THERE was never an iota of doubt about the massive popularity of the legendary nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, commonly known as Dr A Q Khan, but the sentiments expressed by people of Pakistan and participation of the people in huge numbers in his funeral sent a glaring message that national icons and heroes never die.
His death grieved each and every patriotic Pakistani because of the leading role he played in making Pakistan’s defence impregnable and therefore, he will always be there in the hearts and minds of those who care about the motherland.
The decision of the Government about a state funeral for Dr Khan and flying of the national flag at half-mast was also in recognition of his outstanding services for the cause of the country and the nation.
Dr Khan rightly became a household name for what he did to make Pakistan world’s first Muslim nuclear power state (and seventh member of the elite nuclear club) despite countless challenges and threats to his life, a glimpse of which was captured by founding Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper late Zahid Malik in his famous book “Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan and Islamic Bomb”.
Security and defence of the country have always remained issues of great concern for the leadership and people of Pakistan and the dilemma was highlighted by dismemberment of the country in 1971 and India’s first nuclear explosion at Pokhran in 1974, which was ironically dubbed as ‘Smiling Buddha’.
It was in this backdrop that late Z A Bhutto vowed to develop a nuclear device even if it meant ‘eating grass’ and he tasked Dr A Q Khan to translate his nuclear vision into reality and Dr Khan did not disappoint him or the nation.
One can appreciate the true nature of the difficulties in pursuing the nuclear path from the fact that Pakistan was penalized for a crime committed by India (Canada halted supply of fuel for KANUPP in breach of the agreement) and Western institutions of higher learning were hesitant to grant admission to Pakistani students in physics.
A sustained propaganda campaign was unleashed and crippling sanctions were imposed on the country as part of the strategy to deny Pakistan access to nuclear technology.
However, credit goes to Dr Khan, his team in Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) and scientists, engineers and technicians in Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) for making rapid advances on the front of fuel cycle and nuclear technology that enabled the country to counter the threat to its security when India carried out second phase of its nuclear blasts in 1998.
Nuclear deterrence would lose its credence in the absence of a reliable delivery mechanism and hats off to Dr Khan, who worked hard to produce nuclear capable missiles to perfect the nuclear deterrence.
It can, therefore, aptly be said that the unmatched contribution of Dr Khan to Pakistan’s nuclear programme shielded the country against nuclear blackmail of India and frequent arms twisting of Pakistan by some foreign powers on different pretexts. This was the crime of Dr Khan that the CIA declared him ‘one of the most dangerous men on the earth’.
Dr Khan enjoyed the enviable status of a national hero but these powers made attempts to demean him in the eyes of the international community through linkages of false and fabricated accounts of his so-called business of nuclear smuggling.
Regrettably, under foreign pressure and influence, he was sidelined at the peak of his professional career and the country was deprived of the services of a talented personality, capable of delivering in complex fields.
We had all along been demanding in these columns the lifting of un-announced restrictions on his movement and giving him an assignment worthy of his stature and calibre but unfortunately such appeals fell on deaf ears. In political science, they say “the king is dead, long live the king”.
We will say “Dr Khan is dead, long live Dr Khan” because he is more among us physically but a generation of scientists, engineers and technicians he produced and the knowledge he transferred would continue to serve the cause of the country for all times to come.
His life and achievements amply proved that Pakistan was capable of securing its rightful place in the comity of nations but it would continue to face obstacles until and unless the country achieves economic sovereignty.