Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan’s Speech delivered on March 20, 1999, at PINSTECH Auditorium, Chaghi Medal Award Ceremony
In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful:
Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, chairman of PAEC, Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, Member (Technical), Dr. Hanif, chairman of Pakistan Nuclear Society, my old colleagues; I am grateful to the Pakistan Nuclear Society for inviting me as a chief guest, since the President couldn’t come for unavoidable reasons, and I am just a poor substitute. I am particularly happy to be back here in this hall, after eight years; it is like old times.
I feel as if I never left this place, it is a great pleasure and honor for me to be among you once again. I have been asked to compress the 30 year history of our nuclear endeavor, it is a very difficult task, but you know, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission is always assigned difficult tasks. I will try to do my best but let me tell you right from the beginning that because of lack of time, it will not be possible for me to acknowledge all the individuals by name.
They have been awarded, all of them, by Gold Medals by the Pakistan Nuclear Society, and I wish to congratulate them all for their achievements. I wish to acknowledge the contributions of all those within Pakistan and abroad, with us today or not, who made this great achievement of nuclear capability possible. I notice that some of those who are present today are some of the key players who were perhaps inadvertently omitted by our authorities when being given governmental awards, but I assure them that history will remember them with gratitude, long after the others are forgotten.
You know the road to Chaghi was not built in one day, nor by one man or by one government. This struggle spread over many years. To achieve nuclear capability, a country needs a number of things. First, we need the vision to foresee what needs to be done, the political will and decision making by the authorities. This is the very first step.
Then we need a clear-cut nuclear plan for the acquisition and development, indigenous development of necessary technologies. Then we need the resources and other back up from the government; then we have to build institutions and manage men to be at their best. And all this has to be done within a framework of a nuclear policy.
We started our program ten years later than India. India started soon after 1947 and we began our program a decade later. But we took another 14 years to commit our selves to acquiring nuclear capability. This put us nearly quarter of a century behind India in certain respects. While we got our research reactor, the 5 MW research reactor, and started building Kanupp and training valuable men for our program, India had a weapons focused program for acquiring nuclear weapons right from the beginning.
After the 1965 war, our vulnerability increased. Now I’ll take you to an important event soon after that war. In October 1965, Pakistan’s foreign minister, a young man at that time, I call him a young man because he was two years younger than I was, Mr. Bhutto visited Vienna, where I was working at the IAEA, and I briefed him about what I knew of India’s nuclear program and the facilities that I had seen myself during a visit to Trombay in 1964, consisting of a plutonium production reactor, a reprocessing plant, and all the associated facilities, which added up to one thing, bomb making capability. I told him that a nuclear India would further undermine and threaten our security, and for our survival, we needed a nuclear deterrent.
He asked me if I had told the same to President Ayub Khan. I said “No, I have never met him”. He arranged a meeting with President Ayub Khan and told me that the President would like to see me on December 11, 1965 at the Dorchester Hotel, where I had the privilege of meeting the Field Marshal for the first time. I briefed him on all that I knew and I told him that there were no restrictions on nuclear technology, it was freely available, India was soaking it up, so was Israel.
The cost estimates at that time, because things were less expensive, were not more than 150 million dollars. I must say Ayub Khan listened to me very patiently, but at the end he said that Pakistan was too poor to spend that much money. Moreover, if we ever need the bomb, we will buy it off the shelf. Subsequent attempts to persuade him by Salam and Usmani and others, persuade him and his advisors, and even his successor, General Yahya Khan, failed completely. Things were assigned to committees after committees. We lost several long years and many windows of opportunity.
In 1972, as many of you remember, 20 Jan 1972, we had the famous Multan Conference. Its proceedings many of you remember, but they are all a matter of history now. Things had changed! Everyone there, to my recollection, supported the acquisition of nuclear capability. At the end of that meeting, to my utter surprise, because I was an international civil servant at that time, President Bhutto asked me to take over as chairman of PAEC, and I had the privilege over the next 19 years, to serve several Presidents, several Prime Ministers; but even more important I think, I had the privilege of working with hundreds of dedicated scientists, engineers and technicians, to whom I owe a lot. I sincerely believe that it is they who have done the job and the country owes them great gratitude.
Within two months of that event, we submitted a detailed nuclear plan to the President, which envisaged complete control of the nuclear fuel cycle, and building numerous plants and facilities for the generation and application of nuclear know-how, and more important than that, the plan was approved within two hours.
I remember, the President turned to the Finance Minister Mubashir Hasan, and said, “I hereby abolish all the several committees dealing with Atomic Energy in various Ministries. You give him the money as he puts in a request”. And we, the PAEC, were supposed to report directly to the Chief Executive.
If that thing had not happened, you would have been under a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Industry or Science and Technology. So there were immediate measures taken to give us the freedom we needed to act and the access we needed to the decision-makers in Pakistan.
Right from the beginning, we had to worry about manpower. I am so glad, there are so many here, but at that time, in July 1972, there were only 283 scientists, engineers, geologists, doctors, and everything included was not more than 283 because nearly half of the manpower was lost due to the creation of Bangladesh.
So manpower development had to have the highest priority and we assigned it to CNS, to KNPTC and other institutions. Today I have learnt that CNS has been renamed as PIEAS and is becoming a University. I am sure that one day, it will emerge as the MIT of Pakistan.
Of course, PINSTECH was there; it was conceived by Salam and Usmani. It is one of the most beautiful buildings, as far as any research centre is concerned, but we had to feed this facility with equipment, with manpower and with a program. Within a few years, PINSTECH became, and is still, the leading nuclear centre in the entire Muslim world.
Today I want to pay tribute to all the scientists of PINSTECH, and particularly, the past and the present Directors and Directors-General of PINSTECH who have elevated this centre to this great height. I am confident that PINSTECH will provide the future scientific leadership for Pakistan.
Now, 1970’s was a difficult period for us. Our difficulties multiplied soon after the Indian explosion of 1974. You’ll remember that India got all its technology and facilities without safeguards, and mostly as a gift in the 1960s, when we were sleeping, the governments were sleeping, the scientists were not sleeping, and now we were faced with embargoes.
People said that while India has gone nuclear, we must stop Pakistan, and all those restrictions were placed on us, which I need not recount. But one thing I’d like to mention, in December 1976, Canada of all countries, cut off all aid to Pakistan, including supply of fuel, heavy water, and spare parts for KANUPP, and they said, the reactor would close down in six months.
But we had to keep KANUPP going because it was the flag ship of our entire nuclear program at that time. Within two years, with the help of our scientists and engineers at PAEC, we made the first fuel element for KANUPP. The men who made it are here today.
Since I am not naming people, I will resist the temptation of pointing out who gave me that fuel element at Chashma. I presented it to the President of Pakistan two years after Canada cut of supplies, which is, I think, a significant achievement for any developing country.
Today KANUPP has produced, and this is a published figure, nearly 10 billion KWhrs of electricity and has been fuelled by thousands and thousands of Pakistani made fuel bundles without any failure. I must mention that the first oxide of that fuel bundle was made at PINSTECH.
But we learnt a lot from the operation of KANUPP. On the basis of that knowledge, we broadened our program, and started building a heavy water plant, a 40 MW plutonium production reactor, and other plants for making tubes of different types, zirconium tubes, and other manufacturing facilities, which have contributed to the Chashma power reactor.
I congratulate all those who made that possible. Our first task was to find uranium in Pakistan and master the technology for mining and refining of uranium and making it into pure oxide gas and metal and produce other nuclear minerals, which we needed. As you known, uranium metal was the first metal produced in Pakistan from indigenous ore.
We had not at that time made even a ton a copper, or ton of steel, but we were able to produce, thanks to the efforts of PAEC scientists and engineers, a ton of uranium metal back in the 1970s. In DG Khan, we built a Complex, which perhaps is small by international standards, but is unique in the world, because it receives ore and sand and rocks, and ships out pure finished products of uranium, zirconium and other materials I don’t want to name at this point. Like PINSTECH, it is also the pride of Pakistan.
Now while we were building capabilities in the nuclear fuel cycle, we started in parallel the design of a nuclear device, with its trigger mechanism, physics calculations, production of metal, making precision mechanical components, high-speed electronics, diagnostics, and testing facilities. For each one of them, we established different laboratories.
In 1980, as Dr. Samar Mubarakmand has mentioned, we completed the tunnels at Chaghi. We didn’t have the device ready, we didn’t have the material for the device, but we were working on parallel processing, we said, let us list all the things we have to do, and we keep doing them, so that we don’t do them in series, we do them in parallel.
On March 11, 1983, we successfully conducted our first cold test of a working nuclear device. Dr Ishfaq, Dr Samar Mubarakmand, and many others were there. I remember that the Chairman of the Senate, Ghulam Ishaq Khan wanted to be present, but just like today, bad weather intervened and he could not reach there.
That evening, I went to General Zia with the news that Pakistan was now ready to make a nuclear device. The team that conducted that test was basically the same that carried out the Chaghi test last year. I also want to put this on record that we conducted this cold test long before the material was available for the real test. We were ahead of “others”.
Now Chaghi is a great achievement, as Dr Samar has said, not only for Pakistan, but for the entire Muslim world. But it is not the end, it is not the final destination, it is a milestone towards a distant destination. We have yet to achieve greater heights, scale higher mountains than Chaghi hills, discover new frontiers and expand our horizon.
There is a long and exciting journey ahead. For this, we need institutions, not just individuals. We have built PAEC into such an institution, because men may come and men may go, but PAEC will go on forever. All this has been possible because we worked as a team, hundreds of scientists, engineers, technicians, and administrators, and security people, who together have contributed to our success at Chaghi. We are here to pay a tribute to all of them. They are all our silent heroes.
Mixing science with politics is very, very dangerous. This will contaminate our politics which is not so clean, with radioactivity, and it will destroy our science, which is very fragile. Let the scientists remain scientists and let the politicians remain politicians and don’t let the two meet. I am glad that today we have awarded medals, but not “crowned” people because medals are enough. In fact I would have been happy with a piece of paper rather than a gold medal, because that is what matters.
I personally feel very thankful to the Almighty who gave all of us this success. We are grateful to all the governments in difficult times, and all the Presidents and Prime Ministers who have consistently and sincerely supported this program and given us the trust and confidence to do our job. Without all this, the task could not have been accomplished. Above all, we must thank the people of Pakistan; they have made sacrifices to finance this program paid the price of hardships which they are suffering today in terms of cut off of economic and other aid.
I mentioned to you the genius of Pakistan. Without a policy, things do not work, and no country can go nuclear without having some kind of framework in which to operate. We had to develop a political strategy to launch our program without arousing great deal of suspicion and opposition at the international level, because no body in the world wanted to see Pakistan go nuclear. But we had no choice. I can tell you today that it is not only the western countries; we were wronged by some of the countries who we regard as our friends. It is not because the people in those countries oppose this program, but the government’s felt, the rulers felt that Pakistan would become too strong.
There was yet another problem. Now we sincerely wanted and still want a nuclear free world and particularly a nuclear free South Asia because we cannot bear the burden of having a large nuclear arsenal, nor can India. But we are realistic, because we have never said that we want to compete with China, we want to compete with some body else. We just wanted to neutralize India’s nuclear edge.
In 1972, at the opening of KANUPP, we made a policy statement, that Pakistan wanted a nuclear free zone in South Asia so that the resources in the Sub-continent could be focused on solving the problems of poverty and deprivation of one billion people in this region of the world. But India did not listen to us. Now that we have responded to India’s nuclear challenge, we hope that they will listen to us now.
As I said before, we have to look beyond Chaghi and prepare ourselves, for facing the challenges of the twenty-first century. This needs a new vision, a new determination, and a strong leadership at the national level. I am confident that in the PAEC we have this vision, and in the scientists and engineers, both young and old will be ready to respond to any call from the nation. Mention has been made by Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad and Dr. Samar that now we have to concentrate on socio-economic development.
I fully agree with them. I think the challenge for the twenty- first century for Pakistan is not only survival militarily but survival economically. We must learn a lesson from what happened to the ex Soviet Union, with all their nuclear weapons, because nuclear weapons are no substitute for economic development and feeding the people and we must remember that.
We should direct our know-how, our capability towards accelerating the technological, industrial and economic development of Pakistan. I think in PINSTECH, we have the most valuable collection of technical manpower in Pakistan. This manpower can do more and I hope we will devise a strategy to use this manpower to do our bit towards the prosperity of Pakistan. Some of the ideas, which are being floated, seem to be very attractive. We should develop more technical manpower of high quality, and we have to spread the culture of quality control, develop new software, we have to use our know how in laser technology, electronics, in biotechnology and genetic engineering, and man other fields. So there are great challenges ahead of us.
I am sure that PAEC will live up to these challenges. In the end, I want to congratulate all those of my colleagues and friends who have been justly honored today and I thank the Pakistan Nuclear Society for inviting me to speak this morning. Thank you.