May 28, 1998 is an unforgettable day in the history of Pakistan. This day is as important to us as August 14, 1947. In 1947 we gained our independence and in 1998 we became a nuclear power – the first and only country in the Muslim world and the seventh across the globe. This gave Pakistan an impregnable defence and made its citizens proud and satisfied.
After the separation of East and West Pakistan, the country’s nuclear strength also stopped Indians from their next goal – to break up West Pakistan. But the Almighty has told us in the Holy Quran that though our enemies might be conspiring to harm us, He will be planning to do otherwise and He is the best planner of all. Thus those who were plotting against us failed in their endeavours. I am grateful that the Almighty chose me to help achieve this goal.
Our nuclear journey actually started on December 16, 1971 when our army suffered a defeat in East Pakistan at the hands of the Indian Army. Those scenes will stay with me forever. I was preparing to defend my doctorate thesis. After completing my PhD, I was offered a job in Amsterdam by the biggest industrial company of Holland that had 100,000 employees. I had received many job offers, but we preferred to live in Holland as my wife’s parents were there. It was while working there that I learnt all about the state-of-the-art uranium enrichment technology by the centrifuge method. The centrifuge technology was a very sensitive one developed by Holland, Germany and England over a period of nearly 20 years and at a cost of billions of dollars. It was a highly classified project and hardly any other country knew about it.
It had been a long journey before I reached this far. After migrating to Pakistan in 1952, I attended DJ Sindh Government Science College and obtained a BSc degree. I worked for three years as inspector of weights and measures in Karachi and then enrolled in the famous Berlin Technical University. I departed in 1961 and joined the university after having completed the compulsory six-month practical training and language studies in Dusseldorf. After two years, I moved to Delft, Holland so that my fiancé could be near her elderly parents. In 1966, I obtained an MSc Technology degree and then worked for a year as an assistant to my professor. I was then offered a PhD scholarship in Leuven, Belgium, which I completed in early 1972.
I felt that the Indian nuclear explosion was a direct threat to our existence as a nation. This emboldened me to write a letter to Bhutto stressing that we needed to give a fitting response. In December 1974, Bhutto called me for a meeting at which PAEC Chairperson Munir A Khan had also been called to listen in. I briefly told them what the technology was about and stressed that it was the only option left to Pakistan. I asked for a group to be formed to obtain the technical details and initiate work. I then returned to Holland, coming to Pakistan again in December 1975 for our annual holidays.
Gen Imtiaz Ali, a cousin of Akhtar Ali – my former fellow student at Berlin – asked me to review what work had been done by PAEC. I visited the facilities that had been created in Islamabad and Karachi, but soon realised that nothing worthwhile had been achieved. Gen Imtiaz took me to see the PM, whom I informed accordingly. All of a sudden, the PM asked me to remain in Pakistan and work for the country. I was in a quandary. I had a good job with excellent prospects (even had an offer of a professorship), my wife’s elderly parents were in Holland and all my technical literature and books were also there. After a lengthy discussion with my wife, we decided that I should remain in Pakistan and she would go back to pack up and then join me.
We were given a house in F-8/1 – the very outskirts of Islamabad – but with no transport at our disposal and no furniture until our things arrived three months later. I was appointed as an adviser to PAEC with a salary of Rs3,000 per month – the first of which I received after six months. After six months, when no progress had been possible, I wrote to the PM laying down the facts and telling him that I wanted to return to Holland. The PM asked Agha Shahi (SG Foreign Affairs), A G N Kazi (SG Finance) and Ghulam Ishaq Khan (SG Defence) to sort things out.
They offered me the chairmanship of PAEC, which I refused and instead suggested – for security reasons – that they put up a separate organisation under my control. The problem was solved and engineering research laboratories were born. Security was strict and only my immediate colleagues and I knew what it was all about. My work experience and expertise from Holland, the dedication of a competent team of engineers and scientists and working 18 hours a day 24/7, made it possible for us to become a nuclear power within six years, though the actual explosion took place much later.
There were four people who greatly appreciated our work and knew how much effort was put in: Gen Zia, Gen S A Z Naqvi, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Agha Shahi. After putting the weapon’s programme on a solid basis, we also worked on missiles and defence equipment.
After serving diligently for 25 years, I retired with a pension of Rs4,467 per month. My efforts and that of many of my colleagues, were ‘rewarded’ by us being placed under house arrest by Musharraf who, upon a single call from President Bush, had no qualms in sacrificing us. This happened at a time when we had not signed the NPT or the NSG and were under no obligation to discuss or disclose our nuclear activities.
I am extremely grateful to the millions of Pakistanis who express their admiration, love and gratitude to us and call me ‘Mohsin-e-Pakistan’. May the Almighty bless them all.