Youm-e-Takbeer: Dormant, but there

Published: May 29, 2012
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 Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan calls the development of the atomic bomb by Pakistan and India a “mixed blessing”. PHOTO: FILE

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan calls the development of the atomic bomb by Pakistan and India a “mixed blessing”. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: 

On a warm May evening, fourteen years since that fateful day, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme is contemplative.

The tit-for-tat nuclear tests still evoke their fair share of fiery debate, both at home and worldwide, but Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan calls the development of the atomic bomb by Pakistan and India a “mixed blessing” – insisting that, though weapons, the warheads actually bar the two sides from going to war. The reference to the detente via mutually assured destruction is not a new argument for apologists.

Dr Khan recalls that he wasn’t exactly exuberant that day, since celebrated in Pakistan as Youm-e-Takbeer, because he and many others knew that Pakistan could have tested at any time after 1983, and effectively already had the bomb even without the actual test ground test in 1998.

But Pakistan did test on May 28 – 17 days after India first conducted theirs.

Delhi’s decision to test for a second time – the first time being in the ’70s – set the wheels in motion for a frantic couple of weeks. Dr Khan recalls those heady days only in general detail – given the continued sensitivity of the matter (which was not lost on us given the high security surrounding and monitoring of his house even after the passage of all this time).

Pakistan tested a mere 17 days later – but Dr Khan still seems displeased, almost as if he wished the reply could have come even sooner, possibly even the next day. He takes care to assert that it would have been possible had he been given even a couple of days’ advance warning – blaming the Gen. Jehangir Karamat-led security apparatus of the time of being caught unawares.

“You (Karamat) claimed ISI men are sitting in Pokhran (the area of India’s test site) who are very much familiar with the Indian nuclear programme. But you couldn’t tell us India is going to test the atom bomb?” Khan recalls his reaction during the Defence Cabinet Committee meeting held soon after Indian test.

The world was buzzing in anticipation. Obviously, he said, many attempted to pressure Pakistan not to test. But, he added, there were many Muslim countries who contacted him saying they “wanted to see Pakistan a nuclear power.”

“There was so much pressure on Pakistan not to test its bomb but leadership of Pakistan had taken right decision at the right time and decided to go ahead.” Dr Khan recalls being feted by ambassadors of a number of countries the evening the test took place.

The felicitations aside, many questions were asked about need to test and invite the world’s ire, when you already knew you had a bomb effective cold-tested bomb.

The tests themselves, and the sanctions that would follow, however, proved to be only the beginning of Pakistan’s concerns. In later years, accusations of global nuclear proliferation hit the state, as did charges of an unsafe nuclear arsenal that could fall into the ‘wrong hands’.

Dr Khan eventually appeared on state television in 2004 and ‘admitted’ that the proliferation ring did indeed exist, but was run by him and him alone. His “confession” of having acted alone and his apology still remains mired in suspicion, but it helped absolved the Pakistani state and other sensitive institutions – made easier since Pakistan had become a key ally in the war on terror.

But Dr Khan now reneges on that ‘confession’ but hesitates to speak of the details of the accusations.

“I never indulged myself in such illegal activities,” says Dr Khan– claiming that he had simply taken the fall because of the national interest, and the fear that there would be a concerted effort to reverse Pakistan’s nuclear programme.  He recalls that Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and then the most influential politician around given his association with then military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, had “approached him personally” and “requested” him to do this to ensure the safety of the programme.

Regarding the safety of Pakistan’s arsenal, Dr Khan is even less reluctant to talk. “Since 2001, I don’t know anything about Pakistan’s nuclear programme… but I believe it’s in safe hands and going on well.”

The detachment in no way reflects in his surroundings.

The road leading up to Dr Khan’s home, located in a scenic area of the capital, at the foot of the Margallas, on Hill Road, is heavily barricaded. Entrants are checked and questioned, and heavily scrutinized. Though the area in front of his house is heavily forested, but still has barbed wire running through it towards the foot of the hills.

The entry into his actual house is through another located on the right of his bungalow, which contains metal detectors and a group of men on a table with unflinchingly watchful eyes.

Clearly, Dr Khan is no ordinary citizen or even just a national hero living a free retired life. The stifling restrictions in place around him are almost like confessions of guilt – on the part of both him and the state.

Despite the suffocating “security”, Dr Khan seems to try and live a normal life.

His house is more homely, almost to the extent of being apologetic for all the troubles borne by visitors outside. The heavy presence of Quranic ayaat on almost every wall of the house, and on all four of the room we sit in, are conspicuous. Dr Khan speaks of a more structured life now – a far cry from the limelight of over a decade ago – spent with his wife, and occasional dinners for his friends. The convert world of the weapons programme has now been replaced by a non-government organisation – Society for the Advancement of Community, Health, Education and Training (SACHET) Pakistan.

Meanwhile, while the father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme weighs his limited options, the nation ‘celebrates’ another Youm-e-Takbeer under the shadow of a crisis that remains unresolved 14 years down the line.

Dormant. But there.

(Read: Nuclear weapons and national security)

Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • fahim
    May 29, 2012 - 7:20AM

    father is under house arrest, internationally blacklisted and have ashamed the entire country by proliferating. Dont think there is anything to feel proud here.

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  • Indian
    May 29, 2012 - 8:12AM

    Dr Khan eventually appeared on state television in 2004 and ‘admitted’ that the proliferation ring did indeed exist, but was run by him and him alone.
    Yeah a nuclear racket that involved N.Korea, Iran and Libya handled by one man alone for the sake of his country’s security(!!!) which the intelligence and Army did not support!!!!!! Everyone knows that not a leaf moves in Pakistan without the establishment’s support..

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  • Nasir
    May 29, 2012 - 8:38AM

    Salute to this hero of Pakistan and many others unnamed…

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  • Zeta
    May 29, 2012 - 9:08AM

    Thanks to these nukes. There is nothing better deterrence than nukes.
    A nuke a day keep the enemies wherever they are at their bay

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  • zoro
    May 29, 2012 - 10:14AM

    After Pakistan conducted its Nuclear explosion ….which India compelled her to do by exploding her own …. The events after the explosion by pakistan which followed are there to see for people of Pakistan… They are the best judge as they are the people who are going thru what they have for last 30 years …
    Maybe in next 10 years they will have complete idea of what it was to explode a nuclear device … just for a tit for tat .. and I am sure they will definately compare India and Pakistan and not the countries who asked them to explode the device …

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  • Faesal
    May 29, 2012 - 10:52AM

    @fahim:
    AQ Khan was a made scapegoat. He has since denied it numerous times. He was pressurized to admit it infront of people

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  • vigilant
    May 29, 2012 - 1:56PM

    Heroes will remain Heroes….Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    May 29, 2012 - 4:26PM

    Love u forever may God bless u and Great Bhutto.

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  • apj
    May 29, 2012 - 7:42PM

    anyone who says that the army was clean in this entire proliferation scandal are fooling themselves. Dr. Khan wasn’t the only one(if he was even involved) nor could he be the lone one.

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  • BiBi Pakdaman.
    May 29, 2012 - 7:43PM

    one great man in the list of pakistani heros.

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  • sane
    May 29, 2012 - 8:07PM

    The man who gave nuke to pakistan otherwise pakistan would have been doomed. He got material from western nuke companies but made pak proud. Pakistan is only islamic nuke power beside Iran. He also traded well with china built first missile plant in pakistan with chinese coopeartion and also got additional missile technology from North korea. Today we see pak nuke missiles only because of AQ khan.

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  • expat
    May 29, 2012 - 10:09PM

    @those criticising Qadeer Khan
    What have you accomplished so spectacular that you can sit on a moral high horse and judge this man, without knowing the full details of what went on behind the scenes? This man gave up a lucrative career abroad to dedicate his life to strengthening his homeland and being able to match the nuclear capability of a hostile neighbour. If he was init for the money or had engaged in racketeering he would have stayed abroad in the first place, like most of us expat Pakistanis do.
    On one hand you condemn a man who has genuinely done something for the country and on the other you celebrate and jump to defend Shakil Afridi, who was a nefarious shady character from the start.

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  • Cautious
    May 29, 2012 - 10:47PM

    The stifling restrictions in place
    around him are almost like confessions
    of guilt – on the part of both him and
    the state.

    Worth repeating. I suspect that if Khan were ever to leave Pakistan the full truth would come out – probably as a result of a plea negotiation with the prosecutor to get a shorter jail sentence. Pakistan needs to find new hero’s – Khan and Aafia Siddiqui are not people you should be proud of.

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  • @plarkin
    May 29, 2012 - 11:20PM

    The test was a mistake. Pakistan was a known nuclear power. It should have remained undeclared like Israel. The Indians could have been shown nuclear capability under the table. This way Pakistan could have had the moral high-ground and also the Indians would know what was what.

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  • John B
    May 30, 2012 - 1:42AM

    May be PAK should celebrate this day by exploding one each year.

    While the pressure from the west not to explode was acknowledged by all in open forum, no one in Muslim countries actually came out and said who encouraged. PAK actually did it to get her footing restored in OIC but it did not yield the desired effect.

    The likely guy who might have cheered was killed by his own citizens. Since that day PAK is in trouble.

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  • Jibran
    May 30, 2012 - 3:50AM

    @Faesal:
    AQ Khan was a made scapegoat. He has since denied it numerous times. He was pressurized to admit it infront of people

    So by his own admission he has a low character. Socrates preferred to give his life than to compromise on his principles. And this self-righteous scientist of unparalleled accomplishments in the history of Islam as well as the entire mankind succumbed to the pressure. Yet he has the nerves to pass sermons against the ones who didn’t.

    Recommend

  • Cosmo
    May 30, 2012 - 6:16AM

    @BiBi Pakdaman.:
    Why are all famous Pakistani Heros so infamous outside? e.g., AQ Khan, Jinnah, Mushy, Osama, 911 culprits, hafiz saeed, etc.

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  • Thoughtful
    May 30, 2012 - 8:09AM

    Amazing circular denials. The govt says the nuclear bazaar was a private enterprise run by the good doctor. The doctor confesses then says it was a false confession for the national good. So the truth is? No one wants to acknledge publicly that the state ran this bazaar.

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  • Jibran
    May 30, 2012 - 9:18AM

    @expat:
    His career abroad was not very lucrative. He was merely a scientist. However, after returning to Pakistan he got much more, un-audited funds to embezzle with, a network of nuclear proliferation with billions of dollars in illegal trade. A scientist can’t make that much in centuries.

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