Dr I.H. Usmani: The common heritage of all humanity


IT WAS 1953 when Ayub Khan (ex-President of Pakistan) sent for Dr I. H. Usmani and said to him, “I understand that you are a Ph.D. in atomic physics”, Dr Usmani said, “So I am”. Then Ayub Khan advised Dr Usmani to go to United States and to deliberate about atomic energy for the attainment of wherewithal of atomic reactor for peaceful purposes. Ayub Khan was a doughty and gutty personality who hankered to see his homeland, a leader, in the running atomic warfare. At that time, Eisenhowers government announced the outright grant of USD 0.3million for peaceful use of atomic energy. As advised by Ayub Khan, Dr Usmani signed a bilateral agreement and installed the research reactor in Pakistan. It was the commencement of nuclear era in Pakistan and credit goes to Dr Usmani and his team as the founders of atomic energy program of Pakistan. Dr Usmani is colloquially known as father of the “Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission”.


Dr Ishrat Hussain Usmani was born on April 15, 1917 in Aligarh, India. He got admission in Saint Xaviers College Bombay and received his B.Sc. (Hons) in Physics and M.Sc. in Physics from Aligarh Muslim University. Dr Usmani was one of the few physicists of Pakistan who got an opportunity to do their Ph.D. from Imperial College London under the supervision of famous Noble laureate G. P. Thomson, the son of another Noble prize winner Sir J. J. Thomson. In 1939, Dr Usmanis thesis entitled “A study of the growth of compound crystals by electron diffraction”; he was awarded with the degree of Doctorate in Physics. Dr Usmani did his research work in Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, United States and later he also served here as director.


After that, Dr Usmani came to British India and appeared in Indian Civil Service Examination. He successfully became the first ever Ph.D. entrant to civil services. After the debacle of subcontinent, he came to Pakistan and served the Government of Pakistan. It was his firm determination, perspicacity and sharp-witted personality that compelled Ayub Khan to contact him. His time-marked attention and ability made him the leading physicists of Pakistan.


Dr Usmani was appointed by then Minister of Energy in Ayub Khans cabinet, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, as a member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), that time Dr Nazir Ahmed was the Chairman of PAEC. In 1960, Ayub Khan appointed Dr Usmani as the second Chairman of PAEC (1960-1972) due to his proficiency, dexterity and unwavering individuality that constrained Ayub Khan to do so.


Dr Usmani was a man of allogeneous genre and repute. He believed in introspection but he was also in favor of reminiscence of retrospection. He took steps for the rehabilitation of the precipitated Muslim science. He coddled the young physicists of homeland.


As the Chairman of PAEC, Dr Usmani worked day and night to expanse and to enhance the capabilities of the Commission. It was his devotion and predisposition that PAEC emerged as one of the finest atomic agencies of the world. His advocacy to build man-power for nuclear power is exceptional, and his innovation for the up-to-date instrumentation is subservient. He started the scholarship programs for Pakistani scientists and researchers. Foreign exchange program for Pakistani students was also his fantabulous achievement.


Dr Abdus Salam, Pakistans only Noble Laureate in Physics, along with Dr I. H. Usmani, established and organized Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) in 1961, and in a very short span of time, PINSTECH proved itself as a world-class research institute in Physics, its a Taj Mahal of Physics in Pakistan. Both, Dr Salam and Dr Usmani, were willing and consentient on building nuclear power plants in Pakistan. For instance, Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), Faisalabad and Nuclear Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Peshawar are the upshots of their diligence and assiduity.


Dr Salam and Dr Usmani worked a lot and convinced NASAs engineers and scientists for the betterment and advancement of Pakistans Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). That effort of both the legendary scientist concluded at the launching of Pakistans first rocket, Rehbar-I in 1962.


Dr Salam and Dr Usmani were not only the adjutors of each other but also the amigos. In 1964, Dr Abdus Salam consummated the inauguration of International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) Trieste, Italy as the desideratum of the hour, Dr Usmani lobbied for each and single cause of Dr Salam. He also followed up on the advice of Dr Salam to build Pakistan Atomic Energy Center at Lahore.


It was Dr Usmani, who foretasted, in 1960s, the nuclear imbalance in the region if India acquired nuclear weapon technology. He completely disagreed to the so called Peace Nuclear Explosion of India. Indians peaceful nuclear test cause aversion in Pakistan, it was a time of sheer disgust for Dr Usmani. He wanted to use the atomic energy for peaceful purposes not for armed race. He headed many conferences named “Atoms for Peace”. It truly depicted his disposition and temperament.


After the 1971 Indo-Pak war; the contradiction of opinions between Bhutto and Dr Usmani, caused quandary. Bhutto superseded Dr Usmani and announced Dr Munir Ahmed Khan as the new Chairman of PAEC. (That was an inextricable issue and this article cannot bear the discord of “Multan Meeting”, so let it be discussed in another article.) In 1972, Bhutto kept with himself the additional charge of Minister of Science; this situation deteriorated the relations between Bhutto and Dr Usmani and no one tried to ameliorate it, even at the inaugurating ceremony of KANUPP-I in November 1972, Dr Usmani was not invited by Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto. Due to the difference of opinions and interests with Bhutto Dr Usmani again supplanted with Dr Mubashir Hassan, a key name in the atomic bomb project of Pakistan.


After the resignation from the PAEC chairmanship, Dr Usmani left the motherland and signed an agreement with United Nations, he was appointed as the advisor to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). As the advisor to UNEP, he worked in Srilanka, Kenya, Senegal and Nairobi. In 1978, he abdicated UNEP and joined International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), where he had already served as the Chairman Board of Governors from 1962 to 1963.


In 1981, an article entitled “Nucleonics Week” by Dr Usmani published in European nuclear publication, this was of great influence. It assured US government to slacken of the nuclear embargo on Pakistan.


Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was his dream, for that he spent his days and nights to enhance the NPT. He headed many conferences named “Atoms for Peace”. During his tenure with IAEA, he also investigated on the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and produced a brief investigative report that boosted his efforts to the NPT.


He attended Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) also, as an advisor till 1991. Ultimately he returned to Pakistan after an arduous period of 17 years. But the aspirations and ebulliences were still on the peak. So he became the advisor of the New and Emerging Sciences and Technologies (NEST), a scientific think tank based in Pakistan.


The darkness of death was waiting to absorb the lights of poppys lamp. He died on June 17, 1992. He left hundreds of scientists, physicists and researchers orphaned. But his affection and services will remain forever with us. He made us proud. He made us the first Muslim country to install an atomic research reactor. Being a Minister of Science, he revolutionized science in Pakistan. He made revolutionary changes in all the aspects of nuclear education to promote it in Pakistan. He was in the favor of Pakistans Atomic Program but only for “Atom for Peace”. He always opposed the concept of “Atom for Destruction”. After conducting first nuclear test in May 1998, Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif awarded him by Nishan-i-Imtiaz posthumously.


In the words of Dr Abdus Salam: “Science is the common heritage of mankind”, but I can easily say that “Dr I. H. Usmani is the common heritage of all humanity”.

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