The inventor of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, describes himself as "a man of peace" and says he wouldn't even kill an ant. Yet he is the man most feared by the Indian military; he builds not only nuclear warheads, but also the missiles that can hurl them onto India's major cities. A metallurgist by training, Khan was born in the Indian city of Bhopal and migrated with his family to Pakistan during the 1947 partition. That tragic episode in the sub-continent's history impressed him deeply. His conference room at the Nuclear Research Center outside Rawalpindi is dominated by a blood-red canvas showing a train arriving in Lahore, filled with dead and wounded Muslims, victims of communal massacre on their journey to Pakistan. He spoke to New Delhi bureau chief Tim McGirk and Islamabad reporter Syed Talat Hussain. Excerpts:
Q: Was your family struck by tragedy during Partition?
A: Luckily, nobody from our family died. The experience of migration was bad. All the way from Bhopal to the borders of Pakistan, the Hindus were very cruel. They were snatching everything from us, especially from the ladies and the children. But I guess these things happen when there is a war and there is a migration.
Q: Has the threat of war between India and Pakistan increased after both countries exploded nuclear bombs?
A: You are still expecting us to go to war? We are a bit naive, but not stupid. Nor are the Indians. This is a very old civilization and people are intellectually very sound. So I do not think that the two nations would get involved in a nuclear war. Neither my Indian counterparts nor I would ever dream of indulging in nuclear warfare. The aim has never been to use these horrible weapons of mass destruction. India and Pakistan both know that neither will come out alive if there is a war. I call [the bomb] a peace guarantor.
Q: And yet in disputed Kashmir, both sides are shooting at each other across the border every day.
A: You can lob a few shells from this side and few shells from that side. You can kill a few people and they can kill a few people. O.K. There is war of liberation going on. People do not like Indian occupation in Kashmir, and our sympathies are with them. But I do not think that India and Pakistan would go to war over Kashmir.
Q: Is this a coincidence that you and the scientist who heads India's nuclear program are both Muslims?
A: He is patriot, and I am a patriot.
Q: India and Pakistan have been criticized for spending too much money on weapons and not enough on development. What do you say?
A: It does not cost much. We have learnt from you, from other countries, so we do not have to reinvent the wheel. Most of the things, scientific know-how and designs, are available. The money that I need for my program is less than the cost of a modern aircraft. You need more brains than more money.
Q: You say you are a man of peace.
A: I am. I look after animals. Every morning, 50 or 60 monkeys come down the hills to my house and I feed them. Going nuclear was a compulsion. You see, when the Indians exploded so many devices near our border and there was a sense of insecurity in the country, then we had to take this drastic action. But the purpose was never to threaten. An Arab friend once remarked that we can now say that it's our bomb. I said fine, as long as you think your oil is our oil, too.
Q: Why then do people say it's an Islamic bomb?
A: You say this, not us. It is very easy for you people to make these statements.
Q: Do you think mankind is doomed to destruction?
A: Yes. I am a believer in my religion. Doomsday is bound to come. Not intentionally, but something might happen. I'm not an aggressive person. Sometimes we all say these things--that your cities are just five to ten minutes away from our attack. But it's just to warn the enemy off. I hope that it does not happen.
Q: Did Pakistan and India exaggerate the size of their nuclear blasts? Some scientists think they did.
A: We keep some cats in the bag. It does not matter how many. We had to demonstrate that we could manufacture and explode a nuclear device.
Q: The Indians say they built a bomb using their own technology and Pakistan borrowed or bought theirs. True?
A: The Indians are big liars. They got these things from abroad just as we did. Nowadays, it is global industry. If you stop me from buying for Pakistan, then I will buy elsewhere. But I will buy it because I need it. And I can buy it.
Q: Indian and Pakistanis are brothers, they come from the same land, speak the same language, and yet they've been fighting since independence. Why?
A: There are some similarities, but we are basically different. We are Muslims, they are Hindus. We eat cows. They worship cows. That we lived on the same land and spoke the same language does not make us the same people.