STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

We live in the moment as a nation. Be it a national debacle like the loss of East Pakistan, or a glorious event like Pakistan becoming an atomic power. We grieve or rejoice the moment, and then discard it to the dust bin. Few people question this onset of amnesia. Which raises another question; have we even gelled as a nation? Are we just a collection of ethnic, linguistic or baradari-based crowd living together?

A Nation is anchored in its history, its common purpose and above all by its heroes. Heroes are honored during their lifetimes and memorialized when they pass away. Landmark monuments are created as a reminder of their achievements. I was intrigued by a series on Hassan Nisar’s YouTube “Qabr Kahani.” A team of reporters visited the graves of some shining stars like Waheed Murad and others. They were run down and neglected.

A “gorkun,” folks who dig graves and bury, made a comment that shook me. He said after burial we only consider a person dead once he or she stops getting visitors. That is the cruel truth. But that needs to change for those who served the nation proud in their own fields. It a lament for anchors and writers who have failed to highlight nation building; instead they waste time on meaningless “current events”. In my travels around Europe and North America I have visited sites dedicated to their heroes and icons and seen the pride they take in them.
Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan was once questioned why he built a monument for Shahab-uddin Ghauri? He responded if Ranjeet Singh can be honored as a hero, why not celebrate the Muslim conqueror who laid the base for Muslim rule lasting centuries?

Dr. A Q Khan was undeniably a national hero. He created a national defense which is impregnable against belligerence by the enemy. He guided Pakistan to be the only Muslim nuclear power. It is a deterrent and not an offensive weapon. Since 1971, India has attempted to dismantle us on more than one occasion. It was the threat of atomic retaliation that kept them away.

I have had the pleasure of meeting him twice. First accompanying Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad in the late nineties, and second at the residence of my friend Dr. Mujahid Kamran when he was the Vice Chancellor of Punjab University. Dr. A Q Khan was a welcoming host and a humble guest. Each time he came across as an unpretentious, polite person and a straight shooter. He was a fervent Pakistani full of patriotic sentiments willing to sacrifice everything for the nation.

Did we value him for his achievements? He had many detractors, especially those hell bent to derail his efforts to develop a nuclear device for Pakistan. His nuclear journey reads like a thriller. Born in Bhopal in 1936, his father was a school headmaster. His family stayed back in India and eventually moved to Karachi in 1952. His exposure in younger days helped him understand the mentality of the Hindus.

He firmly believed that only an impenetrable defense would save us from a hostile neighbor’s ambitions of dismembering Pakistan after 1971. After graduation in Karachi he moved to Berlin, Germany, where he married his lifelong companion. From there he moved onto Holland to earn his PHD in Metallurgy in 1972 and joined a uranium enrichment facility. Like most Pakistanis he was smarting from the severance of East Wing. He took a deep dive into the technology associated with developing a nuclear device invoking the ire of Dutch and US authorities. He wrote to Bhutto in 1974 and offered to build a nuclear deterrence to India’s aggressive Atomic program. With Dutch hot on his heels, he moved to Pakistan at the end of 1975 with a blueprint and contacts of suppliers.
What went on after that would be a material for a spy novel. Under the omnipresent eyes of the top spymaster, Pakistan was able to assemble all the materials and components of a nuclear device. It was made public by Dr. A Q Khan in an interview with Kuldip Nayyer in 1986 to prevent an attack on Pakistan. The eventual blast under Nawaz Sharif was a confirmation of what already existed.

He bartered nuclear technology with North Korea to obtain missile technology. He was termed as the most dangerous person by the West. Rightly so, he had hoodwinked global intelligence agencies. That is when the downhill journey started. He was blamed for transferring nuclear technology to Iran and offering the same to Libya under Gaddafi. Gaddafi squealed to win favor with the West. It did not prolong his rule but opened a floodgate of accusations against A Q Khan.

It could not have happened without the blessings of the Establishment. Nuclear materials are not a matchbox you carry in your pocket. But A Q Khan was made the fall guy. He was coerced to confess. Dr. Khan was a bitter man in his last decade feeling a strong sense of betrayal. The crowds in his janaza conveyed the common man’s sentiment. We need to stand up as a nation to celebrate his contributions and give him the highest respect as a benefactor of the Motherland. May he rest in peace in Jannah and may we learn to respect our heroes.

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