An indomitable man
In my previous column I wrote some interesting anecdotes, told to me by a member finance, KRL, about the sharp mind of Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Here is another one.
Once, during a tea break in a meeting chaired by GIK, the late Muhammad Ibrahim Khan Khalil (popularly known as MIK Khalil) noticed GIK putting three spoons of sugar into his tea. When he pointed out that too much sugar is harmful, Khan Sahib merely continued and quipped: “Yes Ibrahim, yes, it is poison for people of your health”. MIK was an upright, honest officer with whom I had frequent contact when he was secretary establishment. He used to invite me to breakfast to discuss matters. With breakfast he would select 10 or 12 pills from a small bamboo tray filled with colourful tablets. Unfortunately, he suffered a stroke and expired soon after.
I found Khan Sahib to be extremely punctual. He had given me permission to see him on any morning before he left for the office. I used to go and see him at around 8am. Though secretary defence at the time, there was no guard and we drove right into the car porch. He had four beautiful ‘koonj’ (grey Tibetan cranes) on his lawn. His old servant knew me well and would immediately serve tea. After a few minutes, Khan Sahib would enter and we would discuss matters on hand. Upon my leaving, the servant would put a bundle of files and a bag into his car and he would leave for the office too.
Khan Sahib always had a lot of work and he was prompt in taking decisions. He once told me that it was not nice to have to bring work home, but that was the only way to get things done without interruption. During his tenure of almost 17 years as head of our nuclear programme, he never once recommended anybody for a job or promotion or asked for a favour. He was totally free from provincialism and nepotism.
I used to give him three-monthly reports which contained information on the quantities of uranium hexafluoride gas processed, the enriched material and the depleted material. He used to go through these reports very carefully.
Very few people know that in 1985-1986, while he was finance minister, he was selected as chairman of the Joint World Bank and IMF Ministerial Committee on the Transfer of Real Resources to Developing Countries (Development Committee). This committee consisted of the foreign ministers of many western countries and his selection was a great honour and demonstrated his standing amongst the comity of nations. While there were those who differed with his strict financial policies, nobody could raise a finger at his honesty, integrity and patriotism.
It was for these great qualities that, while designing the institute at Topi, I suggested naming it after him. Many bureaucrats objected, suggesting Khyber or Sarhad, but I brushed their objections aside. The history of this institute is as follows.
After we had successfully carried out many cold tests and perfected the bomb design, I wrote in person to Gen Zia on December 10, 1984, informing GIK at the same time, that we were in a position to detonate a real nuclear device at a week’s notice. Both GIK and the president were overjoyed. Since I had faced great difficulties in finding qualified, local engineers, I wanted to set up a state-of-the-art engineering institution. Together with Dr Nazeer and other competent colleagues, we prepared a feasibility report and I discussed the idea with GIK. He was very enthusiastic and thought it was a need of the hour. He told me he had Rs50 million for development donated by that great benefactor of Pakistan, Agha Hassan Abedi.
I could not resist smiling as such an amount was merely enough to buy a bungalow and put up 10 or 15 computers with two instructors. After a few days Agha Sahib came to Islamabad and GIK asked me to brief him. Large-hearted that he was, Agha Sahib promised to give Rs250 million. I told him this was great but, unfortunately, far from sufficient. He then asked me to see him again after two to three weeks. After this second briefing, he promised to give Rs500 million. The die was cast. Through wise investments, the money became almost Rs750 million in two years. During this time I went all-out to complete the design of the buildings and laboratories, make lists of equipment required and decide on syllabi for the courses.
At one point GIK called a meeting of bureaucrats and engineers at the Presidency to obtain their input. They came up with the bright idea of hiring foreign (British) consultants. I told them frankly that if, after receiving an excellent engineering education and having designed, commissioned and produced a plant for nuclear weapons, we were unable to put up an engineering institute ourselves, then we were fit for nothing.
GIK just looked at me and there and then told me that I would be project director. With the help of about 30 top engineers and scientists from KRL, Eng Qamar Alvi and Eng Kaizer Haigul of Naqvi and Siddiqui, Architects, for the engineering drawings and Gen Anis, Brig Sajawal, Brig Tariq Ghazi, Col Aurangzeb, etc to supervise the construction work, the institute materialised. The land at Topi had generously been donated by Governor Amir Gulistan Janjua, who remained on our board for many years. The institute was inaugurated in October 1993.
More than a dozen foreign renowned professors were recruited and I managed to collect donations for a Faculty Club, a hostel and $200,000 for library books and equipment. CNC machines and metallurgical equipment were also donated. Together with Dr Nazeer, we managed to get Rs80 million worth of computers and electronic equipment donated from France and $10 million dollars soft loans each from Opec and the Islamic Development Bank.
Within one year the institute was considered to be one of the best in Asia. At this point in time the intrigues started and we, the founders – Governor Janjua, Ambassador Amir Usman, Gen Anis Ali Syed, myself, etc – were quietly sidelined. The usual Pakistani politics was at play. Governor Janjua and Amir Usman can testify that, had I not been the driving force behind the project, nothing would have come of it.
One day, while having tea in the Guest House of the institute, Ghulam Ishaq Khan held my hand and said that he wanted to name the main gate of the institute after me. I thanked him but politely refused saying that the institute was a tribute to him and nobody else’s name should detract from it.
Things are different there now. According to the many messages, letters etc I have received, there are no professionals at the helm of affairs and it has become no better than any other second-rate institute. All the best local professors have left and become VCs of other universities. What a pity! As they say: ‘GIK must be turning in his grave’.
To be continued