9/24/2005

From Patriot to Proliferator - Los Angeles Times

The investigator had been quietly verifying the contents of a 700-page dossier on Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist whose reputation as the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb made him the country's most revered figure.

It was clear that Khan was living far beyond his modest government salary, the investigator reported. He had stashed $8 million in banks in Pakistan; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Switzerland, acquired seven expensive houses, paid monthly stipends to 20 journalists to burnish his image and collected kickbacks on purchases by the government lab he ran.

Corruption was easy to prove, the investigator said, but pursuing Khan would entangle the young bureau in a political struggle it was likely to lose. The scientist was shielded by a largely self-constructed myth that he had almost single-handedly ensured Pakistan's national security by building a nuclear arsenal to counter India's.

Khan's protective wall did not collapse for nearly four more years.

In February 2004, facing rising international pressure, the government forced Khan to confess that he had run a highly profitable black-market operation that sold nuclear secrets and technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. His activities made him the single most important figure in the spread of atomic weapons beyond a small clutch of nuclear states.

Much about Khan's network has been discovered since then. Still, mystery surrounds what turned a proud and ambitious man from patriot to proliferator.

Interviews with more than 30 of Khan's friends, former associates and adversaries in the U.S., Europe and South Asia turned up a varied list of theories about his actions. Defenders portrayed Khan as a patriot who stole secret European nuclear designs out of determination to protect his country from archrival India. To critics, he was a nuclear jihadist devoted to payback for real and imagined grievances suffered by Muslims. Still others saw a tragic figure seduced by his own belief that his scientific contributions put him above the law.

"He believed that Muslim countries had been thwarted over the years while others, like Israel and India, were allowed freer rein," said retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, a defense analyst in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. "From a Western perspective, he cheated in stealing designs, but from his point of view, he did what was necessary to achieve his goal for the country."

Khan became the public face of Pakistan's nuclear weapons project, a role he embraced and exploited. His bank accounts grew fat. As streets and schools were named for him, he lobbied for more honors and undermined rivals. Along the way he grew reckless, evading global restrictions that had largely prevented the spread of nuclear weapons technology for three decades and forcing a reevaluation of how to halt its flow in the future.

"He started out on an antiIndia track," said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University and a longtime Khan critic. "Selling nuclear stuff came later, when he developed a compulsion to be rich and powerful."

Whatever turned Khan into a rogue scientist, the consensus is that in the beginnning, he was motivated by nationalism. He embraced that cause after Pakistan's traumatic defeat in a 1971 war with India, which cut the country in half...

From Patriot to Proliferator - Los Angeles Times

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