Mr Shafqat Mehmood, analyst, columnist and former senior civil servant, wrote a column (July 10) about the meeting between Mr Bhutto, Gen Zia, Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Gen Arif (COS to Gen Zia), at which Gen Imtiaz, military secretary to Mr Bhutto, was also present. Mr Mehmood mentioned that Mr Bhutto was in a bad mood and very annoyed and Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan was rather rude to him (no handshake, no greetings, etc.). While I don’t doubt Mr Mehmood’s observations, I would like to make some of my own. I came to Pakistan on vacation in 1976 and stayed on at the personal request of Mr Bhutto to work on Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Right from the beginning I had regular meetings with Mr Bhutto, Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan (SG Defence), Mr Agha Shahi (SG Foreign Affairs) and Mr A G N Kazi (SG Finance). The atmosphere was always relaxed and friendly. In the very first meeting Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan requested permission to smoke – he was a chain smoker. Mr Bhutto immediately gave a nod of approval and, to put him at ease, lit a cigar himself. There were many subsequent meetings and never once did I sense any tension between Mr Bhutto and the three gentlemen. My guess is that, since Gen Zia insisted that Mr Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan accompany him to Murree to meet Mr Bhutto, Mr Khan must have felt very awkward and tense, feeling that Mr Bhutto would probably consider him a traitor and accomplice of Gen Zia, hence his strange behaviour.
Soon after taking over, Gen Zia appointed his old colleague in the British Army, Lt Gen S Ali Zamin Naqvi as security advisor for the PAEC and KRL. Gen Naqvi and I used to meet Gen Zia late in the evenings to discuss the progress of work at Kahuta. After the imposition of martial law, Mr Kazi was sidelined and Gen Arif started participating in the board meetings. Gen Arif was very intelligent, sharp and efficient, and a no-nonsense person. He had a tremendously good memory. Gen Zia’s successful tenure was, to a great extent, due to Gen Arif’s excellent capabilities and Gen Zia used them to the full. It was a pity that Gen Arif was not given the opportunity to show his worth in his own right.
I had an extremely cordial relationship with Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan. I respected him as if he were my own father and I felt that he reciprocated my feelings. He had given instructions that I was to be allowed to see him without prior appointment. At that time he lived in a rented house near the old China Market. I often went to see him at 9 a.m. and would immediately be let in by his elderly servant. We would discuss the problems over a cup of tea and then I would leave to go to the office. Once I asked him about Gen Zia’s takeover. He told me that, on July 5, while he was taking a shower in the morning, there had been a call from the GHQ, which his wife took. When he called back he was put through to Gen Zia who told him that a coup had been staged, the government was dismissed and the Assemblies stood dissolved. He was asked to go the GHQ to discuss the future course of action. Upon reaching the GHQ, he had told Gen Zia that this action was going to harm the country, but since it could not be reversed, they should do their best to salvage whatever they could. I myself witnessed many instances where Ghulam Ishaq Khan openly differed with Gen Zia on policy matters.
Here I would like to relate an interesting episode that took place in August 1976. I had just been appointed project director of the Engineering Research Laboratories, an independent organisation. My first priority was to find a suitable site. After visiting many places, I decided on Kahuta. We had a meeting with Mr Bhutto soon after and I informed everyone present about my selection. Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan immediately proposed the formation of a committee to evaluate the site and then make recommendations, to which Mr Bhutto smilingly replied: “Khan Sahab, neither I nor you or any other person knows about the requirements of the site. If Dr Khan is satisfied, it is fine with us. These committees for everything have made a mess of our country.” With that the matter was closed.
At the meeting I also requested the prime minister to give me a small team of army civil engineers for construction of the plant. When Mr Bhutto asked why civilian contractors could not be used, I informed him that civil works was a domain infested with corruption – anything up to 50 percent. If the army officers did anything wrong, the COAS would sort them out. Mr Bhutto asked Gen Zia (then COAS) to take care of the matter. After the meeting Gen Zia asked me what type of officer I required. I told him a smart, efficient brigadier with a few other officers to help. The next morning Brig Zahid Ali Akbar Khan (later Lt Gen, corps commander and chairman WAPDA) reported to me. He was a tall, handsome and dashing officer. He complained about having been pulled out of the main service, but when I explained to him the purpose of the plant he was raring to go. We first went to Kahuta in his jeep and looked around. The next day we flew over the site in a helicopter. In two or three days he had made the line drawings and measured the area. He then went to see the defence secretary, Gen Fazle Muqeem Khan. Within a week the whole area had been acquired for defence work. I made it a point to stipulate that those effected by the project should be paid handsomely and promptly and Mr Kazi arranged to do so immediately.
Another interesting episode involving Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan is related to the powers I was given. I had prepared the papers in consultation with Brig Zahid. In one of the meetings Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan observed that the powers mentioned were enjoyed only by the prime minister. I explained that only with those powers could the project be rushed through. Mr Kazi then interjected: “Ishaq, if you want to create another PWD, then cut those powers. Let us allow him to do his job as instructed by the prime minister.” I stressed that since we would be holding meetings every month and they would be briefed about all matters, there would be no scope for anything illegal. They then agreed to post Mr I A Bhatty, a Grade 21 officer from the Finance Division to the project. I appointed him as DG Finance and Administration and all bank accounts, local and foreign, were maintained and operated by him.
Finally, I would like to emphasise that during my long association with Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Mr Agha Shahi, I never once heard any critical or sarcastic remarks against Mr Bhutto. I worked very closely with them, even to the point of being allowed to take some liberties. May Allah Almighty rest the souls of Mr Bhutto, Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Mr Kazi and Mr Agha Shahi in eternal peace for laying the solid foundation of our nuclear programme. Ameen.