on Nuclear Pakistan
By Farhatullah Babar
Bhutto's twenty-seventh death
anniversary falls at a time when the United States
has signed a nuclear deal with India that former
President Jimmy Carter has described as 'dangerous'
on the one hand and the United Nations Security
Council has given Iran only 30 days to halt uranium
enrichment on the other. As the region is poised
for strategic nuclear imbalance and Iran is accused
of building atomic weapons, thoughts naturally go
to the foot prints of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on the
country's nuclear program.
Bhutto was the real architect of Pakistan's nuclear
program. In this respect his role may be likened
to that of Nehru in India. Idealist Nehru was driven
by a dream; to wipe off centuries of past humiliation
and had grasped the significance of atomic energy
for this purpose. Soon after independence he set
up the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, placed it
under his charge and presided over its first meeting
that was convened within a week of independence.
Bhutto also had a dream and understood the role
of atomic energy but could translate his dream into
reality only after 1970 when he had acquired real
But even before that and as Minister of Minerals
and Natural Resources, Bhutto laid the foundation
stone of PINSTECH in Islamabad in 1963. The plaque
was removed during his political winter after 1967.
Much later it was recovered from junk in the basement
of the building and reinstalled in 1985, as it was
impossible to erase his memory.
As a minister Bhutto also tried to persuade President
General Ayub Khan to acquire advanced nuclear technologies.
In December 1965 Ayub was on an official visit to
the UK. Bhutto planned a meeting of some nuclear
experts with him and persuaded Ayub Khan to meet
late Munir Ahmed Khan former Chairman of the PAEC
who at the time was working in the IAEA.
Late Munir Khan had recalled that when he was told
that these technologies could eventually place in
the hands of Pakistan a nuclear option, the General
simply smiled and said that if needed, Pakistan
could get it from China.
Munir Khan had also recalled that Bhutto was pacing
up and down in the lobby waiting as he was meeting
Ayub. When Munir came out Bhutto asked him what
had happened. "The President did not agree"
Munir told him. "Do not worry -- our turn will
come", Bhutto had said, according to Munir
Bhutto has been associated with the nuclear programme
from 1958 as minister to 1979 when he was sent to
"When I took charge of Pakistan's Atomic Energy
Commission, it was no more than a sign board of
an office. It was only in name. Assiduously and
with granite determination, I put my entire vitality
behind the task of acquiring nuclear capability
for my country", recalls Bhutto in his book
If I am Assassinated.
Bhutto commissioned Edward Stone for designing PINSTECH
the foundation stone of which was also laid by him.
He negotiated the agreement for the 5-WM research
reactor at PINSTECH. Bhutto himself has recalled
that in the face of stiff opposition from Finance
Minister Shoaib and the Deputy Chairman Planning
Commission he negotiated with success the 137 MM
KANUPP plant from Canada and performed its opening
ceremony on November 28, 1972. In 1976 he approved
the setting up of the Chashma nuclear power plant
and also negotiated and concluded the nuclear reprocessing
plant agreement with France.
Bhutto approved the construction of a research laboratory
for uranium enrichment near Chaklala airport. And
when the PAEC selected the Kahuta site for the uranium
enrichment plant in early 1976, Bhutto promptly
approved it and ordered immediate construction of
In August 1976, former Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger met Bhutto at Governor House Lahore to
dissuade him from the reprocessing plant deal with
France. Kissinger said that it was offensive to
US intelligence when Bhutto insisted that Pakistan
needed the reprocessing plant for its energy needs;
but Bhutto demanded that the US should also not
insist that Pakistan give up the reprocessing plant.
After Bhutto's ouster, no one heard of the reprocessing
plant until General Zia disclosed in a press conference
in Rawalpindi on August 23,1978 that he had received
a "very polite" letter from the French
President suggesting modification in the reprocessing
plant contract. As a matter of fact, France had
refused to follow with the military government the
agreement it had concluded with a constitutional,
Bhutto pursued the nuclear program even from jail.
An indelibly larger than life footprint of his is
the letter addressed by him from the death cell
to the French President. The letter was released
by the French President's office after Bhutto's
execution. While in jail he also sent several messages
to late Munir Khan enquiring about how various projects
Late Munir Khan confided to the present writer who
was then working in the PAEC some of these messages.
In one such message Bhutto suggested that the reprocessing
plant be completed through indigenous efforts even
if the French refused. He expressed his determination
to step up the project once he came out of jail.
I hope Thera Khan, Munir Khan's caring and assiduous
wife, has preserved the private letters.
After India's nuclear explosion, Germany reneged
on its contract for a heavy water plant and Canada
stopped supply of fuel heavy water and spare parts
for KANUPP. Bhutto asked the commission to continue
with its program through indigenous efforts and
instructed the finance ministry to make available
all monies asked for. He abolished the inter-ministerial
committee dealing with atomic energy and took direct
charge of the program.
In his book The Myth of Independence, he said in
1969 "If Pakistan restricts or suspends her
nuclear program, it would not only enable India
to blackmail Pakistan with her nuclear advantage,
but would impose a crippling limitation on the development
of Pakistan's science and technology… our
problem in its essence, is how to obtain such a
weapon in time before the crisis begins." No
one individual in Pakistan has left such huge footprints
on the country's nuclear program as Zulfiqar Ali
Bhutto. But as one watches the foot prints with
awe there is a nagging question: does the shame
of the nuclear black-market that our unrepresentative
rulers have presided over, lie at the root of denying
Pakistan strategic nuclear parity in the region,
and thereby turning sour Bhutto's dream?
I do not know; I really do not want to know.
(The writer is a former senator. Courtesy The News)