Adul Qadeer Khan - The Father of Pakistan's Nuclear Bomb

Nico Hoerner
March 22, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

Early Life

Fig. 1: Abdul Qadeer Khan. (Source Wikimedia Commons )

Abdul Qadeer Khan (Fig. 1) was born in 1936 in Bhopal, India, but moved at the age of 16 to Karachi, Pakistan in 1952. He went to Karachi University and went on to study metallurgy through Europe in his years after college. He wrote his dissertation specifically on exotic metals' ability to withstand high rates of deformation, which lead to his understanding of centrifuge designs and ultimately involvement in the creation of nuclear weapons. [1]

Creation of The Bomb

When India conducted their first nuclear test in 1974 Khan was living in Holland, but he used a letter to catch the attention of the Pakistani prime minister. Khan suggested using highly enriched uranium instead of plutonium for the creation of a nuclear bomb. This letter ended up being the turning point, as his involvement in the creation of bombs has defined his life ever since. In rapid pursuit of creating a bomb, Khan established the Kahuta Research Laboratories. These labs were essential in the Pakistan Atomic Bomb plan, which was able to successfully develop the ability detonate a bomb by the end of 1984. [2] He is in large part considered to be the father of the Pakistani bomb. [1]

Spread of Information

His life, however, is not just significant in the creation of an atomic bomb in Pakistan, but also in the black market spreading of nuclear understanding and technology to other countries. While he shared information with Libya and Iran, his main contributions were to North Korea. [3] He began dealing to North Korea in the late 80's and increased his shipments through the 90's. They had been using plutonium, but he sent them equipment for uranium enrichment, which is his trademark approach to making nuclear weapons. He was also sending them designs and a list of materials for centrifuges that enrich uranium. He later became the first foreigner to confirm nuclear weapons in North Korea, which he saw at a secret underground plant. These reports were helpful in the effort to clarify their unknown nuclear capacity. Following 9/11 the focus of the world was on Baghdad, but nuclear proliferation was in large part centered away in Karachi, Pakistan where Khan stood at the heart of an intricate worldwide network. [1]

Fall Out

In his own country he was deemed a hero and always seen in a positive light. His cover, however, was blown in 2001, as a report came out revealing how his labs aided Iran. Interestingly, he publicly admitted to his involvement in the scandal, and reassured the world the government was not involved. In response, President Pervez Musharraf essentially let the case go with Khan only receiving house arrest. While he now lives in Pakistan with limited ability to travel, his global impact in nuclear capacity is undeniable. [4]

© Nico Hoerner. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] D. E. Sanger, "Pakistani Tells of North Korean Nuclear Cevices," New York Times, 13 Apr 04.

[2] F. Khan, Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb (Stanford Security Studies, 2012).d

[3] B. H. Levy, "Abdul Qadeer Khan," Wall Street Journal, 17 Feb 04.

[4] G. Allison, "Tick, Tick, Tick.... ," The Atlantic, October 2004.