Zia and our nuclear programme


Part – II

Random thoughts

Last week I ended with Gen Zia’s sudden, unexpected decision to visit Kahura. There were no guards and no escorting jeep. After crossing Kaka bridge, the road was narrow and in very bad shape.

One spot, known as Jalebi Maur, was very steep and Kashmir-bounds trucks often got stuck there, stopping the normal flow of traffic. Gen. Zia asked why the road had not been repaired. I told him that I had requested Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan for the necessary funds. Gen. Zia then asked Gen. Naqvi to tell the DG FWO to repair the road on a priority basis, removing all sharp turns, broadening it and putting a bridge to remove Jalebi Maur. Within 6 months we had an excellent road which increased safety and reduced travelling time by 15-20 minutes.

The staff at the Plant were shocked to see us. First we went to my office. I called the senior on-duty officers and told them we would be visiting the whole plant. Gen. Zia did not hide his surprise and pleasure at seeing the facilities. He said the Plant looked more European/American than Pakistani. In the Mechanical Division we were received by a very competent mechanical engineer. Gen Zia commented that our mechanical shops were cleaner than CMH.

When we were in another hall, Gen Zia decided to offer Asr prayers. To a handsome, competent scientist who sported a black beard fell the honour of leading the prayers.

Sadly, Gen Zia had Bhutto hanged through a doubtful case. I had met Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit in Ankara and asked him to intercede. He showed me the names of the four parliamentarians he was sending to Pakistan to see Gen Zia, but he said he was not very hopeful of the outcome.

In 1979 the West got wind of our work. Time Magazine published my photo, cited my background and said that I was leading the programme. Gen Zia and Mr G I Khan became quite worried and called me for a meeting. I told them that I had prepared for this eventuality and Kahuta was now a totally self-reliant organization manufacturing even the most sophisticated equipment we needed. They both praised my foresightedness. The western embassies in Islamabad all wanted to find out what was happening. One ambassador and his first secretary slunk into Kahuta in a private car one day. They were intercepted and dealt with by security. After 2 or 3 days they went to the president to complain. Great actor that he was, he feigned total ignorance.

Apologising, he said: “Excellency, if you wanted to visit the old fort, you should have asked the Protocol Officer at the Foreign Office. They would have provided an escort and a guide, but above all, you should have used your official, flag-bearing car.” When we met the next day, he had a good laugh and said he didn’t think anyone else would try.

By late 1981 we had made a lot of progress and were about make a breakthrough, Gen Naqvi informed Gen Zia about our progress and said it was time to check the progress of work in other departments. The experts’ opinion turned out to be that hardly any progress had been made and that their team was not competent to deliver. The next day Gen Zia called a meeting to inform me and added: “Dr Sb, this is between me, Gen Naqvi and you; tell no one else. Now you go all out to do your work. The experts have told me you can do it.”

It was a big challenge. I called several top-notch scientists and engineers. After solving the theoretical problems we did cold tests. When we had perfected the design, I took a letter to Gen Zia on December 10, 1984 informing him that we could detonate a nuclear bomb at a week’s notice.

With joy on his face he hugged me, kissed my forehead and said: “Thank you, Dr Sb. You have saved this country. Now I will look the Indians in the eye and sort them out.” Later I quietly showed everything to Mr G I Khan, who was overjoyed. Gen Zia then informed Gen Arif, who rushed to Kahuta to see everything.

Gen Zia never allowed the West to discuss our nuclear programme and he had told Mr. Agha Shahi and Sahibzada Yaqub Khan that, if questioned they should tell everyone to discuss the matter with the president as the programme was directly under his control.

Gen Vernon Walters, President Reagan’s Special Envoy, wrote about Gen Zia (President Reagan’s declassified papers): “Either he really does not know anything about the nuclear programme or else he is the most superb and patriotic liar I have ever met in my life”.

Gen Zia did a great favour to Pakistan by protecting our nuclear programme.