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Random thoughts

March 17, 2015

Unsung heroes

Opinion

March 17, 2015

Part - XXIX
Random thoughts
In one of my previous columns I had written that, while studying in Germany I had a very good friend named Akhtar Ali. He was senior to me and studying electronics while I was doing metallurgy. We are still good friends, even today. After a distinguished career, he has now retired and lives in America with his wife, children and grandchildren.
When he was working in the west, he had three very good and competent engineer friends, Abdul Aziz Khan (an electrical engineer), Muhammad Ahmad (a missile engineer) and Salam Al-Minawi, an electronics engineer from Egypt. When Aziz Khan planned to come to Karachi on holiday, Akhtar gave him my phone number. He contacted me and later came to Islamabad to see me. He was a Rampuri Pathan, tall, fair, slim and handsome.
During our talks I realised that he was a very knowledgeable and competent engineer. We mutually agreed on what to do. I deputed Rustam Khan, a competent and able engineer, to work with him. By working almost 18 hours a day, with only short breaks for meals, they managed to get the job done within one month.
Aziz had spent his whole month’s vacation sitting in a room and working non-stop! The system he devised never failed us. Like me, he was a refugee and we both had great love for Pakistan. Had we asked a consultant to do this job for us, it would have cost us millions of dollars, but Aziz Khan did not accept even a small gift. After that Salam came to see us. Since he was in the electronic components business, we started placing orders with him.
By this time, western propaganda against us was at its peak. One day the police raided Salam’s store and took him into custody. Both Aziz Khan and Muhammad Ahmad were picked up at the same time. All were treated quite disgracefully giving the definite impression that holding a western passport did not make one equal to the white people. They were later released on bail and a long legal battle ensued.
In the

end, all three were honourably acquitted and went back to their old posts. We tried to help them as much as we could financially. Nowadays Salam is head of the Islamic centre at a western university while Aziz Khan and Muhammed Ahmad lead peaceful retired lives. Through Salam’s efforts, we (Brig Sajawal, Dr Mirza, Eng. Nasim Khan, Col Qazi and I) went abroad and visited the Russian-built, shoulder-fired, surface-to-air anti-aircraft factory. It was a very modern factory and with the missiles made there, the Egyptians had managed to shoot down more than 100 aircraft in the 1973 war, making it necessary for the Americans to fly fully loaded units to the battle front to save the Israelis.
Three British businessmen were of great help to us. Two of them exported computers to Eastern Europe and the third one’s company made excellent electron beam welding machines. As Head of our Computer Division, Dr M Alam discussed our requirements with the two and obtained a powerful, fast computer arranged by them in an ingenious and complicated route. It was of great use to Dr Alam and his two very competent and able colleagues, Dr Tasneem Shah and Dr Zafarullah Qureshi. With it they solved all centrifuge efficiency problems and those relating to design. Later we bought an even faster computer, which substantially reduced calculation times.
I always had the feeling that one of them worked with the intelligence as he supplied computers to East European countries. It is common for western countries to supply some prohibited items to eastern countries of interest to gain their confidence and for spying purposes. He had the habit of asking seemingly random questions about our work and the plant.
I had warned my colleagues to be very cautious around him and not to divulge any details about our work. Later, when Dr Alam attended a conference abroad, he was approached by an intelligence officer who tried to buy him by offering lucrative incentives. Perhaps he was not aware that Alam had lived there for 13 years and knew how they functioned.
The third one was a thorough gentleman. We needed a few machines and visited the company a few times and bought the required machines, which served us extremely well. He used to take us to a small family restaurant where the food was really excellent.
Since I had studied and worked in Europe for 15 years and had travelled to many countries, I knew many of the industries. Speaking foreign languages also helped. My work experience had given me invaluable technological knowledge, all of which enabled me to lead my team into completing the task set within a relatively short span of time.
Now a little more about the lighter side of Akhtar’s life. He belonged to Gujrat. His father was financial advisor to the government. After retirement he remained in Gujrat and, as per local custom, would sit with his elderly contemporaries and chat. Once when Akhtar was on holiday there, he went to sit with them.
One gentleman looked at him and said: “You are very weak” (he is of medium height and extremely slim). “When you go back to Germany, ask a donkey cart driver to bring you a load of nice, soft earth and put it inside your room in a corner. Put some oil on your body and do exercises (on the earth) as our wrestlers do. You will become as healthy as our wrestlers are.” Akhtar did not (or could not) follow this invaluable advice and, to this day, is still as slim as he was in 1961.
To be continued.
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