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Profile of an India baiter

By Shyam Bhatia in London
Last updated on: January 31, 2004 22:25 IST
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The decision to sack Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, followed repeated scandals about the 68-year-old metallurgist who has nurtured a pathological hatred for India all his life.

Born in Bhopal in 1936, Khan was 16 years old when he chose to migrate to Pakistan in 1952, five years after independence.

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He said the communal massacres in Bhopal propelled him across the border to Pakistan, where he decided to devote his energies to getting a good education, which would help him extract his revenge against the country he had abandoned.

Khan got his chance in 1972 when Pakistan's then president, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, convened a meeting of scientists in Multan and told them he wanted a nuclear deterrent.

Khan was the first to pledge his support. He was by then employed at the FDO laboratories in Amsterdam, where Dutch scientists were collaborating with their German and British counterparts to develop more efficient ways of enriching uranium for commercial purposes.

Much of the work was restricted and confidential because enriched uranium also makes up the essence of nuclear weapons. But Khan was given security clearance and access to the FDO 'brainbox' because he was married to a South Africa-born Dutch woman and had announced he planned to settle down in the Netherlands.

Financed and trained by Pakistan's intelligence operatives in Europe, he systematically stole classified data and had it shipped back to Pakistan, where it was used to replicate uranium enrichment technology at the Kahuta Research Centre near Islamabad.

Attempts by the Western media to document his activities always provoked abuse from Khan, who was given a luxury home in Islamabad, from where he commuted to Kahuta.

When Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons in 1988 Khan's popularity soared to an all time high. The Kahuta Laboratories was renamed the Khan Research Laboratories and he himself was compared to Albert Einstein.

Never mind that the technology he had mastered was based on stolen documents, or that he had sold this stolen expertise to whomsoever was prepared to pay, regardless of whether it was Iran, Libya, North Korea or even, ultimately, Al Qa'eda.

Nor did Khan's Pakistani admirers realise that in one of his periodic fits of rage he had extracted monetary and other privileges from the government by threatening to return to India if all his demands were not met.

But for all the professional acclaim he has enjoyed, Khan's personal life is tinged with sadness.

Both his daughters are divorced, including the one for whom he imported a US$400,000 wedding marquee.

In her only interview to the media, his wife has hinted having regrets about her life with Khan.

Khan himself is desperate for the son he has never had. Both his daughters are themselves mothers of young girls.

What Khan must now come to grips with is that his best days are over.

There will always be a question mark over his achievements, and the thought that personal profit was more important for him than the well being of his country of adoption.

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Shyam Bhatia in London