The Queen of Pakistan and Arms Control

Wednesday 03rd May 2023 06:08 EDT

As we look forward to the King’s coronation, I am reminded that when HM Queen was crowned she was done so as Queen of Pakistan. I write this as April marks the birth month of AQ Khan – father of the Pakistani bomb.

As I’ve written before, when I worked in the US Congress part of my role was to lobby the US State Department of this nuclear proliferator.

The UK continues to have a central role in counter proliferation.

In a world increasingly marked by geopolitical tensions and competing interests, the importance of arms control and counter-proliferation cannot be overstated. The case of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the so-called "father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb," serves as a stark reminder of the danger posed by the unchecked spread of nuclear technology and the need for greater vigilance in counter-proliferation efforts.

Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan was a Pakistani nuclear physicist who played a crucial role in the development of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. He established the Khan Research Laboratories in the 1970s and went on to lead Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, culminating in the country's first successful nuclear tests in 1998.

However, Khan's activities went beyond Pakistan's borders. He led a clandestine nuclear proliferation network that sold nuclear technology and expertise to countries like Iran, North Korea, and Libya, violating international non-proliferation norms. The exposure of this network in the early 2000s highlighted the extent to which a single individual could undermine global non-proliferation efforts.

Lessons from the AQ Khan Saga:

The AQ Khan case underlines the importance of robust arms control and counter-proliferation measures in preventing the spread of WMDs. Some key lessons that can be drawn from this episode include:

  1. Strengthening International Non-Proliferation Regimes: To prevent another AQ Khan-style episode, the international community must reinforce the existing non-proliferation regimes, such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These organizations must be provided with the necessary resources and support to effectively monitor and enforce non-proliferation norms.
  2. Enhancing Intelligence Cooperation: The AQ Khan network operated for years before being exposed, in part due to insufficient intelligence sharing among nations. To counter such threats, countries must improve their cooperation on intelligence, including sharing relevant information on illicit nuclear activities and networks.
  3. Focusing on Rogue Actors and Proliferation Networks: The AQ Khan case demonstrates that individual actors and networks can pose significant threats to global security. Counter-proliferation efforts should target not only state actors but also individuals, companies, and other entities involved in illicit WMD proliferation.
  4. Implementing Sanctions and Incentives: The international community must be prepared to impose sanctions on countries and individuals involved in WMD proliferation, while also offering incentives for cooperation and compliance with non-proliferation norms. This dual approach can be more effective in curbing the spread of WMDs.


The AQ Khan saga serves as a potent reminder of the urgency and importance of arms control and counter-proliferation measures. By learning from this episode and implementing effective strategies, the international community can mitigate the risk of nuclear proliferation and contribute to a more secure and stable global order. It is our responsibility to keep these issues in the public eye and encourage our government to play a leading role in promoting global non-proliferation and arms control efforts.

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