Remembering an Unsung Hero

The heroes of nuclear Pakistan pay homage & tribute to Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan  

PakDef Note: An event was held on 29th April 2005 in Islamabad to pay homage and tribute to Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan. PakDef member Mr. A. Mansoor was there to cover the event and filed the following report.

Just returned (29th April, 2005, Islamabad) from a reference in memory of the architect of Nuclear Pakistan and former PAEC Chairman, Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan. It was attended by Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, N.I., H.I., S.I., Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Strategic Programmes, Dr. Samar Muabarikmand, N.I., H.I., Chairman NESCOM, Mr. Pervez Butt, H.I.,S.I., PAEC Chairman, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, S.I, Dr. Inam-ur-Rahman, S.I. Professor Emeritus , PINSTECH, Dr. N.M. Butt Professor Emeritus P.A.E.C , Dr Abdul Majid Chaudhry, ex- Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar and
ex-Foreign Secy Niaz A Naik, Senator Farhatullah Babar and Member Biosciences PAEC and other old friends and colleagues of Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan.

Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad was the Chief Guest. The salient feature of this reference was that the three most important nuclear scientists of Pakistan namely, Dr. Ishfaq, Dr. Samar and Mr. Pervez Butt, along with many other retired and serving scientists and engineers attended the event to pay tribute to the unsung hero of nuclear Pakistan.

Dr. Inam-ur-Rahman from the Centre for Nuclear Studies, now PIEAS, which Munir Khan established in 1975, was the first speaker. He showed slides and rare photos of Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan and pointed out that CNS produced over 5000 nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians and provided the trained manpower which proved to be the backbone of the nuclear programme. This was one of Munir Khan’s most important contributions to nuclear Pakistan. Inam also pointed out that Dr. I.H.Usmani had at the Multan Conference of 1972 asked PM Bhutto not to divert the peaceful programme to nuclear weapons and that is why he was replaced by the 48 year old nuclear engineer, Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan.

After Dr. Inam-ur-Rahman, Dr. N.M.Butt spoke on his reflections of Munir Khan and told the audience that Munir was a skilled and outstanding negotiator who knew how to present and fight for Pakistan’s case at forums like the IAEA and when dealing with the American and European nuclear experts and negotiators on nuclear issues in South Asia. N.M.Butt called Munir an Unsung Hero who rightfully deserves the highest civil award, the Nishan-i-Imtiaz.

He was followed by Senator Farhatullah Babar who called Munir Ahmad Khan “The Nuclear Sage of Pakistan” and said that the recent events have vindicated Munir Khan. He especially spoke of the winning combination of Prime Minister Bhutto and Munir Khan which he compared to the winning combination of Indian Prime Minister Nehru and Homi Bhabha of India. Babar said that Munir Khan was fortunate in some ways and unfortunate in other. He said that Munir was fortunate that he was chosen by the political leadership, namely Bhutto, to start and head the nuclear weapons
programme at the Multan Conference of senior scientists of 1972, and he enjoyed full support of Bhutto and all successive governments. It was this winning combination of Bhutto and Munir that put Pakistan on the nuclear map. Babar said that Munir was unfortunate in the sense that he remained unsung throughout his lifetime. This was the result of the very low profile that he deliberately kept in order to prevent any politicising of the programme and preventing unwanted negative attention. It was his conscious decision in which he sacrificed his own interest by remaning very low profile, and was a measure of his immense patriotism. He refrained from advertising the PAEC’s achivements, which allowed others (AQK) to hijack the whole credit from Munir Khan.

Senator Babar also recalled that on the day India exploded its nuclear device in 1974, Munir Khan was in Peshawar where he had laid the foundation of a nuclear agricultural centre and he had planned a press conference in the evening. When he heard that the Indians had exploded the bomb, he immediately cancelled the press conference and went back to Islamabad. When Babar asked him why he cancelled the press conference, Munir Khan said that you should not expect me to talk about potatoes and onions when the Indians are exploding a nuclear device close to our border. When he returned to Islamabad, Munir Ahmad Khan wrote a detailed paper titled” India’s nuclear explosion: Challenge and Response”. Babar said that although it has been six years since Munir Khan’s death, yet he is alive in the hearts of many who know the truth about nuclear Pakistan, and although he has been succeeded in his role as Chairman PAEC, but he can never be replaced, for he is simply irreplaceable. Senator Babar had served in the PAEC in the 1970s and remained closely associated with Munir Khan for many years.

Senator Babar was followed by former Foreign Secretary Niaz A. Naik who spoke about Munir Ahmad Khan’s skills as a negotiator and how Munir Khan was remained associated with nuclear safety issues in South Asia and how Munir was active in the Shanghai 5 Initiative and other forums where he managed to attract many nuclear experts and opinion makers and defended Pakistan’s case with great skill. Naik said that Mr. Munir Ahmed Khan was the first to warn the world about the impending testing of nuclear device by India.

He recalled that the American scientists and UN officials some 10 years later admitted that had they heeded Dr Munir’s warning, the world would have been a different place today.

Former Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar said that the Multan Conference of 1972 was a truly historic and momentous event in the history of Pakistan when Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan was entrusted with the task of developing a nuclear weapons programme, which he successfully did. Sattar said that every man is blessed with some potential and Munir Khan spent a splendid life and was a man of great potential which he utilized for fulfilling his aims and dreams of making Pakistan a nuclear power and acquiring nuclear technology, not only in the field of weapons, but in nuclear power and nuclear agriculture, medicine and industry. Sattar said that when France backed out of the plutonium-reprocessing contract in 1978, Munir took up the challenge and went on to complete the PAEC’s projects indigenously. Munir Khan was a great visionary who focused on acquiring nuclear technology by whatever means Pakistan could at that time. Sattar said that Munir was a man of great vision whose policies and approach of leading the nuclear programme has proven to be a great success. Sattar said that when he was Director-General, South Asia, in the Foreign Office, he was sent to Geneva, much to his surprise, as Bhutto had written Geneva in front of Sattar’s name with an arrow pointing to Geneva in front of his name. Later he found out that it was Munir Khan who asked Bhutto to place a capable diplomat in Geneva and then Sattar said that he learnt what the “nuclear fuel cycle” was.

Former foreign minister Abdul Sattar further said the death of Munir Khan was an “irreparable loss” to the country, adding that Munir Khan was among the very few of the visionary persons who had conceived nuclear option for Pakistan as a must for survival a long time ago.

Dr. Abdullah Kausar Malik, Member Biosciences PAEC spoke about Munir’s passion for developing nuclear technology in the fields of agriculture, genetic engineering and nuclear medicine. He said that Munir would himself visit saline land and sites where nuclear agricultural centres and nuclear medical centres could be set up, which he did set-up in his 19 yearrs as PAEC Chairman which are in excess of two dozen in Pakistan.

He was followed by Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood who was the pioneer of the Project-706 (Kahuta Enrichment Project) and served as Project Director for KRL directly under Munir Ahmad Khan. Bashiruddin said that” Munir Ahmad Khan is a great man and a great hero and heroes never die. History will sing the praise of Munir Ahmad Khan, more with each passing year, and the imposters have been exposed and they will explode!”

Bashiruddin also told the audience that Bhutto signed the proposal of the Kahuta Enrichment Project when Munir Khan put it to him for his signature without even reading it, emphasizing that Bhutto had complete trust in the capabilities of Munir Ahmad Khan.

Bashiruddin said that he knew Munir for over 2 decades and was the last person to meet Munir in Pakistan before Munir left for Vienna in March 1999 for a heart surgery from which he would not return alive. On March 20, 1999, Munir Khan was the Chief Guest at PINSTECH to honor the heroes of nuclear Pakistan and Bashiruddin was the last person from the PAEC to whom Munir spoke that day. Bashiruddin said that he used to report to Munir Khan on the progress on the Kahuta Enrichment Project each day in the attic of Munir’s home in Islamabad, and further said that Munir would always surprise him by his ideas and vision on how to tackle different aspects of the Enrichment Project. Bashiruddin Mahmood also spoke of Munir Khan’s Khushab Plutonium project (KCP-I), heavy water and nuclear fuel cycle development projects, which were all initiated and developed during Munir Khan’s 19 years Chairman ship of PAEC.
Bashiruddin said that Munir never claimed credit for anything himself but always gave credit to his team at PAEC and was a source of immense encouragement and motivation for the scientists and engineers working on different projects. Munir used to assign credit and praise to each individual for his contributions in different fields. Bashiruddin said that once he said to Munir ” No Sir, we have not done it, it is you who has done it, because we are simply acting under your guidance and your vision and executing your vision and ideas”. Bashiruddin said that Munir would work in great secrecy and never advertised his achievements.

Bashiruddin further said that when books started appearing in the press (by AQKhan’s paid propaganda writers) against Munir, his colleagues at PAEC asked him to respond, but Munir said “No. I will not respond, because that is exactly what they want me to do”.

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Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood (top-left), Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad (2nd-left), Dr. Samar Mubarikmand (3rd-left), N.I., H.I., Chairman NESCOM and  Mr. Pervez Butt (bottom-left), H.I., S.I, Chairman PAEC addressing the audience.
[Pictures Copyright: Mansoor Ahmed]

Bashiruddin also proposed that a “Munir Ahmad Khan Foundation for the promotion of Science and Technology in Pakistan” be established, and said that let it be called the MAK Foundation, we like the word MAK for it, and said that the promotion of science and technology was always Munir’s dream and that is what he worked for all his life. At the end of his speech Bashiruddin said “Munir Ahmad Khan Zindabad” as heroes never die.

Bashiruddin was followed by Mr. Pervez Butt, H.I., S.I. Chairman Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Mr. Butt said that Munir was a man of such humility that he never put his name on any building, facility or laboratory whose foundations were laid by Munir, which include facilities of almost the entire nuclear weapons programme. Mr. Butt said that today, where ever there is PAEC infrastructure, facilities, laboratories, they all speak of Munir Ahmad Khan and each building speaks of his greatness and his contributions to the nuclear programme. Pervez Butt said at the end of his speech “Munir Ahmad Khan Zindabad, Pakistan Paindabad”.

Mr. Pervez Butt was followed by Dr. Samar Mubarikmand, N.I., H.I., Chairman NESCOM who had served under Munir Ahmad Khan for 19 years. Samar said that he had become very emotional listening to the speeches before him, and he said that although many speakers before him have spoken about Munir Khan, yet justice has not been done to Munir Ahmad Khan. Dr. Samar said that “Munir was such a great man whose greatness is
beyond our imagination and Munir’s vision and his accomplishments can be seen from Chaghi to Karachi (KANUPP), from north to south and all over Pakistan. He was our leader, who motivated us, gave us vision, encouragement, in critical times for Pakistan”. Samar said that “Munir would take personal effort in directly managing and encouraging the nuclear scientists and engineers working on the programme, and despite the fact that many were half his age, yet there Munir never allowed them to feel this and was a perfect manager of people working on the nuclear programme, whether on the nuclear weapons development side, or the nuclear fuel cycle development side, or nuclear power or nuclear agriculture, genetic engineering or nuclear medicine or training the manpower and he was a great manager of all areas of the nuclear programme”. 

Dr. Samar Mubarikmand said that “someone should listen” and give the highest civil award, the Nishan-i-Imtiaz, to Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan which he rightfully deserves.

Samar also spoke of the humane side of Munir Khan. He cited one occasion when Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan came to Samar’s home, which he described as small at that time, unannounced, in order to make an important phone call, yet it was his way of getting to know his team, and giving them encouragement. Samar said that he was very surprised to find the Chairman of the PAEC standing in his lounge when he (Samar) was only a director working under him in some project. He said that whatever we are
today, it is because of Munir Ahmad Khan. Samar also told that when one of the scientists died young who had left behind small kids and a widow, Munir personally ensured that their welfare was taken care of and got the widow a job and a house for them to live in. 

Samar also said that “we were all very young and inexperienced at that time, and Munir guided us, gave us confidence through tough times, inspired us, coordinated our efforts and enabled us to achieve the objectives through his constant support and vision, which we followed like loyal followers.It was Munir who showed us the way when we were young and became an excellent manager of people working on the nuclear programme”.

Samar also said that Munir Khan believed in utmost responsibility in all matters nuclear, and refrained from talking or allowing any one in the PAEC to talk to the press and kept a very low profile. This Samar said allowed others (you know who) to damage the nuclear programme by using it for his personal gains, all at the cost of national interest, who also managed to get away with all the credit, which actually belonged to Munir and the PAEC and who has brought disgrace to Pakistan. Obviously Samar was referring to Dr. A.Q.Khan without mentioning his name.

Samar also told the audience that Munir confided in him in 1999 and said that “Samar I want to confide in you something” Munir told Samar that ” I have made a mistake all my life, which was that I kept a very low profile and we (PAEC) should not have allowed others to damage the programme and that it was incumbent upon us, the technical people, that we should have stopped him from behaving irresponsibly, which has allowed him to harm the nuclear programme”. He was referring to AQK.

Samar said that “Munir Sahib and us would sometimes hold meetings in buses, cars, vans, on the roads, to which many in the audience are a witness and this is how we managed to keep great secrecy and the programme succeeded”. Samar said that Munir Khan would motivate people in such a way that each scientist, engineer and technician would feel as if he was the most important person in his field and this is how he successfully managed a colossal and highly sensitive nuclear programme.

Dr. Samar was followed by the Chief Guest and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad , N.I., H.I., S.I., who had served under Munir Khan as Member (Technical) for 19 years.

Dr. Ishfaq praised all past PAEC Chairmen, including Dr. Nazir Ahmad, Dr. I.H.Usmani and ofcourse Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan. He said that much has already been said on Munir Khan and his achievments and his greatness. He said that he was one of the closest associates of Munir Khan, being Member PAEC. He said that Munir Khan observed merit in all his doings, and this was attested by the fact that both Munir and Ishfaq belonged to the same clan or biradari, yet Munir never once mentioned this to him and promoted and appointed people strictly on merit.

He said that the heroes of nuclear Pakistan have gathered to pay tribute and homage to Munir Ahmad Khan and he (Munir) was the leader of all the heroes and Munir’s name will be written in golden letters in country’s nuclear history

He said that Munir had always asked the scientists and engineers at PAEC to work in secrecy and said that Munir’s style of work was such that one individual could never find out what the other was working on, and pointed to the PAEC Chairman Mr. Pervez Butt that “you did not know what Samar was working on and Samar did not know what you were working on”. He said that he continued to follow Munir’s style of managing the programme which has proven its worth in 1998 and hoped that both Samar at NESCOM and Pervez Butt at PAEC would continue to keep Munir’s legacy alive. He said that the PAEC gave birth to KRL, NDC, NESCOM and it was all due to the vision and dynamic leadership of Munir Khan and the Chairmen before him.

Ishfaq said that on the day when Munir Khan retired in 1991 as PAEC Chairman, he handed over the charge to Dr. Ishfaq and said to him” Ishfaq I have played a lovely innings, and I enjoyed my work thorougly, now you are the Captain”. Ishfaq said that Munir continued to apply the same rules of secrecy to himself that he had applied on others at the PAEC, after he retired and emphasized that secrecy is the key to success for the nuclear programme.

Ishfaq also said that irresponsibly acts and statements by individuals have done great harm to the nuclear programme and this was something that Munir was against and Munir has been vindicated. Ishfaq was obviosuly referring to AQK without naming
him.

Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad welcomed the idea of setting up a Munir Ahmad Khan Foundation for the promotion of Science and Technology in Pakistan and said that this must be a success and that we cannot afford it to be failure and promised full support.

After his speech, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and all the participants offered the Dua for Munir Ahmad Khan in which he said that ” Oh Allah, we hereby stand witness to the good things and the great work done by Munir Ahmad Khan for Pakistan and please accept our testimony in his favour and grant him eternal peace”.