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)