A few days back, nation celebrated Yaum-e-
Takbeer to commemorate the day when Pa
kistan conducted tit-for-tat nuclear tests to blast Indian belligerency while defying immense US pressure not to follow the suit. This was the day which crowned Pakistan at Number Sixth spot in exclusive club of nuclear capable states, ahead of India. It was no mean achievement. It overhauled India instantly which started its nuclear programme much earlier than Pakistan in 1950s. This was an absolute recognition and fulsome tribute to all who worked strenuously to bring Pakistan thus far. They showed what could be achieved with patriotism, faith, devotion, acumen, industry, ingenuity, ambiguity, par excellence, selflessness and fearlessness. In fact, words fail to match what they did which otherwise looked a fiction. They turned adversity into a resounding opportunity.
In 1971, with dismemberment of the country, Pakistan was considered an underdog, sandwiched between two powerful countries. On west, it was Iran, a policeman of the area. On east, it was India with vaulting ambition of regional hegemony but here was the leadership which abhorred subservience; Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He was ready to fight for one thousand years. He saw equalizer in nuclear bomb, even it meant eating grass. He leapt into action but could not find concrete assurance at purposely called Science Conference at Multan in Jan 1972, albeit scientists showed exuberance nevertheless, this could not dampen his resolve. He kept nation in spirit and continued his strenuous search for right path to embark upon. With Indian nuclear explosion in May 1974, this even became more imperative to him. India called it an explosion for peaceful purposes but he knew, no nation could live on goodwill or paper pledges of another nation. It should and we shall respond, was his bottom-line however, still assured nuclear path eluded him.
Finally, there came a scientist in metallurgy and met Bhutto. He assured him of his know how to build nuclear bomb. Bhutto did not question him how a metallurgist could do this barehanded single-handedly. He believed his self-assurance and readily entrusted him to do the impossible for a country which could not make a needle until then. Probably he saw through the man glint, fire and steel aflame to deliver nation of agony of living on mercy of a sworn enemy. He did not fail and produced what nation wanted; atom bomb while adding a singular chapter in history of critical mass. The world knows him as Doctor A Q Khan. Concomitantly, arguably, Bhutto concluded a deal with France for nuclear reprocessing plant to cover up clandestine work under him nevertheless, US got wind of it and went berserk. At point blank, he was threatened to scrap it or be ready to become a horrible example out of him. Bhutto defied and paid the price. He was ousted, allegedly in connivance with US. Some observers stretch it to his eventual end at gallows.
With his ouster, US had sigh of relief but it could last barely for a day. Doctor A Q Khan was among a few to whom General Zia ul Haq met on first day after taking over in a military coup. He urged him to please hurry up because time is less. Soon US turned against Zia because he was also equally determined not to budge from nuclear path. US clamped stringent economic sanctions on Pakistan. There was also talk of contingency planning being made to knockout nuclear facility at Kahuta, however, all this failed to crack nuclear resolve of Pakistan. Instead the nation found new reservoirs of energy and morale to thwart any evil design against its nuclear advance. Kahuta was turned into fortress with multilayered defence to take on anything intruding from ground/air. On the outside, Pakistan followed a conditional conciliatory nuclear policy with an element of shrewd ambiguity. On the inside, it was what a sovereign nation ought to do. Uneasy times continued until Russian tanks rolled in Kabul.
It caught US napping and it solicited help of Pakistan as frontline state against Russian onslaught. Zia Ul Haq obliged the US but at own terms and conditions. One of them was to close its eyes from nuclear pursuit of Pakistan and it did inevitably. By 1984, Pakistan was an undeclared nuclear weapon state. After his death, President Ghulam Ishaq took over the mantle and let no slackness to creep in. One US diplomat called him Mr Nuke. Undoubtedly, it endorsed his contribution beyond measure. After Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan, US was back on its way to cutback nuclear capability of Pakistan through carrot and stick. New instruments employed were an array of international treaties as of CTBT and FMCT etc. Pakistan declined and kept itself fully prepared for nuclear explosions at opportune time. Finally, it came when on 11 May 1998, again India conducted nuclear tests. Pakistan held the opportunity with both hands and the momentous moment came on 28 May 1998 when nuclear explosion went off with Naara-e-Takbeer, Allah-o-Akbar. From conceptualization to actualization, all along our AFs stood in lockstep with the nation. Our nuclear struggle symbolizes many national attributes but two aspects are too galvanizing. One, freedom is a cherished possession and nation is ready to pay any price for its preservation. Two, our people move very fast when faced with formidable odds.
— The writer, a retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.