Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist who turned Pakistan into a nuclear power and then sold its atomic secrets, died on Sunday after being admitted to hospital with Covid-19. He was 85.
Khan was taken to the Khan Research Laboratories Hospital on August 26 with lung problems, after testing positive for the coronavirus, state-run broadcaster PTV reported.
He was later moved to a military hospital in Rawalpindi, reports said.
Pakistan's President Arif Alvi said in a tweet he was “deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan”, who he had known personally since 1982.
“He helped us develop nation-saving nuclear deterrence and a grateful nation will never forget his services.”
Khan was lauded for bringing Pakistan up to par with arch-rival India in the atomic field and making its defences “impregnable".
Khan "served this country with emotion, dignity, respect and with hard work," Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad said.
Khan was at the centre of a global nuclear proliferation scandal in 2004 that involved sales of nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya.
After a confession on national television, Khan was pardoned by then-president Pervez Musharraf but he remained under house arrest for years in his palatial Islamabad home.
He was mired in controversy that began even before he returned to Pakistan from the Netherlands in the 1970s, where he had worked at a nuclear research facility.
He was later accused of stealing the centrifuge uranium enrichment technology from the Netherlands facility that he would later use to develop Pakistan’s first nuclear weapon, according to research by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Dr Khan, who held a doctorate in metallurgical engineering from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, offered to launch Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme in 1974 after neighbour India carried out its first “peaceful nuclear explosion”.
In 2006 Khan developed prostate cancer, but recovered after surgery.
A court ended his house arrest in February 2009, but Khan's movements were strictly guarded, and he was accompanied by authorities every time he left his home.
In his confession, Khan said he acted alone without the knowledge of the state officials. However, he later said he had been made a scapegoat.