The motherl and s betrayal
DESPITE THE heights Dr Salam achieved and the services to his country, his motherland did not celebrate him as a hero and his name remains unknown to a large section of the public.
November 21 is the death anniversary of one of Pakistans ablest sons, Dr Abdus Salam. It is a matter of shame though that the nation needs to be reminded of his services.
On October 15, 1979, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the worlds highest award in Physics to three scientists “for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles.” One of these was the son of Pakistan, Dr Abdus Salam. Born in 1926 to a working class Punjabi family of Jhang, he later became one of the most important theoretical physicists of his day, contributed to one of the most important theories in Physics, the Grand Unified Theory, and died a proud Pakistani after being celebrated as one of the worlds greatest minds.
While Prof. Salam remained a loyal Pakistani all his life, his doctrinal differences with the majority made him an alien in his own country. Despite the heights Dr Salam achieved and the services to his country, his motherland did not celebrate him as a hero and his name remains unknown to a large section of the public. The tragedy of this maltreatment is so unique: there is uneasiness, and perhaps even fear in accepting him as a national hero.
At the age of 31, he was the youngest-ever professor of theoretical physics at Londons prestigious Imperial College. Salam had 42 honorary doctorates bestowed upon him by universities across the globe. When his country needed him, he was the adviser to the president of Pakistan for Science and Technology from the late 1950s to 1974 and remained a board member of the PAEC for quite a long time as well. He was instrumental in setting up the PINSTECH and SUPARCO, institutions of great value to the country.
The country takes pride in its nuclear programme. Dr Abdus Salam played a critical role in the development of this programme. During the 1960s, he was instrumental in sending about 500 Pakistani scientists and engineers including Dr I H Usmani to the best universities in the west for higher education in nuclear science and technology. These men were to later become the backbone of the programme. In December 1972, he helped in the setting up of a Theoretical Physics Group in the Atomic Energy Commission; two theoretical physicists, Dr Riazuddin and Dr Masud, then working at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy set up by him, were sent to Pakistan and asked to see Munir Ahmad Khan who had in that very year become the chairman of the PAEC. This Theoretical Physics Group developed the designs of all Pakistani nuclear weapons – the first one of which was successfully cold tested in 1983 by the PAEC and the last ones tested at Kharan and Chaghai in May 1998. It is ironic that the metallurgist Dr A Q Khan can still say that Prof. Salam was against the nuclear weapons programme of Pakistan. Incidentally, earlier Dr Salam and Munir Ahmad Khan had put up a proposal before President Ayub Khan in 1967 for setting up a fuel cycle facility, which was not approved by the latters advisers of the time. Dr Salam was present at the Multan meeting of scientists and engineers on January 20, 1972 called by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and at the inauguration of KANUPP in November the same year.
The Higgs Boson predicted and worked on by Dr Salam, who drew inspiration for most of his work from the Holy Quran, is at the centre of the research at CERN, the worlds biggest particle physics laboratory. CERN has conducted the largest experiment in the history of mankind in search of fundamental answers to the creation of the universe and has proudly named a street in honour of this son of Pakistan. What has this country been able to give to this great man? A solitary Nishan-e-Imtiaz? The metallurgist Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan has two. We did issue a solitary stamp in his honour, but so did the Republic of Benin. The ICTP in Italy today is named as the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in his honour in contrast to the National Centre of Physics in Islamabad. Excepting the Department of Mathematics at GCU Lahore, there is no landmark, no institute, no building, no department or university in this country named after the greatest scientist this country has ever produced. Dr Salam has certainly been honoured more by nations other than the one he loved the most: his own.
Throughout his life, Dr Salam championed the cause of his country and remained loyal to his cause of scientific advancement in the third world countries. However, when in 1986, he desired to become the director-general of UNESCO so that he could further this cause, the radical president General Ziaul Haq, refused to nominate him as its candidate. With him in that office, his country would have benefited immensely. Instead, Lt General Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan was nominated as our candidate. Though Mr Khan was an intellectual, there is indeed little comparison between the two. In contrast to his motherland, Britain and Italy offered to support his candidature but he refused it on their terms. The result was obvious: Pakistans candidate lost by a big margin.
Dr Salam died on November 21, 1996 at Oxford. He was eventually buried in Chenab Nagar (renamed from Rabwah against the will of the people living in that town). Even in his death, his faith was to be the basis of maltreatment as his tombstone was altered by the local magistrate to appease the radicals. Can we forgive ourselves on how we treated one of the greatest – if not the greatest – citizens of this country?
Perhaps as an act of redemption, naming an institute or two after him will be a good first step. The new Islamabad airport can be named after him. Obviously, inclusion of information about services by this great Pakistani in the textbooks of the country is also imperative. While launching an operation against militants who are killing the ideology of Pakistan may be difficult, making these small gestures should be easy but would carry a strong message.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org