Dr Samar Mubarak Mand


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Samar Mubarak Mand – 17 September 1942 :

Samar Mubarak Mand is a Pakistani nuclear physicist known for his research in gamma spectroscopy and experimental development of the linear accelerator.

He came to public attention as the director of the test teams responsible for the performing the Pakistan’s first atomic tests (see Chagai-I and Chagai-II) at the Ras Koh Hills, located in Balochistan Province, Pakistan. Prior to that, he was the project director of the Pakistani missile research and development program and supervised development of the Shaheen-I ballistic missile, and the Babur cruise missile programs. Mubarakmand was the founding chairman of the National Engineering and Scientific Commission (Nescom) from 2001 until 2007. He was subsequently appointed by the Government of Pakistan to assist the Thar coalfield project.


Early Life and Education:

Samar Mubarakmand was born in a Pashtun family from Rawalpindi, Punjab Province, British Indian Empire, on 17 September 1942. He gained his education in Lahore and matriculated from St. Anthony’s High School in 1956. After passing the university entrance exams, he enrolled at Government College University (GCU) where he studied physics under Dr. Tahir Hussain. In 1960, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in physics with a concentration in experimental physics and a minor in mathematics. During his college years, Mubarakmand was an avid swimmer and represented GCU at the National Games of Pakistan.

He conducted research in experimental physics under Dr. Hussain and built an experimental apparatus for his master’s thesis. His thesis contained detailed work on gamma ray spectrometry and performed an experiment that was witnessed by nuclear physicist Denys Wilkinson as part of his master’s program. Wilkinson spoke highly of his work and invited Mubarakmand to visit Oxford University in the United Kingdom to resume studies in experimental physics.

In 1962, Mubarakmand gained a Master of Science (MSc) in physics after publishing his thesis, “Construction of a gamma-ray spectrometer,” under Hussain. In 1962, he joined the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and gained a scholarship to study at Oxford University. Recommended by Wilkinson, he was admitted there and joined the group led by Wilkinson. At Oxford Mubarakmand participated in preparing a 22 million volt particle accelerator and was part of the team that commissioned it.

During his time at Oxford, Mubarakmand learned about linear accelerators, and after returning to Pakistan he built one. Apart from studying, Mubarakamand played cricket and fast bowled for the Oxford University Cricket Club. In 1966, Mubarakmand completed his doctoral thesis under Wilkinson and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in experimental particle physics.

After returning to Pakistan, Mubarakmand rejoined PAEC, and also joined the faculty of GCU as an assistant professor of physics in 1966. From 1974–77, he taught physics at GCU and was an instrumental engaging research during his tenure as professor.


Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC):

Upon returning to Pakistan, Mubarakmand did fundamental work on neutron spectroscopy but later moved on to the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) to do post-doctoral research and joined the physics department led by Dr. Naeem Ahmad Khan in 1966. In 1967, he joined the ‘Nuclear Physics Group’ (NPG) formed by Dr. Naeem Ahmad that consisted of Bashiruddin Mahmood and Hafeez Qureshi, a mechanical engineer.

At PAEC, Mubarakmand additionally worked towards applications involving chemical engineering where he built his reputation among his senior scientists. The NPG worked towards engineering problems involving reactor physics and methods involving gas centrifuges, but the group did not last long together when Qureshi went to join the Radiation and Isotope Applications Division (RIAD) in 1971.


1971 Aar and Atomic Bomb Project:

In January 1972, Mubarakmand was assigned to the Nuclear Physics Division (NPD), led by Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, where he immersed himself in work on the physics calculations of implosion method nuclear weapons. After India announced the surprise ‘Smiling Buddha’ nuclear test in 1974, PAEC accelerated the program by establishing the Fast Neutron Physics Group (FNPG) on the advice of Abdus Salam. Munir Ahmad Khan made Mubarakmand its first director due to his expertise in chemical engineering and experimental physics. The FNPG generated work calculating the neutron temperature, neutron initiator, and helping design the neutron reflector.

During the same time, he collaborated with Hafeez Qureshi to assist in designing the tamper and further helped conclude the calculation of the neutron energy’s distributive ranges and the power produced by the neutrons, after the detonation process. In 1973, Mubarakmand commenced the work on calculations involving the ‘relativity of simultaneity’– a key concept involving investigating detonation of the weapon from several points at the same time. However, the work was passed to the Theoretical Physics Group (TPG) as it felt that the calculations would be better off,[clarify] as it involved complex ideas of theoretical physics and Albert Einstein’s Special and General relativity.

My eyes were set on the mountain in which the test was to be conducted. I experienced a halt in my heartbeat on seeing nothing happening after 32 seconds. But all of a sudden it was a big jolt! We had triumphed….!

— Samar Mubarakmand’s describing the blast yield in 1998.,

In 1978, Mubarakmand built a linear particle accelerator at PINSTECH to conclude solutions in the neutron generator. He later witnessed the establishment of domestically developed supercomputer facilities at PINSTECH to help conduct the subcritical testing. Due to his foremost experience in experimental physics, Mubarakmand was appointed director of the Diagnostic Group– a secretive division at PAEC that was charged with conducting experimental tests of atomic weapons and responsible for the countdown of the detonation process. A comprehensive work of civil engineering that took place for potential tests sites was completed in a span of five to six years. A milestone was reached on 11 March 1983 when Mubarakmand led the testing teams to supervise the secretive Kirana-I, their first ‘cold’ test. Although the countdown and experiment was supervised by Mubarakmand, the blast effect was eventually determined by the Theoretical Physics Group.

In 1987, Mubarakmand was posted at the secretive Directorate for Technical Development (DTD)— a secret directorate that developed the explosive lenses and triggering mechanism for the fission weapon. He collaborated with Hafeez Qureshi and Zaman Sheikh. He once described them: “These (Engineering) people at DTD were really smart. They were trained very thoroughly in the development of a weapon’s necessary materials at very low cost.” After a 3-dimensional geological survey was completed in 1978, Mubarakmand first visited the Chagai Hills in 1981 with Ishfaq Ahmad and other scientists from divisions. In 1998, he was appointed as Member (Technical) at PAEC, and guided the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on experimental physics and test preparations. Mubarakmand assisted the government in evaluating the Pokhran-II tests conducted by India in 1998 and supervised test preparations at the Chagai. At the National Security Council’s Cabinet Committee on National Security, Mubarakmand backed Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan’s strong advocacy for conducting the tests, immediately calling for the decision to test. On 19–20 May 1998, Mubarakmand led some 140 experimental physicists to oversee the preparations in Chagai, Balochistan, Pakistan where he personally supervised the complete assembly of all five nuclear devices. Mubarakmand walked a total of 5 km back and forth in the hot tunnels checking and re-checking the devices and cables which would be forever buried under the concrete. On 28 May 1998, Mubarakmand led the countdown of the tests, codename Chagai-I. Samar Mubarakmand was called by PM Nawaz to Prime Minister House just after India conducted Pokhran II and PM Nawaz asked him the status of preparedness of Pakistan and (Mubarakmand) assured Prime Minister Nawaz that scientists were ready and Pakistan could go for its first nuclear test.

On 30 May 1998, Ishfaq Ahmad cleared with the Prime Minister, and Mubarakmand led the very small team of academic scientists that supervised the country’s plutonium fission weapon – codename Chagai-II.

In 2005, Mubarakmand eulogised his memories in an interview with Hamid Mir’s Capital Talk television show and said:

I visited the first weapon-testing laboratories (WTL) at (Chagai District) for the first time in 1981…. When the science experiments were to be conducted, our science teams went there on 20th May, and again on 28th May, in the early morning, the WTL iron-steel tunnels were (electronically) plugged in and the preparation for the tests’ experiments were complete, and on 28th May, around 15:15hrs, was the time selected for testings. So, at that time, at around 14:45hrs, some of our high profiled guests arrived to witness the (science) experiments that were soon to be tests, and Qadeer Khan was also one of them…. It was the first visit of his life to any of Chagai’s Weapon-testing laboratories. (Abdul Qadeer) came at the invitation of the Chairman of the PAEC, Ishfaq Ahmad, and (Abdul Qadeer) arrived 15 minutes prior to the (science) experiments that were to be conducted…

— Samar Mubarakmand, commenting on Abdul Qadeer Khan’s role in atomic bomb project,

Recalling Munir Ahmad Khan and PAEC’s role and its relation to the atomic bomb project priority dispute, Mubarakmand later said that:

As many as nineteen steps were involved in the making of a nuclear weapon ranging from exploration of uranium to the finished device and its trigger mechanism.The technological and manpower infrastructure for eighteen out of these nineteen steps were provided by PAEC under the leadership of Munir Ahmad Khan who led it for nearly two decades from 1972 to 1991. Today all the major key scientific organizations linked to the country’s security like PAEC, the Kahuta Research Labs and the strategic production complex were run and operated by Pakistani professionals produced by the policies of PAEC both under him and Usmani of producing indigenous trained manpower. Pakistan’s nuclear capability was confirmed the day in 1983 when PAEC carried out cold nuclear tests under the guidance and stewardship of Munir Ahmad Khan. The tests however, were not publicly announced because of the international environment of stiff sanctions against countries, which sought to acquire nuclear capability….


Government Work and Political Advocacy:

Space Programme

In 1990s, Mubarakmand took special initiatives in the advancement of the space program and led a team of engineers to successfully develop the Shaheen-I missile. He was the founding director of the National Defence Complex (NDC) bureau that initiated the work on the Shaheen-I and gathered support for the program. Necessary funding for the program was secured by the military. Mubarakmand oversaw the development of the solid-fuel rocket booster. Initiated in 1987 by the Pakistan Ministry of Defence in response to India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, Pakistan’s spin-off missile program was aggressively pursued by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1993. The Shaheen-I missile was successfully test fired in 1999 by a team of engineers led by Mubarakmand. Key strategic weapon systems, such as the Babur and Ghaznavi missiles, were also built by his team.

In 2008, Mubarakmand joined the Planning Commission of Pakistan where he strongly advocated for peaceful usage of their space program. In 2009, he revealed the work on Paksat-1R, the nation’s first geostationary satellite that was launched in 2011.

The satellite was described as being able to monitor agricultural programs, minerals programs and weather conditions and quoted that there were sufficient funds for the defence, nuclear and space programs. The satellite was launched in 2011 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China. His relations with Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan often remained tense over several scientific issues. He sees Dr. Mubarakmand as “no authority over materials as he is an expert on electromagnetism.”


Thar Coal Project

In 2013, Mubarakmand assisted the Provincial Government of Balochistan in mineral extraction. He lobbied heavily for the implementation of the Thar coal project initiated by the Provincial Government of Sindh despite strong public criticism by Abdul Qadeer Khan, which described it as “intellectual dishonesty”. In 2015, a breakthrough in the Thar coal project was reported by the media.



The Tethyan Cooper Company (TCC) has approached the High Court of Justice in the British Virgin Islands for the enforcement of the $5.97 billion award against Pakistan by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in the Reko Diq case in Dec-20.

A senior official revealed that the “misstatement” of scientist, Dr Samar Mubarakmand before the Supreme Court tribunal, in 2011, was one of the main reasons behind the Supreme Court Decision On January 7, 2013, when a three member bench of the apex court, headed by then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, declared Chejva “illegal, void” and non-binding, causing ICSID slapping the heavy penalty on Pakistan. Dr Samar had claimed that the Reko Diq gold mines would fetch the country around $2.5 billion annually. He had also maintained Reko Diq and other gold reserves in the country will bring in $131 billion to the national exchequer. The tribunal relied on his statement.


State Honours:

Mubarakmand has been conferred with state honors for his services to the country by the Government of Pakistan. He is the recipient of the: Sitara-e-Imtiaz (1993); Hilal-e-Imtiaz (1998); and the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (2003), which is the highest civil honor of Pakistan. In addition, he is a Fellow of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences (PAS), inducted by Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad in 2000.

  • Nishan-e-Imtiaz (2004)
  • Hilal-e-Imtiaz (1998)
  • Sitara-e-Imtiaz (1993)
  • PAS Nazir Ahmad Award (2005)


Scientific Journals and Papers:

Conference Papers
  • “A Science Oddyssey: Pakistans Nuclear Emergence”, Samar Mubarakmand, Khalil Qureshi, Masoor Beg, Masud Ahmad.


Research Publications
  • Aspects of a-emission from the bombardment of 58Ni with 14.7 MeV neutrons, by Naeem Ahmad Khan, Samar Mubarakmand and Masud Ahmed, journal of Nuclear physics, PINSTECH.
  • Cross-section measurements with a neutron generator by Samar Mubarakmand, Masud Ahmad, M. Anwar and M. S. Chaudhry.
  • Some characteristic differences between the etch pits due to 86Rn and 232 Th α particles in CA80–15 and LR–115 cellulose nitrate track detectors, by Hameed Ahmad Khan, M. Afzal, P. Chaudhary, Samar Mubarakmand, F. I. Nagi and A.Waheed, journal of Isotopic Radiation, PINSTECH (1977).
  • Application of glass solid state nuclear track detectors in the measurement of the + particle fission cross–section of uranium, by Samar Mubarakmand, K. Rashid, P. Chaudhry and Hameed Ahmad Khan, Methods of Nuclear Instrumentation. (1977)
  • Etching of glass solid state nuclear track detectors in aqueous solutions of (4NH)2HF, NaOH and KOH, by Hameed Ahmad Khan, R. A. Akbar, A. Waheed, P. Chaudhry and Samar Mubarakmand, journal of Isotopic Radiation, PINSTECH (1978).

Doctor Abdul Qadeer Khan


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Abdul Qadeer Khan – 01 April 1936:

Abdul Qadeer Khan known as A. Q. Khan, is a nuclear engineer and metallurgical engineer who is colloquially known as the “father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb”. Khan is celebrated in Pakistan for bringing balance to the South Asian region after India’s nuclear tests.

Born in Bhopal, India migrated to Pakistan in 1951, Khan was educated in Western Europe’s technical universities from metallurgical engineering department where he pioneered studies in phase transitions of metallic alloys, uranium metallurgy, and isotope separation based on gas centrifuges. After learning of India’s ‘Smiling Buddha’ nuclear test in 1974, Khan joined his nation’s clandestine efforts to develop atomic weapons when he founded the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in 1976, and was both its chief scientist and director for many years.

In January 2004, Khan was subjected to a debriefing by the Musharraf administration over evidence of nuclear proliferation handed to them by the Bush administration of the United States. Khan admitted his role in running the proliferation network – only to retract his statements in later years when he leveled accusations at the former administration of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1990, and also directed allegations at President Musharraf over the controversy in 2008. After years of house arrest, Khan successfully filed a lawsuit against the Federal Government of Pakistan at the Islamabad High Court whose verdict declared his debriefing unconstitutional and freed him on 6 February 2009.

The United States reacted negatively to the verdict and the Obama administration issued an official statement warning that Khan still remained a “serious proliferation risk”.


Early Life and Work:

Abdul Qadeer Khan was born on 1 April 1936 in Bhopal, a city then in the erstwhile British Indian princely state of Bhopal State, and now the capital city of Madhya Pradesh. His family is of Orakzai (a Pashtun tribe) origin. His father, Abdul Ghafoor, was a schoolteacher who once worked for the Ministry of Education, and his mother, Zulekha, was a housewife with a very religious mind. His older siblings, along with other family members, had emigrated to Pakistan during the bloody partition of India (splitting off the independent state of Pakistan) in 1947, who would often write to Khan’s parents about the new life they had found in Pakistan.

After his matriculation from a local school in Bhopal, in 1952 Khan emigrated from India to Pakistan on the Sind Mail train, partly due to the reservation politics at that time, and religious violence in India during his youth had left an indelible impression on his world view. Upon settling in Karachi with his family, Khan briefly attended the D. J. Science College before transferring to the University of Karachi where he graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in physics with a concentration on solid-state physics.

From 1956 to 1959, Khan was employed by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (city government) as an Inspector of weights and measures, and applied for a scholarship that allowed him to study in West Germany. In 1961, Khan departed for West Germany to study material science at the Technical University in West Berlin where he academically excelled in courses in metallurgy, but left West Berlin when he switched to the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands in 1965. In 1967, Khan obtained an engineer’s degree in Materials technology – an equivalent to a Master of Science (MS) offered in English-speaking nations such as Pakistan – and joined the doctoral program in metallurgical engineering at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.

He worked under Belgian professor, Martin J. Brabers at Leuven University, who supervised his doctoral thesis which Khan successfully defended, and graduated with a DEng in metallurgical engineering in 1972. His thesis included fundamental work on martensite and its extended industrial applications in the field of graphene morphology. The same year, Khan joined the Physics Dynamics Research Laboratory (or in Dutch: FDO), an engineering firm based in Amsterdam, from Brabers’s recommendation. The FDO was a subcontractor for the Urenco Group which was operating a uranium enrichment plant in Almelo and employed gaseous centrifuge method to assure a supply of nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants in the Netherlands. Soon after, Khan left FDO when Urenco offered him a senior technical position, initially conducting studies on the uranium metallurgy.

Uranium enrichment is an extremely difficult process because uranium in its natural state only comprises just 0.71% of uranium-235 (U235), which is a fissile material, 99.3% of uranium-238 (U238), which is non fissile, and 0.0055% of uranium-234 (U234), a daughter product which is also a non fissile. The Urenco Group utilized the Zippe-type of centrifugal method to electromagnetically separate the isotopes U234, U235, and U238 from sublimed raw uranium by rotating the uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas at up to ~100,000 revolutions per minute (rpm). Khan, whose work was based on physical metallurgy of the uranium metal,:87 eventually dedicated his investigations on improving the efficiency of the centrifuges by 1973–74.


Scientific Career in Pakistan:

Upon learning of India’s surprise nuclear test, ‘Smiling Buddha’ in May 1974, Khan wanted to contribute to efforts to build an atomic bomb and met with officials at the Pakistani Embassy in The Hague, who dissuaded him by saying it was “hard to find” a job in PAEC as a “metallurgist”. In August 1974, Khan wrote a letter which went unnoticed, but he directed another letter through the Pakistani ambassador to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat in September 1974.

Unbeknownst to Khan, his nation’s scientists were already working towards feasibility of the atomic bomb under a secretive crash weapons program since 20 January 1972 that was being directed by Munir Ahmad Khan, a reactor physicist, which calls into question of his “father-of” claim. After reading his letter, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had his military secretary run a security check on Khan, who was unknown at that time, for verification and asked PAEC to dispatch a team under Bashiruddin Mahmood that met Khan at his family home in Almelo and directed Bhutto’s letter to meet him in Islamabad. Upon arriving in December 1974, Khan took a taxi straight to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. He met with Prime Minister Bhutto in the presence of Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Agha Shahi, and Mubashir Hassan where he explained the significance of highly enriched uranium with the meeting ending with Bhutto’s remark: “He seems to make sense.”

The next day, Khan met with Munir Ahmad and other senior scientists where he focused the discussion on production of highly enriched uranium (HEU), against weapon-grade plutonium, and explained to Bhutto why he thought the idea of “plutonium” would not work. Later, Khan was advised by several officials in the Bhutto administration to remain in the Netherlands to learn more about centrifuge technology but continue to provide consultation on the Project-706 enrichment program led by Mahmood. By December 1975, Khan was given a transfer to a less sensitive section when Urenco Group became suspicious of his indiscreet open sessions with Mahmood to instruct him on centrifuge technology. Khan began to fear for his safety in the Netherlands, ultimately insisting on returning home.


Khan Research Laboratories and Atomic Bomb Program:

In April 1976, Khan joined the atomic bomb program and became part of the enrichment division, initially collaborating with Khalil Qureshi – a physical chemist. Calculations performed by him were valuable contributions to centrifuges and a vital link to nuclear weapon research but continue to push for his ideas for feasibility of weapon-grade uranium even though it had a low priority, with most efforts still aimed to produce military-grade plutonium, Because of his interest in uranium metallurgy and his frustration at having been passed over for director of the uranium division (the job was instead given to Bashiruddin Mahmood), Khan refused to engage in further calculations and caused tensions with other researchers. Khan became highly unsatisfied and bored with the research led by Mahmood – finally, he submitted a critical report to Bhutto, in which he explained that the “enrichment program” was nowhere near success.

Upon reviewing the report, Bhutto sensed a great danger as the scientists were split between military-grade uranium and plutonium and informed Khan to take over the enrichment division from Mahmood who separated the program from PAEC by founding the Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL). The ERL functioned directly under the Army’s Corps of Engineers, with Khan being its chief scientist, and the army engineers located the national site at isolated lands in Kahuta for the enrichment program as ideal site for preventing accidents.

The PAEC did not forgo their electromagnetic isotope separation program, and a parallel program was led by G. D. Alam at the Air Research Laboratories (ARL) located at Chaklala Air Force Base, even though Alam had not seen a centrifuge, and only had a rudimentary knowledge of the Manhattan Project. During this time, Alam accomplished a great feat by perfectly balancing the rotation of the first generation of centrifuge to ~30,000 rpm and was immediately dispatch to ERL which was suffering from many setbacks in setting up its own program under Khan’s direction based on centrifuge technology dependent on Urenco’s methods. Khan eventually committed to work on problems involving the differential equations concerning the rotation around fixed axis to perfectly balance the machine under influence of gravity and the design of first generation of centrifuges became functional after Khan and Alam succeeded in separating the 235U and 238U isotopes from raw natural uranium.

In the military circles, Khan’s scientific ability was well recognized and was often known with his moniker “Centrifuge Khan” and the national laboratory was renamed after him upon the visit of President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1983. In spite of his role, Khan was never in charge of the actual designs of the nuclear devices, their calculations, and eventual weapons testing which remained under the directorship of Munir Ahmad Khan and the PAEC.

The PAEC’s senior scientists who worked with him and under him remember him as “an egomaniacal lightweight” given to exaggerating his scientific achievements in centrifuges. At one point, Munir Khan said that, “most of the scientists who work on the development of atomic bomb projects were extremely “serious”. They were sobered by the weight of what they don’t know; Abdul Qadeer Khan is a showman.” During the timeline of the bomb program, Khan published papers on analytical mechanics of balancing of rotating masses and thermodynamics with mathematical rigor to compete, but still failed to impress his fellow theorists at PAEC, generally in the physics community. In later years, Khan became a staunch critic of Munir Khan’s research in physics, and on many occasions tried unsuccessfully to belittle Munir Khan’s role in the atomic bomb projects. Their scientific rivalry became public and widely popular in the physics community and seminars held in the country over the years.


Nuclear tests: Chagai-I:

Many of his theorists were unsure that military-grade uranium would be feasible on time without the centrifuges, since Alam had notified PAEC that the “blueprints were incomplete” and “lacked the scientific information needed even for the basic gas-centrifuges.”Calculations by Tasneem Shah, and confirmed by Alam, showed that Khan’s earlier estimation of the quantity of uranium needing enrichment for the production of weapon-grade uranium was possible, even with the small number of centrifuges deployed.

Khan stole the designs of the centrifuges from Urenco Group. However, they were riddled with serious technical errors, and while he bought some components for analysis, they were broken pieces, making them useless for quick assembly of a centrifuge. Its separative work unit (SWU) rate was extremely low, so that it would have to be rotated for thousands of RPMs at the cost of millions of taxpayers money, Alam maintained. Though Khan’s knowledge of copper metallurgy greatly aided the innovation of centrifuges, it was the calculations and validation that came from his team of fellow theorists, including mathematician Tasneem Shah and Alam, who solved the differential equations concerning rotation around a fixed axis under the influence of gravity, which led Khan to come up with the innovative centrifuge designs.

Scientists have claimed that Khan would have never gotten any closer to success without the assistance of Alam and others. The issue is controversial; Khan maintained to his biographer that when it came to defending the centrifuge approach and really putting work into it, both Shah and Alam refused.

Khan was also very critical of PAEC’s concentrated efforts towards developing a plutonium ‘implosion-type’ nuclear devices and provided strong advocacy for the relatively simple ‘Gun-type’ device that only had to work with high-enriched uranium— a design concept of gun-type device he eventually submitted to Ministry of Energy (MoE) and Ministry of Defense (MoD). Khan downplayed the importance of plutonium despite many of the theorists maintaining that “plutonium and the fuel cycle has its significance”, and he insisted on the uranium route to the Bhutto administration when France’s offer for an extraction plant was in the offing.

Though he had helped to come up with the centrifuge designs, and had been a long-time proponent of the concept, Khan was not chosen to head the development project to test his nation’s first nuclear-weapons (his reputation of a thorny personality likely played a role in this) after India conducted its series of nuclear tests, ‘Pokhran-II’ in 1998. Intervention by the Chairman Joint Chiefs, General Jehangir Karamat, allowed Khan to be a participant and eye-witness his nation’s first nuclear test, ‘Chagai-I’ in 1998. At a news conference, Khan confirmed the testing of the boosted fission devices while stating that it was KRL’s highly enriched uranium (HEU) that was used in the detonation of Pakistan’s first nuclear devices on 28 May 1998.

Many of Khan’s colleagues were irritated that he seemed to enjoy taking full credit for something he had only a small part in, and in response, he authored an article, Torch-Bearers, which appeared in The News International, emphasising that he was not alone in the weapon’s development. He made an attempt to work on the Teller–Ulam design for the hydrogen bomb, but the military strategists had objected to the idea as it went against the government’s policy of minimum credible deterrence. Khan often got engrossed in projects which were theoretically interesting but practically unfeasible.


Proliferation Controversy:

In the 1970s, Khan had been very vocal about establishing a network to acquire imported electronic materials from the Dutch firms and had very little trust of PAEC’s domestic manufacturing of materials, despite the government accepting PAEC’s arguments for the long term sustainability of the nuclear weapons program. At one point, Khan reached out to China for acquiring the uranium hexafluoride (UF6) when he attended a conference there— the Pakistani Government sent it back to China, asking KRL to use the UF6 supplied by PAEC.

In 1982, an unnamed Arab country reached out to Khan for the sale of centrifuge technology. Khan was very receptive to the financial offer, but one scientist alerted the Zia administration which investigated the matter, only for Khan to vehemently deny such an offer was made to him. The Zia administration tasked Major-General Ali Nawab, an engineering officer, to keep surveillance on Khan, which he did until 1983 when he retired from his military service, and Khan’s activities went undetected for several years after.


Court Controversy and U.S. Objections:

In 1979, the Dutch government eventually probed Khan on suspicion of nuclear espionage but he was not prosecuted due to lack of evidence, though it did file a criminal complaint against him in a local court in Amsterdam, which sentenced him in absentia in 1985 to four years in prison. Upon learning of the sentence, Khan filed an appeal through his attorney, S.M. Zafar, who teamed up with the administration of Leuven University, and successfully argued that the technical information requested by Khan was commonly found and taught in undergraduate and doctoral physics at the university— the court exonerated Khan by overturning his sentence on a legal technicality. Reacting to the suspicions of espionage, Khan stressed that: “I had requested for it as we had no library of our own at KRL, at that time. All the research work [at Kahuta] was the result of our innovation and struggle. We did not receive any technical ‘know-how’ from abroad, but we cannot reject the use of books, magazines, and research papers in this connection.”

In 1979, the Zia administration, which was making an effort to keep their nuclear capability discreet to avoid pressure from the Reagan administration of the United States (US), nearly lost its patience with Khan when he reportedly attempted to meet with local journalist to announce the existence of the enrichment program. During the Indian Operation Brasstacks military exercise in 1987, Khan gave another interview to local press and stated: the Americans had been well aware of the success of the atomic quest of Pakistan, allegedly confirming the speculation of technology export. At both instances, the Zia administration sharply denied Khan’s statement and President Zia furiously met with Khan and used a “tough tone”, promising Khan severe repercussions had he not retracted all of his statements, which Khan immediately did by contacting several news correspondents.

In 1996, Khan again appeared on his country’s news channels and maintained that “at no stage was the program of producing 90% weapons-grade enriched uranium ever stopped”, despite Benazir Bhutto’s administration reaching an understanding with the US Clinton administration to cap the program to 3% enrichment in 1990.


North Korea, Iran and Libya:

The innovation and improved designs of centrifuges were marked as classified for export restriction by the Pakistan government, though Khan was still in possession of earlier designs of centrifuges from when he worked for Urenco Group in the 1970s. In 1990, the United States alleged that highly sensitive information was being exported to North Korea in exchange for rocket engines. On multiple occasions, Khan leveled accusations against Benazir Bhutto’s administration of providing secret enrichment information, on a compact disc (CD), to North Korea; these accusations were denied by Benazir Bhutto’s staff and military personnel.

Between 1987 and 1989, Khan secretly leaked knowledge of centrifuges to Iran without notifying the Pakistan Government, although this issue is a subject of political controversy. In 2003, the European Union pressured Iran to accept tougher inspections of its nuclear program and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed an enrichment facility in the city of Natanz, Iran, utilizing gas centrifuges based on the designs and methods used by Urenco Group. The IAEA inspectors quickly identified the centrifuges as P-1 types, which had been obtained “from a foreign intermediary in 1989”, and the Iranian negotiators turned over the names of their suppliers, which identified Khan as one of them.

In 2003, Libya negotiated with the United States to roll back its nuclear program to have economic sanctions lifted, effected by the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act, and shipped centrifuges to the United States that were identified as P-1 models by the American inspectors. Ultimately, the Bush administration launched its investigation of Khan, focusing on his personal role, when Libya handed over a list of its suppliers.


Security Hearings, Pardon and Aftermath:

Since 2001, Khan had been serving as an adviser on science and technology in the Musharraf administration and had become a public figure who enjoyed much support from his country’s political conservative sphere. In 2003, the Bush administration reportedly turned over evidence of a nuclear proliferation network that implicated Khan’s role to the Musharraf administration. Khan was dismissed from his post on 31 January 2004. On 4 February 2004, Khan appeared on Pakistan Television (PTV) and confessed to running a proliferation ring, and transferring technology to Iran between 1989 and 1991, and to North Korea and Libya between 1991 and 1997. The Musharraf administration avoided arresting Khan but launched security hearings on Khan who confessed to the military investigators that former Chief of Army Staff General Mirza Aslam Beg had given authorization for technology transfer to Iran.

On 5 February 2004, President Pervez Musharraf issued a pardon to Khan as he feared that the issue would be politicized by his political rivals. Despite the pardon, Khan, who had strong conservative support, had badly damaged the political credibility of the Musharraf administration and the image of the United States who was attempting to win hearts and minds of local populations during the height of the Insurgency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While the local television news media aired sympathetic documentaries on Khan, the opposition parties in the country protested so strongly that the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad had pointed out to the Bush administration that the successor to Musharraf could be less friendly towards the United States. This restrained the Bush administration from applying further direct pressure on Musharraf due to a strategic calculation that it might cause the loss of Musharraf as an ally.

In December 2006, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC), headed by Hans Blix, stated that Khan could not have acted alone “without the awareness of the Pakistan Government”. Blix’s statement was also reciprocated by the United States government, with one anonymous American government intelligence official quoted by independent journalist and author Seymour Hersh: “Suppose if Edward Teller had suddenly decided to spread nuclear technology around the world. Could he really do that without the American government knowing?”.

In 2007, the U.S. and European Commission politicians as well as IAEA officials had made several strong calls to have Khan interrogated by IAEA investigators, given the lingering scepticism about the disclosures made by Pakistan, but Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who remained supportive of Khan and spoke highly of him, strongly dismissed the calls by terming it as “case closed”.

In 2008, the security hearings were officially terminated by Chairman joint chiefs General Tariq Majid who marked the details of debriefings as “classified”. In 2008, in an interview, Khan laid the whole blame on former President Pervez Musharraf, and labelled Musharraf as the “Big Boss” for proliferation deals. In 2012, Khan also implicated Benazir Bhutto’s administration in proliferation matters, pointing to the fact as she had issued “clear directions in thi[s] regard.”


Government Work, Academia, and Political Advocacy:

Khan’s strong advocacy for nuclear sharing of technology eventually led to his ostracization by much of the scientific community, but Khan was still quite welcome in his country’s political and military circles. After leaving the directorship of the Khan Research Laboratories in 2001, Khan briefly joined the Musharraf administration as a policy adviser on science and technology on a request from President Musharraf. In this capacity, Khan promoted increased defense spending on his nation’s missile program to counter the perceived threats from the Indian missile program and advised the Musharraf administration on space policy. He presented the idea of using the Ghauri missile system as an expendable launch system to launch satellites into space.

At the height of the proliferation controversy in 2007, Khan was paid tribute by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on state television while commenting in the last part of his speech, Aziz stressed: “The services of [nuclear] scientist … Dr. [Abdul] Qadeer Khan are “unforgettable” for the country”.

In the 1990s, Khan secured a fellowship with the Pakistan Academy of Sciences— he served as its president in 1996–97. Khan published two books on material science and started publishing his articles from KRL in the 1980s. Gopal S. Upadhyaya, an Indian metallurgist who attended Khan’s conference and met him along with Kuldip Nayar, reportedly described him as: Khan was a proud Pakistani who wanted to show the world that scientists from Pakistan are inferior to no one in the world. Khan also served as project director of Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology and briefly tenured as professor of physics before joining the faculty of the Hamdard University; he remains on the board of directors of the university. Later, Khan helped established the A. Q. Khan Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering at Karachi University.

In 2012, Khan announced the forming of a conservative political advocacy group, ‘Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Pakistan’ (Trans. ‘Movement for the Protection of Pakistan’), which was dissolved in 2013.



During his time in the atomic bomb project, Khan pioneered research in the thermal quantum field theory and condensed matter physics, while he co-authored articles on chemical reactions of the highly unstable isotope particles in the controlled physical system. He maintains his stance of the use of controversial technological solutions to both military and civilian problems, including the use of military technologies for civilian welfare. Khan also remained a vigorous advocate for a nuclear testing program and defense strength through nuclear weapons. He has justified Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence program as sparing his country the fate of Iraq or Libya. In an interview in 2011, Khan maintained his stance on peace through strength and vigorously defended the nuclear weapons program as part of the deterrence policy:

Pakistan’s motivation for nuclear weapons arose from a need to prevent “nuclear blackmail” by India. Had Iraq and Libya been nuclear powers, they wouldn’t have been destroyed in the way we have seen recently. … If (Pakistan) had an [atomic] capability before 1971, we [Pakistanis] would not have lost half of our country after a disgraceful defeat.

During his work on the nuclear weapons program and onwards, Khan faced heated and intense criticism from his fellow theorists, most notably Pervez Hoodbhoy who contested his scientific understanding in quantum physics. In addition, Khan’s false claims that he was the “father” of the atomic bomb project since its inception and his personal attacks on Munir Ahmad Khan caused even greater animosity from his fellow theorists, and most particularly, within the general physics community, such as the Pakistan Physics Society.

In spite of the proliferation controversy and his volatile personality, Khan remains a popular public figure and has been as a symbol of national pride with many in Pakistan who see him as a national hero. In Pakistani news media, and foreign media outlets, Khan has been depicted as Pakistan’s own Dr. Strangelove (commonly referred to Edward Teller) in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satirical film of the same name. While Khan has been bestowed with many medals and honours by the federal government and universities in Pakistan, Khan also remains the only citizen of Pakistan to have honoured twice with Nishan-e-Imtiaz.


  • Nishan-e-Imtiaz (1999) from University of Karachi
  • Nishan-e-Imtiaz (1996) from Baqai Medical University
  • Hilal-e-Imtiaz (1989) from Hamdard University
  • Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology from Gomal University
  • 60 Gold medal from universities in the country from University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore



Selected research papers and patents
Nuclear and Material physics
  • Dilation investigation of metallic phase transformation in 18% Ni maraging steels, Proceedings of the International Conf. on Martensitic Transformations (1986), The Japan Institute of Metals, pp. 560–565.
  • The spread of Nuclear weapons among nations: Militarization or Development, pp. 417–430. (Ref. Nuclear War Nuclear Proliferation and their consequences “Proceedings of the 5th International Colloquium organised by the Group De Bellerive Geneva 27–29 June 1985”, Edited by: Sadruddin Aga Khan, Published by Clarendon Press-Oxford 1986).
  • Flow-induced vibrations in Gas-tube assembly of centrifuges. Journal of Nuclear Science and Technology, 23(9), (September 1986), pp. 819–827.
  • Dimensional anisotropy in 18% of maraging steel, Seven National Symposium on Frontiers in Physics, written with Anwar-ul-Haq, Mohammad Farooq, S. Qaisar, published at the Pakistan Physics Society (1998).
  • Thermodynamics of Non-equilibrium phases in Electron-beam rapid solidification, Proceedings of the Second National Symposium on Frontiers in Physics, written with A. Tauqeer, Fakhar Hashmi, publisher Pakistan Physics Society (1988).


  • Khan, Abdul Qadeer (1972). Advances in Physical Metallurgy (in English, German, and Dutch). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier Press.
  • Khan, Abdul Qadeer (1983). Metallurgical Thermodynamics and Kinetics (in English, German, and Dutch). Islamabad, Pakistan: The Proceedings of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences.
  • Khan, Abdul Qadeer; Hussain, Syed Shabbir; Kamran, Mujahid (1997). Dr. A.Q. Khan on science and education. Islamabad, Pakistan: Sang-e-Meel Publications. ISBN 978-969-35-0821-5.