Kalam, Salam and A.Q. Khan - By Kunwar Idris Back   Home  
The danger of an armed conflict between India and Pakistan may have lessened but their propaganda war has heightened. Mobilizing troops may have cost India more but it is a small price to pay to win on the propaganda front, which indeed it has.

New Delhi has succeeded in making the world believe that the cause of discontent and bloodletting in Kashmir is not the repression by India but the terrorists coming from Pakistan. The long-standing issue of the people's right to self-determination has thus been reduced to terrorism.

What turn of opinion and events could be sadder for a people who have struggled for their right of free choice for 54 years and lost 50,000 or more lives in the past 13 years. Yet Gen Musharraf is content that Kashmir has come into world focus as it did never before. So also was Nawaz Sharif after the retreat from Kargil. Disillusionment followed. Could it be any different this time round remains a troubling question. Perhaps it wouldn't be.

The murder of a thousand Muslims in Gujarat while the law enforcers looked the other way and the chief minister remaining unchanged and unrepentant had called into question India's claims of just and equal treatment of its minorities. Yet the world concern was muted because the riots were triggered by the death of 58 radical Hindus in a train fire set by a Muslim mob.

All the sordid happenings in Gujrat, still in progress, and on a lesser scale elsewhere in India, have gone out of the world view and India's secularism stands refurbished by the nomination of Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as the country's next president by a Hindu nationalist party with all the rest, but the maverick Marxists, concurring. The world is impressed that a Muslim is succeeding a Dalit, an untouchable, as the constitutional head of the world's largest democracy. The damage done to India's image by Chief Minister Narindra Modi of Gujarat is more than repaired by his party boss Atal Behari Vajpayee's decision in favour of Kalam as the president of India.

Presenting a contrast to that is much smaller Pakistan where, even when it is not ruled by the military, no non-Muslim can become the head of state or of government because of a constitutional bar, nor hold any other important public office because of prejudice or suspicion.

Even when it is governed by a coalition led by a Hindu BJP, India has tried to show to the world that whether it is the making of destructive missiles or safeguarding its constitution in a crisis, the religion of a person is irrelevant. In that scenario, the periodic massacres of Muslims and their continuing deprivation recede into the background. The unverified figure reported is that the share of the Indian Muslims in the national economy and services is just about one-fourth of what it should be in proportion to their numbers.

When it comes to the place of scientists in national life and their influence in government, two of our own, Dr Abdus Salam and Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, inevitably come to mind. A.Q. Khan dominated Pakistan's missile and nuclear programme for almost quarter of a century. So has Abdul Kalam India's. But no two persons could be more different.

Abdul Kalam is said to lead a reclusive life in a two-room apartment in Chennai (Madras) which he doesn't own. He alternately looks like a hermit and a bohemian. Books and musical instruments are his companions. When he is not engaged in scientific research he writes poetry in his mother tongue, Tamil. He is respected for his extreme simplicity and easy access.

Our A.Q. Khan is the very opposite. The gossip could never agree on the number of houses he owns, but undisputed is his villa on the eastern edge of Islamabad's Margalla lake in the capital's green belt. A colony of houses grew around it. The CDA's demolition squad that went into action had to spare all the homes because Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif intervened to save AQK's. He was a toast of Islamabad's social circles and an icon in the countryside. At one stage his deputy, Dr Mubarik Mand, called him a hoax, a metallurgist masquerading as a nuclear expert. Removed from the Kahuta laboratories named after him, he has sunk unsung into near-oblivion, though he remains an adviser to the government.

Dr Abdul Kalam is called "a 200 per cent Indian" who has made India proud in myriad ways. Dr Abdus Salam, a Pakistani by a larger percentage, made the world proud but not his own country. A professor at London's Imperial College at the age of 31 and at 33 the youngest member of that exclusive club of eminence, the Royal Society, he expounded his theory of unification of forces of nature in a mathematical equation which, on confirmation several years later in CERN experiments won him a Nobel Prize in 1979.

On his death the world's best known newspaper, The Times of London, wrote the world of science had lost "one of its most distinguished and respected members and a man of outstanding creative ability... In addition to his brilliant intellectual gifts, Salam was a man of remarkable vision and energy who played a major role in developing science throughout the world."

But in his own country, Salam could not persuade Ziaul Haq to create a fund for the teaching of science to which he wished to donate all his Nobel Prize money; nor could he persuade the earlier governments to have in Pakistan a centre for theoretical physics which he then established in Trieste. That centre has, since 1964, trained 60,000 scientists and now named after Salam, is graded as a centre of excellence by the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Yet despite the indifference of successive governments, Pakistan could not escape what The Time called Salam's charismatic touch compelling Dr Ashfaq Ahmad, Chairman of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission, to affirm that Salam was the "chief architect of whatever modern science exists in Pakistan today." Imagine the level of science and technology in Pakistan had Salam's centre been established in Pakistan. Now India is a generation ahead.

India has called upon its leading scientist to be the president of the republic. Pakistan's scientists are ostracized as Abdus Salam was or fall victim to controversy as A.Q. Khan has been for reasons wholly extraneous to their professional pursuits.
Published in Pakistani Daily Dawn.