Remembering past mistakes

December 14,2015

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Dr A Q Khan

On December 2 I went to attend ‘Martyr’s Day’ at Al-Azeem Public School Systems in Village Behaud, Tehsil Kahuta, District Rawalpindi. I was invited by Brig Javed Ahmed Sathi, a fine soldier and thorough gentleman committed to providing quality education to the deprived children of this rather underdeveloped area.

I usually try to avoid travelling long distances by car due to the back surgery I had a few years ago, but for his noble cause I acceded to the request of my long-time friend, Raja Arshad Mahmood, who did excellent construction work for our plant at Kahuta. The journey from Islamabad lasted almost two hours and became rather tortuous after we had passed Kahuta. The journey raised nostalgic memories about the time I used to travel to Kahuta every day.

When I reached, the children and their parents accorded me a memorable, heart-warming reception and it was gratifying to see that, despite those who tried to tarnish my name, I was still a beloved son of the soil. The school has about 6,500 students, both boys and girls. About 269 belong to the families of employees at the Kahuta Plant. The fathers of most of these children are soldiers in the Pakistan Army and some of these children come from the families of those brave soldiers who gave their lives for the sake of Pakistan.

Brig Javed, in his introductory speech, described the history of the school saying that Potohar was an area with a martial race and that Kahuta was Dr A Q Khan and Dr A Q Khan was Kahuta. When he talked about the wars of 1965 and 1971, I couldn’t help but remember that tragic event of December 16, 1971, which can rightly be called a Black Day in the history of Pakistan.

In October 1971 I had completed my PhD thesis and was preparing research papers for publication and editing a book. Along with many others, I believed that it was necessary to move against the subversive elements being supported by India. As facts slowly emerged from TV and newspaper sources, a dilemma arose. I had seen the army officers and jawans in 1958 when Gen Ayub Khan had taken over and had witnessed the respect they received. Now I was seeing the massacre of our Muslim brethren in East Pakistan. I was shocked to see pictures of dead, mutilated bodies and, worst of all, half-eaten bodies of children being dragged around by wild dogs.

Then came that tragic episode of December 16, 1971 – the darkest day of our history. On December 14, Gen Yahya Khan addressed the nation and spoke of an imminent victory. The picture of Gen A A K Niazi signing the surrender documents stayed in my mind’s eye for days. Here is a free translation of what our great, late, revolutionary poet, Habib Jalib, said about this disastrous campaign:

“You are harvesting love with bullets,/Washing the face of the nation with blood;/While you believe you are nearing your destination,/I believe that you are losing your destination.”

Later I read in the papers that almost a 100 Bengali intellectuals had been shot and then buried in a mass grave in the suburbs of Dhaka. Many other atrocious incidents came to light and were described by eye-witnesses. I had difficulty in believing it all, but later, when I came to Pakistan, I heard from colleagues who had been there that most of those stories were more or less true. I was deeply ashamed.

It was this defeat and the Indian nuclear explosions of 1974 that directly led to my return to Pakistan. My family and I had been coming to Pakistan on holiday in December every year. On our visit in 1974 I discussed the possibility with Z A Bhutto of realising his dream of making Pakistan a nuclear power. Plans were finalised to begin the ground work for the project.

When we came again in December 1975, Bhutto requested me to remain, as he felt I was the only person who could accomplish this work. Details of my giving up an excellent job, the hardships my family faced, the obstructions put in my way, the professional jealousy that arose, etc are all well recorded. Thanks to Allah’s blessing and with the hard work and dedication put in by my team, Pakistan became a nuclear and missile power within a relatively short span of time.

My technological knowledge was worth billions of dollars, for which I received no more than a meagre salary of Rs3,000 per month. Seeing what I have received in return since, it sometimes makes me wonder if it was worth it. Not only was the technology supplied by me, but Pakistan had not signed the NPT or the NSG and was under no international obligation to disclose or discuss the matter with any international agency or foreign country. Nevertheless, I was branded as a traitor and projected and treated as such by a dictator who is now a mere nonentity. Unfortunately, the achievements we made has not turned out to be a turning point in the history of our country and turned it into a developed, prosperous Islamic state, as had been hoped.

Our great poet, Ahmed Faraz, once visited the war museum in Dhaka and, in what could be considered to be the sentiments of the whole nation, described his feelings thus (reproduced here in free translation):

“Once this city and these lands were mine;/They were my people and my strength./Now I roam without friends where once I had friends all around./Who could know that the end of this lasting love would be like drops in the eyes;/Who could know that, in that vast river we would be just like bubbles./Not knowing whether it was a Divine plot or a plot of the rulers;/A country split into two as if though unity had been a mere dream./This museum reflects the tragedy of that bad day;/That day that shows the stock of all hatred.

“Heaps of bones everywhere like a sun drenched in blood./Elsewhere I see our supreme commander with head hanging in shame while surrendering to the enemy./Oh God! Please take away my vision;/I cannot bear to see the ignominious defeat of my people./I left the museum with head hanging in shame and suppressing my pain;/It felt dark all around me;/I remember the wonderful days of old when I was part of this city and this land.”

We should remember that nations that do not learn from past mistakes always end up repeating them. We have killed thousands of our own innocent people at the behest of others. The national fabric is in tatters and Pakistan is not yet out of the woods.



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