Obituary: Munir Ahmad Khan

PAKISTAN'S HISTORIANS are unlikely to be kind to Munir Ahmad Khan, the former chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC).

Despite a number of achievements in his 19 years in the job, he will be remembered in Pakistan chiefly for being removed as head of the Bomb project in 1976, and also for his long and bitter rivalry with A.Q. Khan, his de facto replacement, who is widely credited with achieving what Munir Khan failed to do.

Munir was one of Pakistan's most enigmatic figures. To the many who knew him well, he was a patriot, a voice of reason who was committed to international safeguards for Pakistan's nuclear technology, and who would despair whenever politicians reached for the nuclear card. But others in Pakistan's nuclear establishment believe that he was against Pakistan acquiring bomb-making technology.

Munir's other crime in their eyes was his strong ties to the West - where he lived and worked for nearly two decades. In Pakistan's increasingly isolationalist political climate, public figures with overseas links are often discredited by opponents as a threat to national security.

Munir's 40-year association with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna - as a member of its scientific staff, and later its board of governors, which he also chaired - was seen by his enemies as evidence of his questionable loyalty to the country of his birth.

In truth, Munir and AQ represent two strands of thinking in Pakistan's defence and foreign policy. Munir represented a dying generation who live in the hope that Pakistan will one day play an influential role in world affairs by maintaining friendships and alliances with the West. AQ, on the other hand, represents a growing constituency, which believes that the security interests of Western countries are incompatible with those of the Muslim world.

Munir Ahmad Khan was born in 1926 in British India - now Pakistan. He was educated at Government College, Lahore, and left for the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1951. After completing a masters degree in electrical engineering, he joined the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois where he trained as a reactor engineer. In 1958, he joined the IAEA, where he served in the division of nuclear power and reactors until 20 January 1972, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's newly elected prime minister, propelled him to the top of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission.

Bhutto had met Munir several times before. Munir's brother, Khurshid, was a law minister in the government of Field Marshal Ayub Khan when Bhutto was Minister for Natural Resources. He occasionally sought Munir's advice on nuclear matters on visits to Vienna. But the meeting on 20 January 1972 was to be different.

Bhutto had just taken over as prime minister under controversial circumstances of a dismembered country that had lost a war to India, and half its population to independent Bangladesh. India, moreover, was suspected of having atomic ambitions.

Bhutto summoned the country's leading scientists to a meeting at Multan, 150 miles south-west of Lahore. Among the issues discussed was whether Pakistan could build the Bomb. The audience included Pakistan's chief scientific adviser, Abdus Salam, who would later win the Nobel physics prize. Another key figure was I.H. Usmani, the then chairman of the atomic energy commission who had carefully and painstakingly built up Pakistan's nuclear power infrastructure over the previous decade.

Both are understood to have tried to dissuade their new prime minister from devoting resources to developing an atomic bomb. But Bhutto's mind was apparently made up, and he announced that Munir would replace Usmani, who was moved to head the newly created Ministry of Science and Technology.

Pakistan's efforts to go nuclear accelerated after the first Indian nuclear tests in May 1974. Initially, it followed the plutonium route to building a nuclear device. (Plutonium is one of the by-products of fuel that has been reprocessed from nuclear power plants.) And in October 1974, Pakistan signed a contract with France for the design of a reprocessing facility for the fuel from its power plant at Karachi and other planned facilities.

By that time, however, all of Pakistan's overseas nuclear collaborators were pulling out as rumours of Pakistan's nuclear ambitions spread. The French were among the last to pull the plug following sustained pressure from the United States.

Pakistan at this stage had little choice but to pursue highly enriched uranium as a route to its nuclear device. And in 1976, it aquired the services of A.Q. Khan, a metallurgist from the Netherlands, who was also an expert in uranium enrichment. AQ worked under Munir for a short period. But the pair fell out, and in July 1976, Bhutto gave AQ autonomous control of the uranium enrichment project reporting directly to the prime minister's office - an arrangement which exists to this day.

Munir continued to serve as head of the PAEC and concentrated on, among other things, strengthening the education and training of nuclear scientists and engineers. After retiring in 1991, he maintained an active interest in science policy, and went on to chair a technology foresight exercise.

His precise role in Pakistan's failed efforts to acquire a plutonium bomb will probably never be known. The Indian test of 1974 and France's decision to cancel Pakistan's reprocessing facility is a key reason for failure. But Munir's own reluctance to circumvent international nuclear safeguards is undoubtedly another.

To construct a plutonium bomb, Munir would have had to authorise the illegal diversion of fuel from the Karachi nuclear power plant (Kanupp). As a a committed member of the IAEA, and a strong supporter of the concept of a global nuclear safeguards regime, Munir Khan would have been uncomfortable with this idea. But France's decision not to go ahead with the planned reprocessing plant saved him from what would have been a difficult test of his loyalty.

Munir Ahmad Khan, nuclear power engineer and civil servant: born Islamabad, India 20 May 1926; married (three children); died Vienna 22 April 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game