The restyled epitaph at his grave near his native Jhang awkwardly reads: “First ------ Nobel Laureate”, from which the word “Muslim” has been deleted under court orders; the court, even in its narrow mindedness could have ordered the replacement of “Muslim” with “Pakistani” but that was not to be. This son of Jhang is less known in his own country today than the terrorist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, even though he had founded and led an abler lashkar (brigade) of some 500 Pakistani physicists and mathematicians over the years whom he arranged to send to UK and US universities on scholarship for higher studies.
He was the guiding spirit and founder of Pakistan’s nuclear programme as well as Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco). The pygmies who after him headed the two institutes he was allowed to set up in Pakistan in his pre-non-Muslim years have since been credited with laurels, and honoured more, even in their dishonourable conduct, as father of this and that, while the Godfather remains conspicuous by his absence in official records.
Dr Salam became the victim of rigid social attitudes and state discrimination against his community when Z.A. Bhutto through an act of parliament declared the Ahmadis non-Muslim in 1974. Heartbroken at the humiliation, he left Pakistan in protest to live in Europe where in 1979 he was awarded the Nobel for his groundbreaking research in theoretical physics; soon roads were named after him in Geneva and Trieste, if not in Islamabad or Jhang. The same year, as it happened, Bhutto was hanged by Gen Zia’s kangaroo court, but the Ahmadis’ predicament was Bhutto’s only legacy that Zia embraced wholeheartedly and built on even further. Despite being given the roughshod, Dr Salam from his institute in Italy, continued to patronise bright Pakistani scientists and students through a scholarship programme. His alma mater Government College, Lahore, which has named its mathematics and physics departments after Dr Salam, and Pakistan Post, which issued a two-rupee stamp to honour him, remain the only state institutions to have acknowledged him.
The nascent rock band aptly named as Beghairat Brigade, of Aalu Anday fame, has hit the nail on the spot with their lyrics of the popular song which rightly laments: aithe Abdus Salm noon puchhdai koi nai (nobody values Abdus Salam here) as they point out that murderers Qadri and Qasab have become our heroes. His birth anniversary, January 29, remains a long shot from being celebrated as Dr Abdus Salam Day, even though we invent anomalies like the Yaum-i-Takbir (atomic detonation day) and Sindhi Culture Day, amongst the myriad others, that are officially marked on our calendar. How truly unworthy is Pakistan of its only Nobel laureate.
Rest in peace, Dr Salam.
The writer is a member of the staff at Dawn Newspaper.