ISLAMABAD: In December 1979, when Dr Abdus Salam was invited by the Physics department of the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, shortly after being declared a Nobel Laureate, students of a right-wing organisation had protested and blocked an event held in his honour.

While the scientist had been feted by heads of state around the world, he was an unwelcome presence in his own country because of his faith. After 37 years of disavowing Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate, it appears as if things have finally begun to change.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave in principle approval to rename the National Centre for Physics at Quaid-i-Azam University the “Professor Abdus Salam Centre for Physics”.

The step was long overdue, said Professor of Physics Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, talking to Dawn. He felt that the step was an appropriate gesture to recognise Dr Salam’s services. “The world recognised Dr Salam, but we were reluctant. Nawaz Sharif’s action should be lauded as it is an indication that Pakistan is ready to move ahead in science ... the decision has been taken irrespective of faith,” he said.

According to a statement, the prime minister has directed the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training to put up a formal summary in this regard for the president’s approval.

The premier has also approved a grant of five annual fellowships through the Higher Education Commission for Pakistani PhD candidates working in the field of Physics at reputable international universities. The fellowship programme will be named the Professor Abdus Salam Fellowship.

“He was the first Pakistani to receive a Nobel Prize. His remarkable achievements earned fame and prestige for the country which rightly deserves to be valued,” the statement issued on Monday said. Dr Salam also served the country as a top science adviser to the government from 1960 to 1974, a position in which he played a major and influential role in the development of the country’s science infrastructure, the statement said.

According to a report titled “Living in fear, Pakistan’s unequal citizens” prepared by The Asia Foundation in collaboration with Pattan Development Organisation, when Dr Salam was awarded the Nobel Prize, Pakistan did not acknowledge the achievement till India did. India had invited Dr Salam and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had touched his feet as a gesture of respect.

The report mentions that institutions, roads and places have been named after Dr Salam all over the world and countries, including England and Italy, had offered him citizenship. Dr Salam, however, had not accepted the offers and was buried in Pakistan.

As per his wishes, the gravestone mentioned that he was the first Muslim Nobel Laureate. Later, the word ‘Muslim’ was removed on court orders after a citizen took issue with it.

Published in Dawn December 6th, 2016

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