ISLAMABAD: Dr Ishfaq Ahmad, a former chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), was laid to rest in a graveyard here on Sunday with full national honour and gratitude.
His contribution to Pakistan’s civilian and military nuclear programmes was expressed eloquently by the large number of floral wreaths laid on his grave by generals and nuclear scientists on behalf of the organisations with which he remained associated during the 60 years of his illustrious career.
Such organisations included the Strategic Plans Division, National Command Authority, Naval Strategic Force Command, Nescom, Khan Research Laboratory, PAEC, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority and National Institute of Physics that is affiliated with the Dr Abdul Salam Institute of Physics at Trieste, Italy.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat, attended the funeral and wreaths were also laid on behalf of the three services chiefs.
Dr Ahmad’s contribution to the country’s nuclear programme can be gauged from the various important positions he held in different nuclear-related organisations; he served as head of the Pakistan Nuclear Mineral Centre, Lahore; director of the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology, Nilore; and chairman of the PAEC.
He was among the handful of scientists who attended the historic meeting under the shamiana (tent) at the residence in Multan of chief minister Sadiq Qureshi where prime minister Z.A. Bhutto commissioned them to “give me fission in three years”, triggering a bhangra by some of the top nuclear scientists of the country. It was at this meeting that Mr Bhutto appointed Munir Ahmad Khan as the PAEC’s chairman. Mr Khan served as chairman of the commission for 20 years.
Dr Ahmad’s accomplishments as a nuclear scientist can also be understood by his work at the Chemical Plant Complex, Dera Ghazi Khan, where a uranium mine had been developed and a plant set up to produce Hex, the gas form in which uranium was to be supplied to the Khan Research Laboratory. Mr Bhutto had asked for “fission in three years” but there were delays.
In 1980, Gen Ziaul Haq gave a deadline to Munir Khan to deliver Hex. The then PAEC chief asked Dr Ahmad to go and help the team of scientists working on the assignment. Hex was supplied on the dot to the Khan Research Laboratory in a truck ridden by none other than Dr Samar Mubarakmand.
In 1998, when he was chief of the PAEC he was assigned the task of carrying out the nuclear tests. “Dr Sahib, dhamaka kar dain [Dr Sahib carry out the explosion],” Nawaz Sharif said to him in the wake of the Indian nuclear tests of May 11, 1998.
The tunnel and the site of the vertical shaft in Chaghai where six nuclear tests were carried out on May 28 and May 31 had been selected and built under his supervision back in 1986.
Dr Ahmad was appointed as the PAEC chairman in April of 1991 and he reminisced in one of his meetings with this writer that when he went to the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Sharif said to him: “Dr Sahib, I wanted to appoint a younger man as chairman, but Ghulam Ishaq Khan wants you to be the next chairman.”
How Dr Ahmad managed to conclude the agreement for Pakistan’s first 300MW nuclear power plant in December 1991 in the face of opposition from home as well as abroad speaks volumes about his versatile personality, both as a scientist and an administrator.
The agreement for Chashma plant was signed by the first Benazir Bhutto government but the financial and technical agreement had to be signed by Dec 31, 1991. The bureaucracy dealing with financial matters was slowing down the negotiations.
Problems continued till the last week. However, former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar, working at the time at the Prime Minister House, managed to get approval of the premier who was on a foreign tour. The agreement was signed on Dec 31, 1991 by Dr Ahmad and a Chinese minister.
Dr Ahmad would be remembered for many things, but this writer will remember him for saving the latter from possible imprisonment when he wrote the Long road to Chaghai in May 1999 about the history of Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
At a function held in Islamabad after the book had been published, Dr Ahmad took this writer to a side and asked him not to go ahead with the plans to revise the book because the cabinet was considering a move to arrest its author. He came to my rescue by declaring that he had helped me with the book.
Dr Ahmad retired as the PAEC chairman when retired Gen Pervez Musharraf removed Dr A.Q. Khan from the post of head of the Khan Research Laboratory under American pressure. Both of them were designated as advisers to the prime minister after their retirement.
As adviser to the prime minister, Dr Ahmad encouraged a former PAEC scientist, Dr M. Afzal, to write a history of the nuclear programme. It is said that the documents along with his computer were seized by the powers that be.
Born in Gurdaspur in East Punjab in 1930, Dr Ahmad did his masters from the Government College Lahore, where he also taught for some time, before joining the PAEC in 1957. He did his doctorate from the University of Montreal.
Dr Ahmad is survived by a widow and two sons.
The writer is author of the book Long road to Chaghai.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2018