Matters of destiny and duty| Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan


Last week I told you how one person managed to totally change the course of my life and, ultimately, Pakistan’s fate. But for his intervention, our brave jawans may very well have been presenting a Guard of Honour to Advani or Modi.

After meeting Prof Stark of Berlin Technical University, I cancelled my flight to Nigeria and made up my mind to go to Berlin for higher education. I had a whole month before the start of the semester. I decided to stay in Dusseldorf for that month and travel to other cities for sightseeing over the weekends.

I had already been to Amsterdam and Rotterdam in Holland but still wanted to see The Hague, so I went there by train and saw the city and its beautiful beach. As was my habit, I wanted to send a postcard as a souvenir to my younger sister, to whom I was, and still am, very close. So, I found a tobacconist/souvenir shop, selected a postcard and asked the owner for the required postage stamp to Pakistan. She didn’t know how many stamps were required, but a young lady, Henny, standing nearby took a stamp out of her purse and gave it to me, for which she refused payment.

On her inquiry, I told her I was a student from Pakistan and would be going to Berlin for higher studies after three weeks. We got talking and she told me the shop belonged to her parents. After noting her address and contact details, I went back to Dusseldorf and we started corresponding. I invited her to visit Dusseldorf over the long Easter weekend, which she did, and I showed her all the beautiful places in both, Dusseldorf and Cologne.

Shortly after that, I went to Berlin. My university was quite famous and had a strength of around 10,000 students. There were a lot of international students mostly from India and Iran. There was only one more Pakistani student, Akhtar Ali. He was studying electronics and was in the third year of college. He was an intelligent student and we soon became close friends (and still are). We often used to cook together. During the summer holidays, I used to work in the accounts department with the American Forces and earn enough money to make ends meet throughout the rest of the academic year.

After some time, I invited my friend Henny from Holland to visit Berlin. She liked the city very much and showed an interest in moving and working there. She applied to the American Forces and got a job in the finance department. With great difficulty, she managed to rent a room since there were housing issues in the city at that time. It was a small room without many facilities, so she would come to my hostel after work where we would cook, eat, chat and work before she left for her own room. We developed a good understanding and I soon proposed to her on her 20th birthday. We became engaged and celebrated the occasion at my hostel with our friends.

During the following Christmas holidays, we went to The Hague to visit her mother who was now alone. There, we discussed the possibility of my shifting to Holland. Upon investigation, I found that the nearby town, Delft, had a good technical university. We met the head of the metallurgy department, Prof Jongenburger, who showed a willingness to admit me while recognising all the credits I had earned in Berlin so that I would not lose any time. Back in Berlin, I obtained a transfer certificate and was accepted into Delft into the third year. I only had to study two subjects to complete my degree.

On March 9, 1964, Henny and I got married in a nikkah ceremony at the Pakistan Embassy in The Hague. Qudratullah Shahab was the ambassador at that time and Jamiluddin Hassan was the first secretary. The former became the witness of the nikkah ceremony, which was performed by Jamiluddin Hassan. They hosted a nice reception for us afterwards.

After our wedding, we moved to a very picturesque village in The Hague, Rijswijk, halfway between The Hague and Delft. Henny worked with an American oil exploration company while I studied. In June 1967, I obtained a Master’s degree in engineering with an internationally renowned professor, Dr W G Burgers, who subsequently made me his research assistant. However, I was keen to go to a new place and received a very good scholarship offer from the University of Leuven, Belgium. It was a small university city where we had a comfortable student residence and made extremely good friends. It was a very productive time for me and at the beginning of 1972, I obtained my doctorate degree.

Soon after that, I received a job offer from the famous Dutch firm Werkspoor, which had an employee base of around 100,000 people. When I joined the firm, I was immediately placed on the team working on the enrichment of uranium by the centrifuge method. It was a challenging job in which I was required to solve metallurgical problems. Holland, Germany and England had been working on it for 20 years and it was a top secret programme.

All this makes me firmly believe in destiny; all roads led to Kahuta, directly or indirectly. The technology I learnt in Holland made me an expert in the uranium enrichment field. This enabled me to come back to Pakistan and set up an enrichment plant. Within seven years, my colleagues and I managed to make Pakistan into a nuclear and missile power.

Unfortunately, due to (dirty) politics, we did not receive the gratitude and recognition we had expected. My colleagues and I paid a heavy price for our patriotism.