May 1974 was hectic for the PPP government and its leadership. On May 11, Z.A.Bhutto flew to China to strengthen ties with Pakistan’s old ally. He met Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai and their party leadership. All of them extended support to Pakistan, assuring Bhutto of all help needed in defending Pakistan’s integrity and solidarity. At the official reception for Bhutto and his delegation, Bhutto mentioned Kashmir as disputed territory and was assured of support for Kashmiri people in their struggle. At this, the Indian ambassador to Beijing left the banquet. This was a clear sign of discord.
A week later, on May 18, 1974, India showed its displeasure by testing a nuclear device, Smiling Buddha, at Pokhran in Rajasthan desert near Pakistan’s border. This sent shockwaves not only to the Pakistani leadership but the whole world.
The next day, Bhutto called a press conference in which he clearly stated that Pakistan would not be intimidated by nuclear blackmail and declared: “Even if we have to eat grass we will make nuclear bombs.”
In fact Bhutto had already initiated the nuclear programme after taking over on December 20, 1971. On January 20, 1972, he called a conference of scientists and told them that Pakistan needed the bomb. Dr Munir Ahmad Khan, a US-trained nuclear and electric engineer, was assigned the task and was asked to complete the assignment in three years.
On November 28, 1972, the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) was inaugurated by Bhutto himself. This plant is situated near Paradise Point on the banks of the Arabian Sea. As he inaugurated the power plant Bhutto recalled the effort he had put in as a minister for fuel and power during the days of Ayub Khan. To regulate nuclear activities, he appointed Dr Munir Ahmad Khan as chairman of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC).
It is said that the officials in the PAEC misguided Bhutto and convinced him to get a reprocessing plant from France — a proposition much debated in the country’s scientific circles as there was no fuel for running the reprocessing plant. In any case, France later changed its mind on the insistence of the United States.
In May 1972, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan got a job at the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO), a Dutch Engineering firm. The FDO was a subcontractor firm working on ultracentrifuge process supported by the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany. Dr Qadeer entered the FDO after being checked by the Dutch secret service. At the same time, two Pakistani scientists, Dr Riazuddin and Dr Masud Ahmad, were engaged in nuclear processing at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy.
After gaining an understanding of the subject they returned to Pakistan and began theoretical work on a fission explosive device. Mr Shahidur Rahman in his work A Tale of Two Scientists (1999) writes that since computers were not available at the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH), both used the computers at Quaid-i-Azam University for working on theoretical physics of a nuclear explosive device. This was in October 1972.
As the work continued on the nuclear device, France began feeling the pressure from United States. Money was needed for further progress. Bhutto managed to acquire $300 million from friendly Arab states, but that was not enough. In the fall of 1973, Bhutto received a letter from Dr Qadeer from Holland who offered his services for Pakistan. He was immediately asked to come and meet Bhutto. Dr Qadeer was advised that he should seek permission to visit Pakistan so that there should be no doubts after his departure.
In December 1974, Dr Qadeer landed at Karachi airport with his family. He was immediately rushed to Islamabad and was asked to leave everything and take up the work of uranium enrichment. Bhutto was told that a project launched with $300 million would take around 20 years to accomplish the task. To speed up the process he needed one reactor for plutonium isotope separation and a heavy water production plant.
Except Kanupp, there was no plant in Pakistan which could meet the requirements of Dr Qadeer’s project. He went back to Holland and when he returned he was accompanied with a few large consignments. At that time Bhutto was busy entertaining the Shah of Iran in Larkana; however, he had left instructions that whenever Qadeer returned he should be informed immediately. Back in Islamabad, Dr Qadeer met Bhutto and expressed his utter dismay that nothing had been done on the project and it stood where he left it a year ago. He was so dejected that he told Bhutto that he wanted to leave Pakistan. Perhaps Dr Qadeer had told Bhutto that bureaucracy was the main hurdle in the progress of the project. The following day Dr Qadeer was told that an institution had been established under his (Qadeer’s) leadership which would work without any interruption, thus Dr Qadeer resolved to stay on.