Investigation: Nuclear scandal - Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan
The Pakistani scientist who passed nuclear secrets to the world’s rogue states has been muzzled by his government. In a smuggled letter, AQ Khan reveals his side of the story
Simon Henderson, Times online, September 20, 2009
It could be a scene from a film. On a winter’s evening, around 8pm, in a quiet suburban street in Amsterdam, a group of cars draw up. Agents of the Dutch intelligence service, the AIVD, accompanied by uniformed police, ring the bell and knock on the door of one of the houses. The occupants, an elderly couple and their unmarried daughter, are slow to come to the door. The bell-ringing becomes more insistent, the knocks sharper. When the door opens, the agents request entry but are clearly not going to take no for an answer.
The year was 2004. The raid went unreported but was part of the worldwide sweep against associates of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist and “father of the Islamic bomb”, who had just been accused of selling nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea. The house belonged to one of his brothers, a retired Pakistani International Airlines manager, who lived there with his wife and daughter. The two secret agents asked the daughter for a letter she had recently received from abroad. Upstairs in her bedroom, she pulled it from a drawer. It was unopened. The agents grabbed it and told her to put on a coat and come with them.
The daughter, Kausar Khan, was taken to the local police station, although, contrary to usual practice, she was neither signed in nor signed out. The Dutch agents wanted to know why she had not opened the letter and whether she knew what was in it. She didn’t; she had merely been asked to look after it. Inside the envelope was a copy of a letter that Pakistan did not want to reach the West. The feared Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had found the letter when they searched Dr AQ Khan’s home in Islamabad. He had also passed a copy on to his daughter Dina to take to her home in London, as rumours of Khan’s “proliferation” — jargon for the dissemination of nuclear secrets — swept the world. The Pakistani ISI were furious. “Now you have got your daughter involved,” they reportedly said. “So far we have left your family alone, but don’t expect any leniency now.”
Dr Khan collapsed in sobs. Under pressure, he agreed to telephone Dina in London and ordered her to destroy the documents. He used three languages: Urdu, English and Dutch. It was code for her to obey his instructions. Dina dutifully destroyed the letter. That left the copy that was confiscated by the Dutch intelligence service in Amsterdam. I know there is at least one other copy: mine.
Just four pages long, it is an extraordinary letter, the contents of which have never been revealed before. Dated December 10, 2003, and addressed to Henny, Khan’s Dutch wife, it is handwritten, in apparent haste. It starts simply: “Darling, if the government plays any mischief with me take a tough stand.” In numbered paragraphs, it outlines Pakistan’s nuclear co-operation with China, Iran and North Korea, and also mentions Libya. It ends: “They might try to get rid of me to cover up all the things they got done by me.”
When I acquired my copy of the secret letter in 2007, I was shocked. On the third page, Khan had written: “Get in touch with Simon Henderson… and give him all the details.” He had also listed my then London address, my telephone number, fax number, mobile-phone number and the e-mail address I used at the time. It has been my luck, or fate, call it what you will, to develop a relationship with AQ Khan.
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