08/11/2008 05:25 PM

A Bomb with many Fathers

Is A.Q. Khan a 'Patriot' or the 'Godfather of Proliferation'?

By Erich Follath and

Pakistani President Musharraf put him under house arrest for his nuclear weapons deals. Ex-CIA chief Tenet described him as being "at least as dangerous as Osama bin Laden." Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadir Khan is under a gag order, but in SPIEGEL, his wife accuses the government of calling the shots.

The villa, built on a hill covered with lush vegetation and well removed from the hectic life in the capital, could be an idyllic place. Monkeys play in the garden, and the air-conditioned rooms are filled with comfortable rattan furniture. But the people living there perceive it as a prison. The authorities have installed cameras in each of the rooms and at the entrance. Armed men guard the residents around the clock. Men on motorcycles patrol the grounds and 50 police officers and intelligence agents are assigned to the villa.

It's called "preventive protection." Whether the master of the house and his family are being protected from the public or the public from them remains unclear. They have been under de facto house arrest for four-and-a-half years. But now something sensational has happened.

The villa is the home of Abdul Qadir Khan, 72, who lives there with his wife and a granddaughter. Khan is the man former CIA Director George Tenet once called "at least as dangerous as Osama bin Laden." He is the man his enemies call "Dr. Strangelove," an allusion to the Stanley Kubrick film "Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," in which insane US officers trigger a nuclear war. He is also the man considered the father of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program -- a man considered proven of having committed the crime of having dealt in nuclear components and blueprints on the international black market, with such dubious countries as North Korea, Iran and Libya.

Khan also had contacts in Saudi Arabia. In fact, that country's defense minister even visited his research laboratory in Kahuta once. And, according to Western intelligence agencies, the al-Qaida terrorist organization is believed to have approached Khan through middlemen. In a televised speech in February 2004 the scientist, once decorated with his country's highest honors, delivered a tearful public confession of wrongdoing. In a detailed report, the American foreign intelligence agency, the CIA, concluded that there was irrefutable evidence that Khan had brokered the delivery of gas ultra-centrifuges for enriching uranium, and even detailed instructions for a "nuclear starter kit," to the Libyan capital Tripoli. Some of the merchandise, shipped on board the German freighter "BBC China," was still packaged in plastic bags labeled "Good Looks Tailor, Islamabad." Washington issued an ultimatum to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who depended on billions in US military aid, to which Musharraf complied by forcing Khan to deliver his public confession.

The contrite Dr. Strangelove said that he had acted of his own accord and for profit reasons. Musharraf accepted the apology in person, on live television, shaking his head as if to underscore his disapproval. It was soon clear that a deal must have been struck: a mild sentence in return for Khan's agreement not to speak to the press or to United Nations nuclear experts.

Khan kept up his end of the bargain for four years, to the chagrin of the nuclear detectives at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, which received nothing more than the occasional written, and apparently censored, responses to its detailed questions. Even the Americans were unable to gain access to this dealer of death on the global black market. But a few weeks ago Khan, weakened by cancer surgery and apparently ready to clear the air, began giving telephone interviews to the domestic and international media. SPIEGEL also spoke with Khan in July. In some of these interviews, the godfather of proliferation said unequivocally that he had been pressured to deliver his 2004 confession, and in doing so had protected other players.

By that point, Musharraf had apparently realized that the situation was about to spin out of control. It is unclear whether he was simply lucky or, despite the new, democratic government, which has been trying to put him out to pasture, still wields sufficient power. In any event, he found a judge on the Islamabad High Court who issued a ruling in his favor on July 21. Khan's attorney had petitioned to have his client's house arrest lifted, but now the pendulum appeared to be swinging back in the other direction instead. Judge Sardar Aslam reinforced the restrictions and stressed that Khan is barred from "saying anything about the nuclear issue to any journalist," or even from discussing the topic with his friends.

Khan will not challenge the verdict. If he did, he would risk a prison term and would probably lose contact, once and for all, with the few friends who are still permitted to see him, albeit by appointment only and under supervision.

But if President Musharraf, 65, believed that he could now close this embarrassing chapter, he was mistaken. Pakistan's "father of the nuclear bomb" found a new way to inform the world about his extremely disconcerting business deals. He permitted his wife, who was apparently familiar with the details of his nuclear secrets, to publicize Khan's version of the story through SPIEGEL, in the form of a dossier she handed over to the magazine.

Hendrina Khan, known as Henny, 66, was born in South Africa, raised by Dutch parents in Rhodesia and married the Pakistani scientist in The Hague in 1964. She moved around Europe with him, from West Berlin, where he attended the city's Technical University under a scholarship for highly gifted students, to the Dutch city of Delft and then to the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, where he obtained a Ph.D. degree in metallurgical engineering in 1972.

It soon became clear that the interests of the young Pakistani were focused on nuclear technology, and he went to work in the Dutch city of Almelo, where the firm URENCO was building a state-of-the-art uranium enrichment facility. He managed to enter the sanctum of nuclear energy literally overnight, gaining access to the source of nuclear engineering of which every aspiring bomb-builder dreams. Security restrictions were extremely lax, and Khan spent many an evening making countless photocopies -- until, one day, he sensed that he had been found out. According to witness testimony, after hastily leaving for Pakistan in late 1975, Khan had his wife Henny, who had already given birth to two daughters by then, collected blueprints he had secretly made of the novel Dutch centrifuge technology. In 1983, a Dutch court convicted him to four years in prison in absentia for industrial espionage.

Khan, who had apparently already joined the Pakistani intelligence agency in Europe and had already attracted the CIA's attention, stood to benefit greatly from the copied know-how. He was convinced that Pakistan needed a counterweight to its archenemy, India. Khan, a self-professed "deeply devout Muslim and Pakistani patriot," saw himself as something of an atomic Robin Hood. He wanted to provide his backward country with nuclear weapons and, later on, to pass the technology on to other underprivileged nations, especially in the Islamic world.

Khan found an enthusiastic champion in then-President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The Pakistani people would "eat grass if necessary" to acquire the bomb, Bhutto said, and he set up a research laboratory for the gifted scientist in Kahuta, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the capital. In May 1998, only a few weeks after India's successful nuclear tests, Pakistan successfully detonated its own bomb, a triumph that earned "Dr. Strangelove" the country's highest decorations and made him a national hero.

In her dossier, Hendrina Khan denies that her husband made millions with his black market deals and used the money to buy expensive real estate in Islamabad, Dubai, London and Timbuktu, as the Pakistani government has claimed. She also denies that there was an Iranian connection, which Western experts believe is certain, and admits to only two North Korea trips, whereas insiders have counted no fewer than 12. As clearly and understandably partisan as the scientist's wife is, and as rosy the picture she seeks to paint of him and his endeavors is, this does not detract from the credibility of her central accusation that her husband only ever "executed the instructions he was given" by the government.

"The Greatest Threat to Mankind"

President Musharraf, who controlled everything and everyone (after coming to power in a military coup in October 1999, he became president and continues to hold this office today, only resigning from his post as commander-in-chief of the military in November 2007), is likely to have sanctioned, perhaps even ordered, deals with North Korea and Iran. He apparently deceived his Western allies. Even though Pakistan did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Musharraf once said that Pakistan had to "prove to the world that we are a responsible nation and do not permit the spreading of nuclear weapons." Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei and US President George W. Bush agree that proliferation is the "greatest threat to mankind."

The news could hardly come at a less favorable time for Pakistan ("The Land of the Pure"), a country of 152 million people. The Islamic Republic, flanked by crisis-torn Afghanistan and its eternal rival India, faces international criticism as a hotbed of Islamist violence. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently accused Pakistan of often being a "starting point for terrorism in Afghanistan." US presidential candidate Barack Obama has said that he would launch military strikes without consulting with the regime in Islamabad if he had precise information about the whereabouts of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil.

Even the Bush administration, long soft on Musharraf, is now taking a tougher approach. In early July, it sent CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes to Islamabad, where he presented the Pakistani government with evidence of cooperation between the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, and Islamists in Afghanistan. Both US experts and their Indian counterparts are convinced that ISI agents were involved in the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7, in which 54 people died. Taped conversations even allegedly prove that they acted with the approval of their superiors. "Pakistan's Army leadership and the Pakistani establishment" organized the insurgency, Kabul's intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, told SPIEGEL last week.

Pakistan is on the edge of an abyss, as reports from the last 30 days indicate. In Swat, the former tourist paradise only 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the capital, fanatics burned down 21 girls' schools and the country's only ski resort. In Waziristan, the tribal area where the central government has almost no say anymore, terrorist leader Baitullah Mehsud had 22 envoys from the capital killed when they came to the region to negotiate a ceasefire on behalf of the government. Dozens of new al-Qaida training camps in the border region represent "a direct and serious threat to Afghanistan, as well as to the entire West," says CIA Director Michael Hayden.

The Pakistani economy is also in disarray. In Multan, as in other major cities, there have been spontaneous and bloody riots in response to hours-long power outages at temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), as well as to a roughly 20-percent rise in the price of gasoline and staple foods in only one month. Foreign investors are pulling out and the stock market is plummeting.

The hopes that had been pinned on Pakistan's new civilian government, which came to power less than half a year ago in relatively free and fair elections, have almost disappeared. The coalition between the Pakistani Peoples' Party and the Muslim League, bitter foes for years, seems paralyzed. The intelligence agency remains a state within a state, while the army is ultimately in control. When Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani proudly proclaimed, in late July, that he had placed the ISI under the supervision of the Interior Ministry, military leaders dismissed his statements within hours. Ashfaq Kayani, 56, the new army chief, whom Washington values greatly, is seen as Pakistan's new strong man.

The coalition parties agree on one thing: their aversion to the president. Musharraf can expect to face impeachment proceedings soon for abuse of power, after the governing parties agreed last Thursday to introduce them. Musharraf even had to cancel his trip to Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games there. The 60 insubordinate judges the president fired during the national state of emergency he imposed last November are to be reinstated soon -- a development that a large majority of Pakistanis will welcome. But whether the parties will manage to scrape together the two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament needed for an impeachment remains questionable.

The entire country is abuzz with rumors. Is Musharraf fighting back? Will he dissolve the parliament? Or will he even attempt another coup, even though, in recent opinion polls, 83 percent of Pakistanis want to see him retire and Musharraf himself said in a SPIEGEL interview in mid-January that he would resign "on the day I am convinced that the majority of the people no longer want me?" Or will he go in to exile in Turkey?

It cannot be ruled out that a dossier from Islamabad will be the political nail in his coffin, a document written by a woman who fears for the life of her husband, one of the fathers of the Pakistani bomb.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.


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