Whenever I introduced Munir Khan to a friend I would say light-heartedly “and this is the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb,” just to enjoy the pleasure of watching the reaction. Khan himself would give a self-deprecatory smile. As Hans Blix, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear policeman, put it to me, Khan was “a cheerful soul.”
The world has been told over and over again that the father of the Pakistani bomb was AQ (Qadeer) Khan, the metallurgist, who in fact ran only one part of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission—whose chairman was Munir Khan. More correctly, we have been told that Qadeer Khan secretly set up an international network to supply the likes of North Korea, Libya and Iran with blueprints and materials for the manufacture of their own nuclear weapons. This was done for his private profit. Ten days ago, after five years of house arrest for this offence, Pakistan’s top court restored his freedom.
Khan and Khan. Too many got the two men muddled. And this worked in Qadeer’s favor. He was a man who had no compunction about claiming every bit of credit for himself and who loved to woo gullible journalists and parliamentarians who adored his tales of achievement. No wonder, when he was finally exposed as a nuclear racketeer five years ago, President Pervez Musharraf couldn’t have him formally arrested and tried. In fact, he pardoned him for his alleged crimes. Qadeer had become a popular icon in Pakistan, and thus untouchable.
A long and well-researched article that appeared two years ago in the Pakistani Defense Journal, written by MA Chaudri, usefully drew back the curtain on the precise roles of these two men. Both foreigners and Pakistanis, he writes, “have failed to understand the underlying efforts under Munir Khan and his team of world class nuclear scientists and engineers. They developed and led the entire nuclear weapons program including uranium mining for the bomb itself, and all related nuclear facilities, training institutions and technologies and the development of the complete nuclear fuel cycle and the still largely unknown plutonium program.”
Munir was a friend of Zulifikar Bhutto and the two of them tried unsuccessfully to persuade President Ayub Khan to build a bomb. But when Bhutto became president in 1971…