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Dr Khan`s new mission?

February 11, 2009

Dr Khan will spend his days ‘spreading education,’ but what will his message be? — AP
Dr Khan will spend his days 'spreading education,' but what will his message be? — AP
DR A.Q. KHAN, who is a hero to many as the father of Pakistan's atom bomb, was declared a free citizen by the Islamabad High Court last week. The government has said it will appeal against the ruling.
Yet many rejoiced at Dr Khan's winning his freedom that was said to be limited by mutually agreed conditions imposed on him by the government. The scientist has promised to spend his days spreading education though it is not clear what his message will be.
Pakistanis could certainly benefit from some knowledge about the hazards and dangers of nuclear weapons.
It is a pity that when Pakistan embarked on the road to nuclearisation, the hawks in the establishment who controlled policymaking did not deem it necessary to inform the public honestly about the destructiveness of the atom bomb. Most people believe it to be a bigger bum with greater explosive power.
There are issues that need to be articulated comprehensively before one can really expect Pakistanis to formulate an informed opinion on nuclear weapons. Policymakers have waxed eloquent about the compulsions of national security and the need for building bulwarks to protect the country from our enemies without informing us that foreign policy is the other side of the coin that can reinforce defence if executed judiciously.
It is only fair that the cards are laid squarely on the table so that our people understand the balance of power that exists between Pakistan and India (which has been officially projected as our enemy). They will not fail to recognise the disparity between the elements that go into the making of national power, such as geopolitical/strategic strength, economic resources, population, social capital, strength of government and size of territory.
The reality of the imbalance between the two countries has not deterred our hawks from indulging in jingoism.
Since barely one in five people in Pakistan is old enough to have vivid memories of the last war we fought with India in 1971 when we lost half the country, the population is easily deceived into believing that our disputes can only be resolved on the battlefield. But this time the devastation would be worse. We have to factor in the insurgency in Fata and Swat and its spillover in other regions of Pakistan and also consider the nuclear bomb when calculating the prospects of winning or losing. But who wants a Pyrrhic victory?
A wealth of material has been published on the impact of an Indo-Pakistan nuclear war but few would have read it. In Out of the Nuclear Shadow, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian give rough estimates of the casualties that can be expected. They are mind-boggling. Calculating on the basis of the data available for Hiroshima, they say that similar attacks on 10 Indian and Pakistani cities would lead to the death of 2.9 million people with another 1.5 million severely injured and 3.5 million slightly injured (by which the writers probably mean the victims would suffer from the side effects of radiation that caused deformities in unborn children of victims for years in Japan).
Hoodbhoy and Mian add, There is also the loss of key social and physical networks that make daily life possible families and neighbourhoods would be devastated, factories, shops, electricity and water systems demolished, hospitals and schools and government offices destroyed.
But that is not all. It needed the creative brilliance of Kamila Shamsie, the young author of Burnt Shadows, to capture in vivid passages the pain and trauma of this destruction. It is ironical that her book was launched a day before Dr A.Q. Khan won his freedom.
Describing the few moments after the atom bomb hit Nagasaki, Shamsie writes, The light is physical. It throws Hiroko forward, sprawling. Dust enters her mouth, her nose, as she hits the ground, and it burns.... She stands up. The air is suddenly hot and she can feel it on her skin. She can feel it on her back. She glides her hand over her shoulder, touches flesh where there should be silk. Moves her hand further down her back, touches what is neither flesh nor silk but both.... Now there is no feeling. She taps the place that is neither flesh nor silk but both. There is no feeling at all.
This is fiction, but based on painstaking research by Shamsie. However, what Emiko Okada, a hibakusha (survivor of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima), had to say was not fiction. Visiting Pakistan as a member of the Hiroshima World Peace Mission on the 60th anniversary of the nuclear attack, Okada described graphically the destruction she herself witnessed and experienced as an eight-year-old on that fateful day. My sister Mieko was 12 when the bomb was dropped. She had stepped out of the house and was hit by the blast. She vaporised never to be seen again.
Those researching the devastation of Hiroshima have confirmed that shadows on the ground were the remnants of vaporised bodies.
It is time people were educated about this devastation — about The Day After (a 1983 film depicting the horrific aftermath of a nuclear attack).
A recent Time magazine interview with Alan Robock, an environmentalist who had been a member of a team researching a nuclear winter scenario that could follow a nuclear war, is quite revealing.
Talking about a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which each country uses 50 Hiroshima-sized weapons, Robock says, That's enough firepower to kill around 20 million people on the ground. We were surprised that the amount of smoke produced by these explosions would block out sunlight, cool the planet, and produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history.
He also pointed out that there would be a shortening of the growing season by a couple of weeks affecting some crop yield and causing a severe food crisis.
The aftermath of a nuclear war needs to be discussed coolly. It would also help if a similar exercise were to be carried out on the other side of the border. Dr A.Q. Khan could invite the former president of India, A.P.J. Abul Kalam, the father of the Indian bomb, to join hands with him in this mission.
zubeidam@gmail.com