A.Q. Khan is easily the most famous person associated with Pakistan’s nuclear program. By fostering the image of being the “father” of Pakistan’s Bomb, he gained public acclaim and the protection of the state — even after his entrepreneurial activities seriously weakened Pakistan’s national security and caused great embarrassment. How much Khan was freelancing, and how much he was operating under high-level guidance, will remain very murky.
Khan contributed significantly to Pakistan’s bomb program by spiriting out of Holland designs to manufacture centrifuges, and by setting up a Uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta. But A.Q. Khan was hardly the brightest light in Pakistan’s nuclear firmament. This distinction may belong to someone little known in the West: Dr. Samar Mubarakmand. Let’s open the shoe box files to learn more about Mubarakmand.
He joined the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission in 1962, which sent him to Oxford to receive a doctorate in physics. A.Q. Khan enriched uranium (and himself); Mubarakmand had more consequential assignments. Beginning in 1983, He conducted the first and subsequent “cold tests” of Pakistan’s bomb designs. He was also the man in charge at Chagai when Pakistan tested those designs in 1998. Mubarakmand was additionally responsible for developing and producing Pakistan’s solid-fuel missiles.
Samar Mubarakmand has avoided the spotlight as much as A.Q. Khan welcomed it. A while back, Scott Sagan passed along to me transcripts of two of Mubarakmand’s rare public addresses that shed light on his contributions to Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs. These transcripts also suggest that he and A.Q. Khan are not the best of friends.
Here are some excerpts from Mubarakmand’s speech to the Khwarzimic Science Society in Lahore, delivered on November 30, 1998 (full text), when the dust was still settling after the Chagai tests:
The true father of the Pakistani nuclear program was Dr. Rafi Muhammad Chaudhary. He migrated to Pakistan from Aligarh University and established the Physics Department at the Government College Lahore.
The PAEC (Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission) was told that whenever you were ready, you would detonate a bomb. So we were all very enthusiastic. We were running day and night concentrating on our effort. But…the mandate was withdrawn from us when we were ready.
On the morning of the 11th of May , one of our friends, in the Armed Services, phoned me and said, “Have you heard the news today?” I said, “What?” He said, “The Indians have conducted the explosion in Pokhran.” So I said, “Congratulations.” I was genuinely happy. He said, “You are congratulating us on the Indian tests?” I said, “Yes, because now we would get a chance to do our own tests.
The PAEC… is an island of excellence… Our life expectancy is 122nd in the world; in the literacy rate, we are the 162nd, and in per capita income we are the 122nd. The access to health services gives us a ranking of 148, and in clear drinking water we are 114th in the world… In nuclear weapons, we are the 7th in the world.
Nobody works in our organization for money or fame. We do not believe that sensitive work can be done by publicizing it. It should be done quietly, and so there is no lust for fame in this organization. There is honesty, dedication.
I can tell you this – the miracle of teamwork I saw in Chagai. We were there for about 10 days. The PM (Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) had told me, “Dr. Sahib, please do not fail, we cannot afford to fail. IF WE FAIL, WE CANNOT SURVIVE. (Emphasis in prepared remarks.) This is an hour of crisis for Pakistan.” He was dead sure that if we failed, they would have attacked our nuclear facilities.
Mubarakmand also gave a rare, extended interview on Pakistan’s GEO-TV on March 20, 2007 in which he inferentially compared his contributions to Pakistan’s nuclear programs with those of A.Q. Khan:
I visited Chagai for the first time in 1981… When the tests were conducted, our team went there on 20th May, and on 28th May, in the early morning, the tunnels were plugged and the preparation for the test was complete, and on 28th May, around 3pm, was the time selected for testing. So at that time, at around 2:45pm, some of our guests arrived to witness the tests, and Dr. Qadeer Khan sahib was also one of them… It was the first visit of his life to Chagai. He came at the invitation of the Chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and he arrived 15 minutes prior to the explosions.”