Our finest hour
PAKISTAN’S leading nuclear scientist and father of the Pakistan’s nuclear bomb passed away 10 October 2021 after developing lung complications.
A man of many talents ranging from metallurgy to poetry Dr Khan remained an icon of Pakistan’s impregnable defence for a couple of decades.
Dr Khan’s autobiography ‘Dastaan-e-Azam’ is a must read for anyone who wants an understanding of how events connect in life to shape one’s destiny.
It outlines his journey from pursuing a comfortable life of a teacher to that of a nuclear scientist and how various events, though trivial in nature changed his life in unimaginable ways.
India’s nuclear tests on 18 May 1974 under the supervision of Raja Ramanna, who was the then Director of India’s premier nuclear research institute Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) came as a surprise to many.
The test was named ‘Smiling Buddha’ because it was conducted on Budda Purnima that year. It was this test which motivated Dr Khan to become part of a project which would ensure Pakistan’s deterrence.
Dr Khan joined the Physics Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO) an engineering firm based in Amsterdam.
FDO was a subcontractor for the Urenco Group which was operating a uranium enrichment plant in Almelo and was well known in the field. In a short span he joined Urenco conducting research on Uranium metallurgy.
Generally it is opined that it was during his stay in these companies that he learnt about and got hands on experience on various processes for Uranium enrichment and nuclear reactors which was to later play a vital role in developing nuclear capability of Pakistan.
It was also here that he got an opportunity to rub shoulders with people who would be helpful in providing hardware for the project.
Following years brought fame to Dr Khan as he became a household name and was nicknamed ‘father of Islamic bomb’.
There were rumors of Pakistan gaining nuclear capability but these were only confirmed with official nuclear tests by Pakistan in 1998 in Chagai, Balochistan.
These tests were Pakistan’s response to a series of tests conducted by India in Pokhran region. Public declaration of Pakistan’s nuclear capability certainly added to the charisma and respect of Dr A Q Khan.
His ascendancy to glory, power and success came to an abrupt end in 2003 when Pakistan was accused of illicit nuclear proliferation in 2003.
Dr Khan was accused of transferring vital information to Iran, North Korea and Libya. He made a confession statement on television.
Following admission, Dr Khan was pardoned by General Pervez Musharraf. However, he was placed under house arrest and severe restrictions were placed on his movement. He got shoved side stage losing the lime-light.
It was four years later that Dr Khan redacted his confession saying it was thrust upon him and that some friends had misled him into believing that he would remain unharmed after the confession.
Thereafter, Dr Khan spent his time contributing to newspapers and pursuing personal interests.
It was in August 2021 that news of his illness came in media. After brief illness he succumbed to death on 10th October 2021.
He was given a state funeral at Faisal Mosque and buried at H-8 grave yard. Attending his janazah in torrential rain, I was able to catch a glimpse of throngs of people swarming Faisal Mosque from each side.
I could see people on cars, motor bikes and bicycles trying to reach the funeral. Barring a few dignitaries, these were mostly commoners who had come to see their hero for last time.
Seeing an emotionally charged and crying crowd I could not help but recall Quranic verse “You honour whom You please, and abase whom You please.” And I felt immensely proud to be a Pakistani. The nation had spoken.
Despite his errors, Dr Khan was credited with doing his utmost to protect Pakistan. He was loved unconditionally by the nation who had joined his last procession in inclement weather to pay their respects.
For every common man in Pakistan let there be no doubt that this was our finest hour as a nation. Let this message never be forgotten that we know how to respect and honour our heroes.
—The writer is a civil servant having an LLM from Harvard Law School, MSC from University of Oxford and an LLM from University of Turin/WIPO academy.