron safe and forget about it. I opened the safe last week, discovered the box and have come to Bhopal to give it to you, as willed by your mother.
Zulekha Begum washed her hands and feet, covered her head with dupatta, prayed and then opened the box. She could not believe her eyes; it contained solid gold and silver weighing kilos. The first prophesy of the “Raj Jyotshi” has come true. The incident looks like fiction but forms part of amazing life story of the creator of Pakistan’s bomb.
Qadeer began his education at “Jehangira school”, adjacent to a masque in Bhopal. He was a withdrawn type and did not show much promise in early age, says Aziz Qureshi, a former minister who was Qadeer’s school mate. This would be nuclear scientist did his matriculation from Bhopal and migrated to Pakistan in 1952 when he was barely 16 year old. Taunted often by his classmates in the new country as ‘panahgeer’ (refugee), he was often quoted as saying “everybody kicks those who do not have a country of their own”.
Qadeer is the fifth of the six children of his parents—four brothers and two sisters. He was born after his father’s retirement as superintendent of schools. Qadeer resumed his education in Karachi and obtained M.Sc degree and moved to UK for higher education. His foray in Europe, particularly in Germany and Netherlands to seek employment is shrouded in mystery. On record, he married a Dutch national but his wife was, in fact, a Dutch speaking African who carried a British passport. He worked with highly classified nuclear establishment with security agencies clearing him on the ground that he had been living in West for eleven years and had married a Dutch national.
Charges of spying and stealing were made against him later. It is now a matter of record that in 1983, Qadeer, who had come to be known in Europe as Dr A K Qa deer, was convicted in absentia in Netherlands for stealing plans for a uranium enrichment factory (which became Kathua in Pakistan). The following year three Pakistan nationals were indicted in Houston for trying to buy illegally and export the kind of high-speed switches that are used to charge nuclear bombs. The source of their funding was BCCI—Pakistan’s Bank of credit and commerce international.
His most important foray was into the enrichment plant located in Almelo town in Holland in 1974 where he spent sixteen days. According to the account given in his famous book “Critical Mass” by two American journalists, William E. Burrows and Robert Windrem. “Khan spent sixteen days in the plant’s most secret area. His assignment was to translate a highly classified report on the breakthrough in centrifuge technology from German and Dutch.
During those sixteen days the two journalists say “the delightful young Pakistani popped up everywhere. Asked by one of his colleagues why he was writing in foreign script, Khan replied it was only a letter to his family back home. Another noticed, him continually roaming about the facility, notebook in hand, but thought nothing of it”.
The authors say “no one seems to know for certain when A Q khan began committing espionage for Pakistan. He was certainly would have been an ideal choice as a spy”.
Dr. Qadeer Khan and his family—wife and two daughters – suddenly left Holland in 1976 and turned up in Pakistan. His wife wrote to her former neighbours that they were on vacation and her husband had fallen ill. Soon Dr Khan himself sent his letter of resignation to his employer—Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory—in Amsterdam.
Dr Khan apparently managed to steal secret from West Europeans which, together with the painstaking collection of the right equipment by others in Pakistan, guaranteed that Islamabad finally got its own atomic bomb.
Qadeer is now a national hero in Pakistan. (IPA Service)