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Random thoughts

June 16, 2020

An unforgettable man

Opinion

June 16, 2020

Pakistan celebrates May 28 as Youm-e-Takbir. The people that made it all possible were Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Gen Ziaul Haq, A G N Kazi, Agha Shahi, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and others who facilitated in making the project a success.

As far as Kahuta and my colleagues are concerned, everyone knows that those associated with the development of nuclear weapons and missiles are all heroes in their own right, some more so than others.

Here I would like to shed some light on a great patriot, an honest and competent gentleman – Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan. I met him for the first time in 1976 after I had written to Mr Bhutto, saying that I was fed up with the whole non-productive situation and wanted to return to my old job in Holland. Mr Bhutto asked me to give him two days to sort things out.

After two days I had two meetings at the Foreign Office with Mr Agha Shahi, Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Mr A G N Kazi. They offered me the post of chairman PAEC, which I refused. The decision to set up Engineering Research Laboratories was taken and the plant at Kahuta soon followed. We went all out to produce the highly enriched uranium and design nuclear weapons. On May 1, 1981, Gen Zia visited the plant and renamed it as Dr A Q Khan Research Laboratories. Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan was with us on the occasion and one could see how happy he was with the developments made.

After the military take-over, Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan was made secretary-general-in-chief. Despite his busy life, he would come to Kahuta at least once a month and would make a tour of the whole plant together with my senior colleagues. He would discuss technical details with them and, since he was very sharp, he would always ask very pertinent questions. When we showed him the film of our first cold test held in 1983, he was overjoyed. He took as much interest in everything as we did.

Earlier on, on the instructions of the Board, I prepared and received those administrative powers I required to get the job done. Nobody objected. Mr Imtiaz Bhatti from the Ministry of Finance was soon to join us. Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan had meanwhile become finance minister and Mr Bhatti was to brief him on all financial matters related to the project. Bhatti functioned as secretary of the board and would take notes, which were then signed by Khan Sahib. After a few trips to Kahuta, Khan Sahib knew most of the senior officers. We all used to have lunch together, which gave everyone a chance to discuss matters.

Khan Sahib had also told me to come to his house at around 8.15 am to discuss any current matters – usually to brief him about our progress and to obtain approval for the purchase of costly equipment. He had instructed his finance secretary to discuss financial matters and budget requirements with us. In the years from 1976 to 1986, we spent money on foreign and local procurements, construction of facilities, salaries, transport, housing, foreign visits, scholarships for sending students abroad, etc. When Gen Beg became COAS, he became a member of the Board and he expressed pleasant surprise at this relatively meagre expenditure and our achievements.

Never in all those years did Khan Sahib ever object to any expenditure or requirement of funds. We were all very sincere in achieving our goal and he knew that. We did not let his faith in us or the government down. Mr Agha Shahi, and later Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, were always very supportive and provided all possible assistance. They knew that ours was not an easy task – some even considered it to be an impossible one.

As I have mentioned before, the Kahuta team was unique in both calibre and achievements. I believe that there will never again be someone of the calibre of Ghulam Ishaq Khan. His services to Pakistan are written in golden letters in the history of the country. As a tribute to him, I proposed and facilitated the construction and setting up of the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute in Topi. It was built with loans on easy terms a well as donations. The Institute initially opened with 15 foreign professors on the staff.

Even in the later years I often visited him in Peshawar, where he would insist I have lunch with him. I had always respected him, but I came to like him more and more with every meeting. Pakistan will be hard put to find another man of his calibre. May his soul rest in peace – Ameen.

Email: [email protected]