Nowadays it has become fashionable to criticise and ridicule our soldiers and to use nasty and derogatory language against them. Some of those who are in the forefront in this are the remnants of military rule who were cultivated by former dictators. Some are even flourishing under the protection of that very same army. The public tends to blame the whole army – almost eight hundred thousand strong – for the misdeeds of a few self-centred and corrupt officers.
There could hardly be any other civilian who knows as many army officers and jawans as I do. Probably nobody has suffered as much at the hands of some corrupt, self-centred army officers as my family and I have. However, we should differentiate between the misdeeds of a few adventurists and the hundreds of thousands of patriotic soldiers and officers who have sacrificed or are willing to sacrifice their lives for the country and through whose services we can live as free citizens. Please don’t use the misdeeds of Ayub Khan, Ziaul Haq and, worst of all, Musharraf, to judge the whole army.
I am very conscious of the fact that Abbottabad, Mehran Base, the Quetta incidents and the serious issue of missing persons have cast extremely adverse reflections on the army (and the ISI) and that people are wondering whether all the resources being spent on it is worth what they return in performance. Please remember that such things happen in every nation of the world and intelligence agencies all over the world misuse their authority. We have seen this happen in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and, most recently, in Libya and Syria.
When, in 1976, my family and I came back to Pakistan at the request of Mr Bhutto, we gave up a comfortable life and an excellent job with a bright career ahead of me. Despite all odds, we never looked back. The success story of Kahuta is now well known. We – a backward, poor country – became a nuclear and missile power in a relatively short span of time, thanks to a dedicated and patriotic team. The money spent on the whole programme – about $300 million – is peanuts compared to other defence expenditures. It changed all the strategic (and mischievous) plans of the West, which wanted to turn Pakistan into a satellite state of India.
As soon as the Kahuta project was started, I met Gen Tikka Khan, who was army chief at the time. He had been asked by Mr Bhutto to see me and I was ushered into his room by his PSO, Brig Faquira. Gen Tikka proved to be an unassuming, simple and straightforward person. He promised to provide all the facilities I needed and told Brig Faquira to instruct the CGS accordingly. After a few months, Gen Ziaul Haq took over as army chief. On my request, and on Mr Bhutto’s instructions, he immediately posted his best engineer, Brig Zahid Ali Akbar Khan (later lieutenant general, and corps commander of Rawalpindi) to my organisation, together with a team of engineers. I can never forget the fine atmosphere and the dedication and single-mindedness with which these officers worked on this project of national importance. Their performance made me decide to hire as many serving and retired army personnel as I needed. I was aware of the sacrifices they had made in 1965 and 1971 and the hardships they had faced in cold Kashmir, frozen Siachen, the scorching Cholistan and Thar deserts and under harsh circumstances in Balochistan. I never heard a word of complaint from any jawan or officer. There were more than 700 security personnel at Kahuta – 400 serving and more than 300 retired. I knew that many of the jawans had served this country in places where they had no family, no electricity, no gas, no TV and, often, no proper bedding, no bathrooms and no running water, yet they had served willingly. When Gen Zia visited Kahuta he remarked that it looked more like an army unit and a garrison. I jokingly retorted that this was indeed so, as the civilians were only there temporarily. Once the job was done, we would leave and everything would belong to the army. Little did I know then how right my “joke” would prove to be. It is now an army organisation with civilians having hardly anything to say. Army personnel made up more than 50 percent of the staff at Kahuta at that time and they were employed for transportation, procurement, stores, medical services, administration and security. All civil works were also carried out by serving and retired army officers. In the beginning some of my civilian colleagues were not too happy with this arrangement and had reservations about army personnel, but after some time they became comrades and a real working team was formed.
On the civil side, when Brig Zahid was posted in Sindh by Gen Zia. He was replaced by Brig Anis Ali Syed (later major general and surveyor general of Pakistan), Brig Sajawal Khan, Brig Habib Zaman, Col Mahmood, Col Javed, Col Aslam, Air Commodore Habibur Rehman, Brig Mazher and Brig Saeed Beg, who all did excellent jobs. Working with me personally were Col Rafique, Major Anwar, Capt Siddiq, Capt Alam, Capt Fida, Major Siddiq and Major Islam. Capt Alam was my PA, Maj Islam my PSO and Capt Siddiq my protocol officer. On the technical side we had Brig Aziz, Brig Qayyum, Brig Iftikhar, Brig Behram Ali Khan, Col Qazi Rashid Ali, Col Majid, Brig Jaffar, Brig Sikander Hayat, Brig Rafi and Col Zia. Security was in the hands of Col Rahman, Col Niazi, Brig Saghir and many serving and retired officers. On the administrative side there were Col Ayub, Maj Majeed, Brig Safdar Nawab and many others. Motor transport was under Maj Anwar of the army’s Electrical and Mechanical Directorate. On the medical side there were Gen R A Chowhan (later surgeon general of the Pakistani Army), Gen Butt, Gen Kamal Shah, Gen Ashfaq, Col Naeem, Col Muneer, Col Nagra and many other officers and nurses.
It is not possible to give a comprehensive list of all those dedicated officers and jawans who put their heart and soul into making Kahuta a success story. The contribution made by the civilian colleagues was no less valuable or important but the point of stress here is the contributions made by army personnel. Those contributions are written in golden letters in the annals of our history. Together with my able and patriotic civilian colleagues they turned the impossible into reality and a backward country was turned into the first Islamic nuclear power and the seventh member of the exclusive nuclear club in a record span of time.
(To be continued)