The damning truth exposed by a former director general nuclear power, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, in his article “The whole truth — nuclear Pakistan” (September 4), published in The News, must have been astonishing for the general public. It should be an eye-opener for all of us, especially the vibrant media, which never tires of glorifying AQ Khan as an eminent nuclear supremo.
AQ Khan built the facade of his invincibility by condemning all the superb accomplishments of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) — achieved over 20 years of dedication, by real nuclear, chemical, metallurgical and mining scientists — and by brazenly denigrating the real but humble hero, Munir Ahmed Khan. For those in the know, Munir will always be the indisputable father of the nuclear embryo and its development into the final product UF-6, without which a thousand centrifuges are as useless as a cooking pot without any feedstock. All this had been achieved before AQ Khan entered the fray in 1976. The scores of exceptional scientists on Munir’s team were responsible for mining 10,000 tonnes of uranium, which was put through yellow cake to liquification and gasification to be fed into the centrifuges for eventual separation of U-235-from U-238 and solidification to produce weapon-grade uranium. All of this was achieved at the PAEC, under Munir’s watch.
AQ Khan had the part of the centrifuge to separate the elements and that was sent back to the PAEC for processing to create the final product, i.e., weapon-grade uranium. However, even that was just the first phase of what was to become a nuclear weapon capable of reaching its target and being delivered with accuracy for desired results. This was the cardinal phase, whereby a nuclear triggering mechanism had to be created and the weapon integration in the weapon attack system had to be carried by the best and fastest fighter aircraft, an F-16 in this case.
This aircraft could evade the enemy air defence and deliver the weapon accurately. Pakistan did not have missile technology then. The consummate professional who engaged in this indispensable phase was Hafeez Qureshi, the head of the Directorate of Technical Development (DTD). Later, a Pakistan Air Force engineering element was added to the project. The cold drop by a Mirage at the Lalian Range was a near direct hit by one of my former junior colleagues. AQ Khan had no part in this entire development at the DTD.
The public and AQ Khan’s admirers should know that firstly, he was just a copper metallurgist employed in Holland by Urenco and assigned to a less sensitive section, which was not directly involved in development of centrifuges. His first assignment in Pakistan was as an assistant to the project director. The process from mining to yellow cake stage to liquifying to gaseous and final solid metal weapon-grade uranium was the labour of love of hundreds of scientists. AQ Khan, indeed, had his role in equal measure as did each one of the team to have reverse engineered the centrifuge. Little known, though, is the fact that the protocol type centrifuges had already been made in the Chaklala barracks before AQ Khan joined in 1976. The design he brought was incomplete and intense research was carried out under GD Alam, along with Anwar Ali, Ejaz Khokhar, Javed Mirza and others. It is time that the combined effort of scores of heroic Pakistani scientists and engineers who chose to remain anonymous, is recognised.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2012.