By Pervez Hoodbhoy
Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan has spent the last few years confined by the Pakistan Army to one of his palatial Islamabad residences where he whiles away his days writing weekly columns in newspapers. This venerable metallurgist, who claims paternity rights over Pakistan’s bomb, says it alone saves Pakistan. In a recent article, he wistfully wrote: “If we had had nuclear capability before 1971, we would not have lost half of our country – present-day Bangladesh – after disgraceful defeat.”
Given that 30,000 nuclear weapons failed to save the Soviet Union from decay, defeat and collapse, could the Bomb really have saved Pakistan in 1971? Can it do so now?
Let’s revisit 1971. Those of us who grew up in those times know in our hearts that East and West Pakistan were one country but never one nation. Young people today cannot imagine the rampant anti-Bengali racism among West Pakistanis then. With great shame, I must admit that as a thoughtless young boy I too felt embarrassed about small and dark people being among our compatriots. Victims of a delusion, we thought that good Muslims and Pakistanis were tall, fair, and spoke chaste Urdu. Some schoolmates would laugh at the strange sounding Bengali news broadcasts from Radio Pakistan.
The Bengali people suffered under West Pakistani rule. They believed their historical destiny was to be a Bengali-speaking nation, not the Urdu-speaking East Pakistan which Jinnah wanted. The East was rightfully bitter on other grounds too. It had 54% of Pakistan’s population and was the biggest earner of foreign exchange. But West Pakistani generals, bureaucrats, and politicians such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, feared a democratic system would transfer power and national resources to the East.
Denied democracy and justice, the people of East Pakistan helplessly watched the cash flow from East to fund government, industry, schools and dams in the West. When the Bhola cyclone killed half a million people in 1970, President Yahya Khan and his fellow generals in Rawalpindi’s GHQ could not have cared less.
The decisive break came with the elections. The Awami League won a majority in Pakistan’s parliament. Bhutto and the generals would not accept the peoples’ verdict. The Bengalis finally rose up for independence. When the West Pakistan army was sent in, massacre followed massacre. Political activists, intellectuals, trade unionists, and students were slaughtered. Blood ran in street gutters, and millions fled across the border. After India intervened to support the East, the army surrendered. Bangladesh was born.
That Pakistan did not have the bomb in 1971 must surely be among the greatest of blessings. It is hard for me to see what Dr AQ Khan has in mind when he suggests that it could have saved Pakistan.
Would the good doctor have dropped the bomb on the raging pro-independence mobs in Dhaka? Or used it to incinerate Calcutta and Delhi, and have the favour duly returned to Lahore and Karachi? Or should we have threatened India with nuclear attack to keep it out of the war so that we could endlessly kill East Pakistanis? Even without the bomb, estimated civilian deaths numbered in the hundreds of thousands if not a million. How many more East Pakistanis would he have liked to see killed for keeping Pakistan together?
Some might argue that regardless of the death and destruction, using the bomb to keep Pakistan together would have been a good thing for the people of East Pakistan in the long term. A look at developmental statistics can help decide.
Bangladesh is ranked 96th out of 110 countries in a 2010 prosperity index compiled by an independent London-based think-tank, the Legatum Institute, using governance, education, health, security, personal freedom, and social capital as criteria. Pakistan is at the 109th position, just one notch above Zimbabwe. By this measure the people of the East have benefited from independence. ….
Read more : The Express Tribune