The past and the present
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Dr A Q Khan
Kya puchhe hai mujh say meri khamoshi ka baais/ Kuchh to sabab aisa hai kay mein kuchh nahi kehta.
When I was leaving for Germany in August 1961 to study at the Technical University of Berlin, I thought of writing from there to inform people in Pakistan in general, and students in particular, what life was like over there. At that time the offices of the Jang were located at Burns Road in Karachi, near D J Science College, where I had studied. I used to walk past the office every day on my way to college. I thought it might be a good idea to try to see Mir Khalilur Rahman, the chief editor. I went there but instead met one Mr Taqi, who turned out to be the editor. He was very cordial, liked the idea and took me to see Mir Sahib. Mir Sahib was young and full of energy. I noticed that he had a very broad forehead, supposedly a sign of intelligence. He was enthusiastic about the idea and asked me to write for Jang once I got to Berlin.
When I arrived in Berlin, the Cold War was at its peak. The Berlin Wall had been erected only a few days before my arrival and many Germans from East Germany were trying to flee to West Berlin. The East German militia, VOPOS, was ruthless and shot on sight anyone trying to enter West Berlin. Russian MiGs flew overhead the whole day and caused panic by breaking the sound barrier. My hostel was near the Victory Column and the famous Brandenberger Tor where Hitler used to witness army parades.
I started writing from there under the title “Letter from Berlin,” which soon became quite popular. I continued writing for two years until I moved to Holland in September 1963 to study at the Technological University of Delft. I had moved there because my fiance and future parents-in-law lived in The Hague and my fiance wanted to be nearer her elderly parents. The current critical political and financial situation in our country has prompted me to start this old pastime once again. I have always loved writing and expressing my views on important current matters.
This does not mean that people have not been aware of my views on various topics. I have perhaps been too vocal for that to happen. (Mein chup baitha-hua-hun, aur yeh maloom hota hai/ Kay jaisay ik zamana keh-raha-hai dastan meri.) Most people immediately try to find reason for or motives behind such writing. There is no compulsion for writing or expressing ones views – Guman tum-ko agar ho to ho, magar hum ko/sukun milta hai rudad-e gham sunane say.
Since time immemorial there has always been a conflict between “khair” and “shar” (good and evil). Almighty Allah has warned against evil and has advised prayer for protection against the mischief and cruelty of mischief-mongers and tyrants. History is full of stories of dictators and tyrants violating human rights and inflicting unimaginable evils on defenceless, innocent people. Power makes them totally oblivious and they even forget the existence of Allah’s divine justice. The most recent example of this is of our ex-commando/dictator, General Musharraf, who considered himself above the law and lord of all he saw. (Har daur mein insaan nay dhaey hain mazalim/Har daur mein insaan khuda banta-raha-hai.) But being intoxicated by power does not turn a human being into a demigod, even though he might forget that there are powers greater than his. (Zalimon nay samajh ye rakkha he/ Jaisay dunya mein ab Khuda hi nahin.) Turning a dictator into a demigod has always been facilitated by the fact that they surround themselves with sycophants. General Musharraf’s formal education was no more than FA, and after doing some courses and due to the promotion procedures in the army, he managed to become army chief. It was nauseating to see him lecturing highly skilled people on subjects like economics, foreign affairs, power generation, agriculture, science and technology, higher education, subjects that he surely must have known nothing about.
Even dictators can, and should, surround themselves with experts, listen to their suggestions and advice and allow them to carry on with their work. Yes-men who dare not say anything against their views may be good for their egos, but not for the country. Sycophants go out of their way to praise their beneficiary. They usually follow the propaganda tactics of Hitler and his minister of propaganda, Goebbels; telling lies so often that ultimately the public starts believing them. This often results in destruction of national institutions and unimaginable damage to the country concerned. I am sure many remember Mujibur Rehman telling the Bengali public that the West Pakistan government was using the proceeds from the sale of their jute to decorate the footpaths of Karachi with gold. People actually believed him.
On Christmas Eve 1975 I came to Pakistan at the personal request of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. My wife, our two daughters (then aged seven and five-and-a-half) and I were to return to Holland on Jan 15, 1976. Upon Mr Bhutto’s insistence, I decided to remain in Pakistan while my wife returned to Holland to pack up all our belongings. In doing this I gave up a highly respectable and lucrative job, good a salary and attractive perks, and my wife left her elderly parents behind to follow me. We did all this so that I could serve my beloved country. I only received my first salary of Rs3,000 per month after six months. We were given a house in what were, at that time, the outer limits of Islamabad – F-8/1. There were only three houses on the whole road and no street lights. We did not complain or bargain for more. We never asked for any favours from the government and never received any.
Professional jealousy soon started playing a role and some so-called “scientists” tried to convince Mr Bhutto and Ghulam Ishaq Khan that I was a “sharp young man trying to deceive them, who would flee after making money and taking them for a ride.” They furthermore pointed out that the process of centrifuge enrichment was extremely difficult and complicated and that only three advanced Western countries had perfected this technology – Holland, Germany and England. Mr Bhutto and Ghulam Ishaq Khan were men of wisdom and foresight. They believed in my sincerity and had faith in my abilities. Some people advised me to lie to Mr Bhutto that the bomb would be ready in three years. I refused, knowing very well that he would have formulated his foreign policy on that premise, and that could have been disastrous for the country. Others suggested making a device containing about 2,000 tons of explosives laced with some radioactive material, thus giving the impression that it was a nuclear explosion. The claim that Pakistan was ready to explode a nuclear device in December 1976 was based on this presumption. Instead of making false claims and taking shortcuts to mislead the government, engineers and scientists should stick to the truth, even if it is not always palatable. This is an attitude I have always tried to follow.
Thanks to government support, the hard work of our scientists and engineers and our sincere efforts, Pakistan became a nuclear and missile power in a relatively short span of time. This country is indebted to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq (leaving aside all his mischief), Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto – Mr Bhutto and Ms Bhutto definitely top the list. Upon my personal request, Ms Bhutto allowed the missile deals with China and North Korea to go through and Generals Mirza Aslam Beg and Abdul Waheed Kakar fully supported this.
The morning is gone and this piece is nearly finished. I could still write about much more. For instance, how in 1999 I suggested to Gen Musharraf to allow me to work on launching our own satellite. It could have been done in about three years. Permission was refused. However, despite this, I am nonetheless proud of what my team and I managed to do – nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles, laser rangefinders and establishing a number of medical and educational institutions. Not a bad record, I think, despite everything Gen Musharraf did to defame me by his campaign of character assassination. Which reminds me — where is he now? Ignominiously confined to his house and unable to move around freely “for security reasons.” Even popular leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto could not avoid what was written for them, despite the fact that they did not compromise on national interests. They have become immortal. To write about such things is the aim of this column.
Shama har rang mein jalti- hai seher-honay tak. (The News)