Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist most responsible for making Pakistan a nuclear power who became a rogue dealer of nuclear technology and equipment, has died. He was 85. Doctors said Khan had COVID-19 and died of breathing difficulties, the Wall Street Journal reports. Pakistan held a state funeral for him Sunday at Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, and flags were lowered to half-staff. Much of Pakistan regarded him as a hero for giving the nation a deterrent against India, its rival that already had nuclear capability. "Without Dr. A.Q. Khan, Pakistan would not have had nuclear weapons," said a former nuclear official in Pakistan. "But his loose behavior also endangered the Pakistan program."
Kahn succeeded by building a global network of suppliers to acquire equipment needed to assemble a bomb in the 1970s and '80s. He then profited personally by using the network to sell his expertise to other countries, many of which the CIA considered rogue, such as Iran, Libya, South Africa, and North Korea, per the New York Times. The US, which was especially concerned that terrorists would acquire the technology, took evidence of his trafficking to Pakistan's government, which placed him under house arrest in 2004, and Khan admitted his actions to the country on national television. He was freed in 2009, per CNN, but security agencies limited his movements after that.
Former CIA Director George Tenet later wrote of informing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. "A.Q. Khan is betraying your country," Tenet reported saying. "He has stolen some of your nation’s most sensitive secrets and sold them to the highest bidders." Khan was never charged with any crimes and lived his life in a comfortable villa in Islamabad—under guard. In 2010, he said in an interview that the civil war after Bangladesh became independent prompted his actions; Indian forces had supported the separatists. "My objective in making the atomic bomb was that Pakistan becomes safe," he said. "I wanted that what happened in 1971 should never be repeated again." (Read more obituary stories.)