Abdul Qadeer Khan, revered as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program, died at 85 at a hospital in Islamabad early Sunday after a prolonged illness.
While Khan was hailed as a national hero for making Pakistan the world’s first Islamic nuclear power, the West accused him of smuggling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
The Pakistani Interior Ministry announced Sunday that “state funeral shall be accorded” to Khan and the national flag of Pakistan shall fly at half-staff. The Pakistani government also announced funeral services for Khan would take place with full official recognition and that top civilian leaders as well as heads of the country’s armed services would be in attendance.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “deeply saddened” by the passing of the scientist, calling him a “national icon” for Pakistanis.
“He was loved by our nation because of his critical contribution in making us a nuclear weapon state,” Khan tweeted. “This has provided us security against an aggressive much larger nuclear neighbour,” he wrote while referring to Pakistan’s arch-rival, India.
The deceased Pakistani scientist held a doctorate in metallurgical engineering from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.
Khan worked at a nuclear research facility in the Netherlands before returning to Pakistan in the 1970s, allegedly with stolen centrifuge uranium enrichment technology to enable his country to become a nuclear weapons power, according to the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars and conducted tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, raising fears of a nuclear exchange in the event of another war.
Khan confessed on state-run Pakistani television in 2004 he was running a proliferation network without the knowledge of the government. He was later pardoned by then-military president Pervez Musharraf, but remained under house arrest for years in his home in the Pakistani capital.
The confession stemmed from an extensive U.S. investigation into his alleged illegal network, bringing Islamabad under international pressure to take action against Khan, who later said in an interview that he was scapegoated.
Khan’s house arrest ended in February 2009 under a court order, but his movements were strictly monitored every time he left his home, restrictions Pakistani authorities maintained were put in place because of security threats to the scientist.