March issue 2004

By | News & Politics | Published 20 years ago


A.Q. Khan

“Kiya haal hain bhai, aap ka business kaisa chal raha hay,” an 80-year-old man greets a neighbour who moved to Karachi’s upscale Clifton locality from a lower middle class neighbourhood in North Nazimabad 10 years ago. Taken by surprise, the neighbour asks, “Do you know who I am?” The old man embraces him and says, “What are you saying? How can I forget my neighbours?” To assure him that he knew him well, he addresses him by name, asking about his wife’s health, whom he still remembers.

The old man was Abdul Rauf Khan, eldest of the five brothers of the architect of the country’s nuclear bomb, while the man whom he greeted was an acquaintance who introduced me to Rauf Khan. While Rauf could recall everything from childhood tales to the family’s migration from Bhopal, India in 1952, when it came to a two-week old conversation he had with Dr. Khan on the phone, he said, “Baray mian ab boorhay ho gai hain aur bhool jaatai hain kay kiya baat huvi hai…”

Often seen riding a rusty bike, Abdul Rauf Khan lives in this lower middle class locality of Karachi and recalls how all his family members, including Dr. Khan, lived in this house when they migrated from India.

Khan said all the five brothers and two sisters were born in Bhopal, where their father was serving as a primary teacher. “My father retired as a headmaster from a school in Central Province (CP) in 1951 and our entire family, except one brother, migrated to Pakistan one year after my father’s retirement,” he said.

According to Abdul Rauf Khan, Dr. Abdul Qadeer is the youngest of five brothers and two sisters. Three of his brothers and two sisters are settled in Karachi while one lives in Holland and Dr. Khan himself resides in Islamabad.

Abdul Lateef Khan, second in line, retired from PIA a few years ago and settled in Holland. “He doesn’t want to live here at all for personal reasons,” Rauf said.

Abdul Hafeez Khan, who chose to stay back in India, returned to Pakistan in the early ’80s and is settled in Karachi. “He migrated to Pakistan after seeking retirement in India where he worked in the revenue department,” says Rauf Khan. Dr. Khan’s fourth brother, Abdul Qayoom Khan, who recently retired from National Bank as a Senior Vice President, lives in Karachi’s upscale Defence Housing Society.

Rauf Khan said he joined the Sindh police as a junior clerk in 1953 soon after the family migrated to Pakistan, to support the family. “I sought premature retirement as a senior clerk once I completed 25 years in service,” he recalls. Khan cites two reasons for opting for pre-mature retirement. Firstly, he said, “this police job was not my type and secondly, by that time Dr. Qadeer had moved to Pakistan and taken over as head of Kahuta Research Laboratories.”

Rauf Khan said their old and ailing mother lived with Dr. Qadeer Khan when he moved to Pakistan and he was finding it difficult to care for her properly. “He was busy all the time either working in his lab, holding meetings or travelling back and forth and had no time to look after her,” he said.

aq-khan-2-mar04He said Dr. Qadeer asked him to move to his house in a newly built but highly restricted housing colony in Kahuta. “There was everything in the house from lavish food to assorted servants, but I was bored because hardly anybody was allowed to come and meet us there,” he said. In no time, Rauf returned to Karachi to his family home in Muslim Quarters, Nazimabad “Here I can meet anyone I want and there is no problem in socialising,” he says.

Rauf Khan, who lives a very austere life, says he doesn’t tell everyone that Dr. Abdul Qadeer — still a celebrity — is his brother. “It took me at least a month to get my passport made and they lost my wife’s picture and I had to resubmit them, but I’ve never taken advantage of my brother’s position,” he says.

Rauf Khan, who proudly displays a picture of his younger brother carrying his signature in his modest drawing room, is equally proud of what he has done for the nation. “Qadeer used to stay with me when he was studying at Karachi’s D.J. Science College and, later, Karachi University.”

He said Dr. Qadeer continued to visit him at the same house whenever he came to Karachi. The last time he saw Dr. Khan was some six to seven months ago. “He’s a very busy person, but he is always in touch with the family.”

Rauf Khan said Dr Khan continued to call the family even after the investigation started. The last time he spoke to his brother, some two to three weeks ago, he said, ” things are settling down and everything will soon be all right.” He told Rauf to pray for him and said, “I have left my matter in God’s hands.” He said since then the communication between them has been cut off. “They have changed all his phone numbers and I even sent my elder son to go and enquire about his health but he was not allowed to meet him,” Rauf Khan said.

According to Khan, Dr. Qadeer had gone to Holland and Belgium for higher studies and took up a job at a uranium enrichment plant run by the British-Dutch-German consortium, URENCO. “There he married Dr Hendrina after completing his studies,” he said. Qadeer was introduced to then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by a mutual friend who offered him a job.

“Qadeer was never willing to come to Pakistan because he always believed that the salary structure here was not great and that he wouldn’t be able to survive if he took up a government job,” says Rauf. “But I tell you, Z.A. Bhutto was a great man and he told Qadeer that he would give him a fabulous salary, those matched international standards. He was reluctant, but we persuaded him, saying that he was getting that much respect at the highest level and he had a chance to do something for the country, he should not waste time.”

Dr. Khan finally accepted the job in 1976 and headed the nation’s nuclear programme, the job he held for 26 years. “Z.A. Bhutto not only put unlimited and unaudited funds at his disposal, but he told him that he was solely incharge of the programme and nobody would ever interfere, providing he could deliver,” Rauf said.

Dr. Khan later went to Europe for a while, where he met colleagues in the same field and brought them to Pakistan. “It was definitely a huge responsibility put on his shoulders and he was very careful in his selection of people and never wanted to appoint his nephews and nieces as most people do here in Pakistan once they get an opportunity,” he said.

Rauf said Dr. Khan had worked independently all his life and nobody ever interfered in his job till he successfully detonated the nuclear bomb. “He had smooth sailing all his life, but his problems started soon after Musharraf took over in October 1999.” According to Rauf Khan, “Musharraf wanted to restrict Dr. Khan’s movements from the start, and told him to seek the government’s permission wherever he went.” This was not acceptable to Dr. Khan, he says, and he finally chose to resign as head of KRL in 2001.

“He never showed his anger, but I can tell you that he was never comfortable with General Musharraf,” he said, adding, “Array bhai, yeh baray log apni pasand aur napasand dil mai hi rakhtai hain aur har kisi ko hamraz naheen banatay. ”

Contrary to Rauf Khan’s claims that Dr. Khan voluntarily stepped down from his job because he thought that he had achieved the task he was given, sources said Khan was shown the door by General Pervez Musharraf in March 2001 under US pressure, after he was found to be involved in dubious activities.

Rauf Khan says all the accusations, against Dr. Khan, from accumulation of wealth to connections with the nuclear underworld, are propaganda by the west who want to malign his younger brother for one reason or the other. “Everyone knows that he is ‘enemy number one,’ especially of the US, and that’s why he is implicated and maligned. They got Z.A Bhutto, who was the pioneer of the country’s nuclear programme, hanged and thought that with his hanging, Pakistan’s nuclear programme would be over. But now they are angry with Dr. Khan because they know that whatever Pakistan has achieved today is just because of him,” he said and adds, “all these allegations against Dr. Khan are a farce and they want to punish him for what he has achieved for Pakistan.”

He said that when Iran, Libya and North Korea have announced officially that Pakistan has not transferred nuclear technology to them, then why is Qadeer still under suspicion. “I know my brother very well and I also know that he has done no wrong. He has been made a scapegoat just to save the generals.”

Rauf Khan is concerned about his brother’s health after reports in the newspapers about his heart attack. All the communication between Dr. Khan and his family members has been cut off and there is no way he can inquire about his health. “He has done nothing and he is unnecessarily being maligned to please the western world, and they may even try to physically eliminate him to save a few generals. They all know that Dr. Khan is the linchpin of the programme and if he dies, all the generals involved in the scam could be saved.”