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 political power.
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 Khan.
Bhutto has been associated with the nuclear programme from 1958 as minister to 1979
when he was sent to the gallows.
"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 civil works.
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, civilian government.
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 were progressing.
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)