The role of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan in the establishment of Kahuta (Khan) Research Laboratories (KRL), for uranium enrichment, can hardly be undermined. While fully acknowledging his contribution, I feel sorry to note that due to Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan’s desire for publicity, the image of Pakistan as a peace loving nation was compromised. Deliberate efforts were made to project Dr. A Q Khan as the “Father of Islamic Atomic Bomb”. In addition to construction of replica of Chaghi Hill at the entrance of Islamabad (that has luckily been dismantled), replicas of Ghori missiles were erected at prominent places in different cities of Pakistan. I do not know how the foreign heads of states and governments, visiting Pakistan, felt when they were welcomed by the replicas of weapons of mass destruction while travelling on Islamabad highway. All such actions provided our enemies with an opportunity to portray Pakistan as a nation devoid of civility and aesthetic sense.
Left with no other choice, after the conducted of nuclear tests by India on 18 May 1974, Pakistan accelerated its efforts to acquire nuclear capability to restore the massively disturbed balance of power in the South Asia. Pakistan’s past experience coupled with hegemonic aspirations of India also demanded that it must respond to Indian nuclear challenge, expeditiously. Though Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) had been founded in 1956, after defeat in the 1971 War, Pakistan retracting from its non-weapon nuclear policy quietly shifted its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Dr Munir Ahmed Khan, a senior nuclear engineer, who was appointed as the third Chairman of PAEC by the Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, accepting the challenge, worked with full vigor to accomplish the assigned mission. Work began on indigenous development of infrastructure and apparatus to produce fuel for nuclear weapons in early 1970s. Key research took place at Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH), where scientists worked on weapon designs and the eventual nuclear test. In 1976, the possible test sites were decided by the PAEC and construction on test sites were completed in 1979. In 1983, PAEC’s efforts reached to a milestone when it had conducted a first subcritical testing on a weapon design; such testing continued until the early 1990s under codename Kirana-I.
Following nuclear tests by India early in the month of May 1998, PAEC conducted nuclear tests (Codename: Chagai-I), on May 28 1998, which was followed by Chagai-II on May 30 1998. In 2001, the PAEC’s research was focused back to civilian and peaceful research with the establishment of the National Command Authority and the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority.
The unspeakable sacrifices made by the poor masses of Pakistan and untiring work of umpteen number of our talented and dedicated scientists with the fullest support of our civilian and military rulers from the Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to the President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to achieve nuclear capability to deter belligerent intents of our hostile easterly neighbour, unfortunately failed to bear the desired yield. Besides other reasons the projection of Pakistan’s nuclear capability as the “Islamic Bomb”, and allegations of nuclear proliferation, in clandestine manners, sent alarming signals to our potential adversaries, which helped India team up with Israel, the US and the UK to destabilize Pakistan with the ultimate aim of neutralizing it nuclear capabilities. From early 1970’s onwards, at least three generations of Pakistanis, countless number of unknown and unsung heroes of PAEC and our political as well as military leadership struggled to acquire nuclear deterrence with the sole aim to invest our meager resources to provide basic facilities to the poor masses instead of wasting them on the purchase and production of military hardware. But what we thought would serve as a guarantee to guard our integrity, sovereignty and freedom, unfortunately became a liability, because of our own shortsightedness.
To control this nearly irreversible damage is the biggest challenge for our policy makers. In addition to the government departments, the concerted efforts, made by the entire nation, may undo this damage. We need to change our reputation as a jingoistic and warmongering nation. The vibrant Pakistani media, the foreign office and overseas Pakistanis can play significant role to project Pakistan as a peace loving nation. As it is said that actions speak louder than words, we will have to demonstrate with our actions that Pakistan is a peace loving moderate Muslim state. In Pakistan even moderate religious political parties have never bagged more than 10% votes, whereas in India radical Hindu nationalists are voted into power with the support of Hindu radical groups such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bajrang Dal, etc., yet Pakistanis is blamed for promoting extremism, solely because of anti-US and anti-West narrative of certain fundamental religious groups.
To convince all stakeholders of our desire for peaceful co-existence with our neighbours, we must gear up our efforts to indiscriminately eliminate terrorist groups, which are damaging our image and reputation. We may seek the support of both Saudi Arabia and Iran to defeat the sectarian menace that has gripped us for the last four decades after the Afghan War and Iranian Revolution. By addressing Israel’s concerns and apprehensions about the possible use of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (Islamic Bomb) against the Jewish state, we may soften the India-Israel nexus against Pakistan,
— The writer a retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Islamabad.