Dr Abdus Salam vs Dr A Q Khan
Source / Courtesy: Daily Times
By Munir Khan
Parallel lives — I
Whilst Salam himself rejoiced in his Muslim roots, he faced one major difficulty: a section of Islamist opinion regarded him as a heretic because he belonged to the heterodox Ahmedi sect within Islam
In 2005, the front cover of Time magazine displayed a photograph of Dr A Q Khan under the heading ‘Merchant of Menace’. At the time, Khan was under house arrest following a dramatic televised mea culpa, which sent shockwaves around the world. Khan confessed to having been responsible for the worst act of nuclear proliferation that the world had yet witnessed. Khan admitted to betraying the nation’s trust and selling nuclear secrets to North Korea, Libya and Iran amongst others. The then military government of Pervez Musharraf, to much scepticism was content to portray Khan as a solitary rogue scientist, and exonerated the military of any involvement or knowledge of the ‘Khan network’ as it later became known.
The recent revelations in the Washington Post alleging that the North Koreans had paid Khan large sums of money and “jewellery” to be paid to at least two Pakistani general’s, confirmed the worst fears of most Pakistani’s. For a highly suspicious western audience already baying for blood following the discovery of Osama bin Laden living in a military garrison city some 20 miles from the nation’s capital, this was further evidence of double dealing and perfidy, to add to the growing list of Pakistani transgressions.
Investigations continue internationally at the scale and depth of the proliferation alleged to have been carried out by the Khan network. No doubt, another investigation continues within the Pakistan military to establish how high up the chain of command the corruption and pay offs permeated and who knew what and when.
Pakistanis weary at their nation continually being portrayed as a rogue state and facing opprobrium from around the world, may be forgiven for wondering how it all came to this sorry state of affairs. The lives of two Pakistani scientists who were inextricably linked to the Pakistani nuclear programme may be worth examining to see how they mirror Pakistan’s divergence as a major ally of the West in the 1950s and 1960s, (member of NATO sister organisations SEATO and CENTO), to its current status as world pariah and nuclear proliferator.
Dr Abdus Salam was a theoretical physicist and is still Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate. An outstanding and gifted student who dazzled his teachers and peers, Salam quickly rose the ranks of academic excellence. He won a scholarship to Cambridge University in 1949 and excelled by gaining a double first and winning the prestigious Smith’s prize in Physics. The renowned scientist Sir Fred Hoyle advised Salam to stay on and continue his work at Cambridge. Salam, proud of his Pakistani/Muslim heritage and with a zeal to serve the nation, demurred and opted to return to Pakistan and take up an academic post at Government College, Lahore.
Those who knew Salam recall a Pakistani patriot who was both a scientific genius and a person who rejoiced in his Muslim cultural heritage. In his daily life, he displayed the joie de vivre of a renaissance Sufi poet who relished in reciting Urdu/Persian (Rumi) and English poetry, and regularly referred to the Quran as a source of inspiration in his study of physics and science. Whilst Salam himself rejoiced in his Muslim roots, he faced one major difficulty: a section of Islamist opinion regarded him as a heretic because he belonged to the heterodox Ahmedi sect within Islam.
Parallel lives — II
The lives of both Professor Abdus Salam and A Q Khan are linked inextricably with Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Both represented the two faces of Pakistan and its twin curses
A Q Khan was born in Bhopal, India and, unlike Salam, was an immigrant to Pakistan and migrated to the new nation with his family at the time of the partition of India. The journey to Pakistan as a refugee was a traumatic one and it clearly had a profound effect upon Khan, who developed a lifelong antipathy for India. He grew up in a devoutly Muslim household that held orthodox Sunni views. Following his fall from grace, his cause has been championed by many Islamists (amongst others), and they have always claimed him as one their own. His life had much in common with one of his later patrons: dictator Ziaul Haq. Both were refugees from India and enjoyed the adulation and patronage of the Islamists. Khan’s academic achievements did not enjoy the stellar trajectory of Salam’s, and he rose up the ladder of academia with modest results and eventually became a metallurgist by training.
Khan’s career took off after a spell in the Netherlands working for FDO and URENCO, both companies specialising in work relating to the nuclear industry in general and the building of centrifuges in particular. Considerable controversy surrounds Khan’s work in the Netherlands with claims that, on the pretext of translating highly confidential documents relating to the building of nuclear centrifuges, Khan secretly copied these designs and took them with him to Pakistan. This led to a court in the Netherlands convicting him in absentia for industrial espionage (denied by Khan). Khan was without doubt a talented metallurgist, but arouses considerable fury amongst nuclear scientists in Pakistan who refuse to acknowledge his title of ‘father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb’ — a mantle that Khan is more than happy to accept and takes great pride in recounting his own central role in the nuclear programme at fawning Islamist gatherings.
A turning point in Khan’s life was the 1971 debacle leading to the break-up of Pakistan, and the ascendancy of India as a nuclear-armed nation. Khan had by this time started to court Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and assured him that he could deliver a viable nuclear weapons programme. Khan aroused fury and suspicion amongst other nuclear scientists in Pakistan but, through a mixture of conspiracy against the Pakistani nuclear establishment and displays of extreme antipathy towards India, he was able to find patronage amongst the military elite. By the time Zia took over the country, Khan had become the nuclear weapons programme supremo and had sole charge of the weapons programme, specifically the building of nuclear centrifuges. Khan had persuaded Zia to remove his programme from oversight of the civilian Pakistan Nuclear Energy Commission (PNEC), and instead had brought in the army’s corps of engineers as his partners in development.
Little is known about when exactly Khan began his nuclear proliferation programme; suffice it to say that it would seem that there were little or no checks and balances or civilian oversight of Khan’s activities. By 1998, following the successful testing and explosion of a nuclear device, Khan was acclaimed as a national hero and crowned the father of the nuclear bomb by a wildly exuberant and patriotic Pakistani populace.
Khan’s acclaim and adulation would later come to a crashing halt as the full extent of his proliferation was exposed to Pakistan and the world in general. Pakistanis were bewildered by the public humiliation of Khan and his fall from grace to general ignominy. Islamists in particular, who regarded Khan as one of their own, were quick to claim evidence of a western plot to tarnish the reputation of a national hero. The fact that the national hero has now admitted that he personally delivered bag loads of cash and diamonds to various military officers seems not to trouble the Islamist zealots who regard it as a wider conspiracy against the world of Islam.
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