Pakistani nuclear figure plans hospital

By Waqar Gillani  |  Aug. 22, 2013 at 5:29 PM
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LAHORE, Pakistan, Aug. 22 (UPI Next) --

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who fell into disfavor after confessing to passing Pakistani nuclear technology to other countries, has, after a failed bid to enter politics, turned to charity work.

His new project is the Dr. A.Q. Khan Hospital in Lahore, a 200-bed facility with up-to-date equipment to serve the poor, regardless of caste. It is expected to be completed within two years at a cost of $10 million, a pamphlet distributed by the hospital management committee indicates.

"I made a nuclear bomb, but maybe there will be no eternal reward for making it," Khan told UPI Next. "There will surely be a reward for making a hospital."

Khan, who initiated the project and will be chairman of the hospital, is working with a committee of local industrialists and retired medical professors, said Ulfat Rasool, one of the project managers. The seven-story hospital is to focus on liver and kidney diseases, which are increasing in Pakistan. It will have surgical facilities, international-standard laboratories and paramedical training.

Pakistan, where more than 39 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, has more than 12,000 people per doctor, said Dr. Yasmin Rashid, former president of the Pakistan Medical Association. More than 25 percent of the population depends on free treatment, she said.

Kahn said he had been thinking about such a hospital for many years, but the project really started after a wealthy Pakistani donated land in the most congested part of the city.

"The people of Pakistan are generous in donating for social welfare," he said. "In a recent appeal in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, more than 50 industrialists have assured me support in this noble cause. We will start constructing the building and operate it as soon as possible. We have already started the outpatient department in a small rented building adjacent to the site."

Khan is considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, and the country's Muslim majority also considers him the "father of Islamic bomb." In the 1970s, he pioneered and led Pakistan's effort to enrich uranium with gas centrifuges. Though a national hero, he was considered dangerous in the West after his 2004 admission that he had shared this nuclear technology with Iran and Libya. Later, he said it was not a personal act but an official one approved by higher authorities.

He served for a period under house arrest and remains under pressure from authorities to keep a low profile. "It's also because of my security," he said.

He nevertheless registered a new political party during the May elections, Tehrik-e-Tahafuz-e-Pakistan -- the Movement to Defend Pakistan -- aimed at ending corruption, but it failed to win any parliamentary seats. He did not run for office.

Khan said during a fund-raising speech in Lahore his party would "continue to contest elections, hoping people will elect our candidates," but added, "Now, my prime mission is to build this hospital."

Khan, who worked in the Netherlands before returning to Pakistan to work on nuclear technology, has been doing social work since 1990s, running health clinics in Karachi and Islamabad.

"I left everything in Europe and came back when country needed me," he told UPI Next. "Now it is time that people of this country should step forward to help me in fulfilling this mission." He is appealing for help from overseas Pakistanis.

He cited the country's weak performance in health and education.

"We are getting worse than African countries," he said. "We have failed to control polio. A country where more than 50 percent live below the poverty line needs better health and education facilities."

The World Health Organization names Pakistan as one of the four countries where polio is still endemic, along with Nigeria, Afghanistan and India. Pakistani hospitals also receive thousands of patients a year, including children, suffering from measles, diarrhea and other diseases, a WHO report said.

Sohail Warraich, a leading political analyst, said social work is a better option for Khan than re-entering politics.

He told UPI Next that in Pakistan, people vote for practical reasons.

"Even the devoted members of religious groups do not vote for their parties, as they clearly know they are not going to win," he said.

"People of Pakistan have the highest regard for Dr. Khan, and they would like to help him in his project. I think he is on the better path now."

This is not the first time a high-profile Pakistani has embraced social causes. Cricket icon Imran Khan, now a popular politician leading the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, built the country's first cancer treatment and research hospital in 1994 before entering politics. This year, he announced a similar project in Peshawar.

Dr. Khan is our national hero, but we have not given him the status he deserves," said Muhammad Siddique, 29, a student at Punjab University. "His announcement that he'll build the hospital and help the needy people is a good cause."

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