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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Arts and Entertainment

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment