| Abdul Qadeer Khan
Islamabad, Feb. 17 (AP): Abdul Qadeer Khan spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy loyalty — writing cheques for anything from seminars to friends’ weddings — in a patronage scheme that allowed him to elude suspicion as head of the world’s most successful nuclear black market, senior scientists and Pakistan government officials have said.
Pakistan acknowledged this month that Khan sold high-tech secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. But signs that the grandfatherly engineer was up to something illegal had been around for years.
“If you wrote to him that you wanted to attend a seminar or that your daughter was getting married, he would write back and there would be a cheque in there for you,” Pervez Hoodhboy, a physicist at Islamabad’s prestigious Quaid-e-Azam University, said yesterday. “Sometimes there would be $50,000 or $100,000. He was very generous and he bought a lot of support, so people didn’t say anything.”
Farhatullah Babar, a senator from the Opposition Pakistan People’s Party, who was also involved in the nuclear programme early in his career, said Khan had almost total control to spend government money and the secrecy of the nuclear programme meant there was no oversight.
“The kind of vast administrative and financial powers, without any check on them, that were given to A.Q. Khan was unprecedented and unusual,” he said. “The powers given to him were so great that he could use the funds however he wanted... Whoever has such great powers, it is a normal human failure to abuse them.”
Pakistan is believed to have spent $5 billion on its nuclear weapons programme, which it launched shortly after the 1971 war with India. It was not clear how much of the funds were controlled by Khan, but the figures certainly ran into the hundreds of millions.
Khan’s supporters insist that he and six other detained nuclear officials have been made scapegoats to cover up government involvement in the nuclear leaks.
Hussam ul-Haq, chairman of the Khan’s Release Liaison Committee, which is lobbying on behalf of the detainees, said yesterday that the 68-year-old scientist was under immense stress and had suffered a heart ailment over the weekend.
He and other family members demanded proper medical care for Khan and said that if he died as a result of not receiving it, the negligence would constitute “cold-blooded murder.”
Shafiq ur-Rehman, another leading spokesman for the detained scientists’ families, said the government was afraid that one day, when he was freed from custody, Khan would tell the real story behind the nuclear proliferation. “The truth will not be easy to swallow,” he said.
But opponents say that there is no doubt of Khan’s guilt — with or without the government’s involvement.
A.H. Nayyar, another physics professor at the Quaid-e-Azam University, said Khan portrayed himself as Pakistan’s nuclear saviour against the threat posed by India. Senior Pakistani journalists and newspaper columnists were said to be on his payroll, several government officials said.
“Khan meticulously cultivated his image from day one. He doled out state money to create the image of a hero who was untouchable and beyond any investigation. He worked very hard at that and he was very, very clever,” Nayyar said.
He added that Khan used the nuclear funds to pay for school playgrounds and university auditoriums and to help out his friends. Hoodhboy, a leading peace activist, said Khan could also be vengeful. After a property dispute involving the university, Hoodhboy claimed Khan got him placed on a no-exit list that barred him from leaving the country. “People in my profession didn’t wonder about his guilt. They knew it,” Hoodhboy charged.
Several scientists say they warned the government of suspicious activities as early as 1998 but a probe was launched only in November after Iranian revelations to the International Atomic Energy Agency.