‘Benazir believed Pak N-abled in ’79’
Benazir Bhutto believed Pakistan had nuclear weapons capability as early as 1979. She had received an assurance of this from Munir Ahmed Khan, the then head of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Veteran journalist Shyam Bhatia has given an account of this in his forthcoming book on Benazir, Goodbye Shahzadi.
Bhatia had dozens of interactions and interviews with Bhutto over three decades. “Once Benazir invited me to lunch to specifically speak about her father’s role in getting Pakistan the Bomb,” he said.
When Benazir and her mother used to visit Zulfikar Ali Bhutto while he was on death row, awaiting execution by General Zia ul Haq, says Bhatia, her father would ask them to contact Munir Ahmed and find out when Pakistan was going to carry out a nuclear test.
“Zulfikar believed that on the day Zia executed him, he would also carry out a nuclear test to divert attention. If you knew the day of the test, you would then know the day of his death,” he said.
Benazir repeatedly asked Munir Ahmed when the test would occur. “Khan would tell her ‘next week’ or ‘next month’ but never give a firm answer,” says Bhatia. “But Benazir had no doubts, based on Khan’s assurances, that Pakistan had nuclear capability by 1979.”
Though AQ Khan is better known as the “father of the Pakistan bomb”, he was only in charge of the uranium enrichment programme. Munir Ahmed, says the book Deception by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, was in charge of the actual business of fashioning Pakistan’s nuclear weapon. He was far less self-promotional than AQ Khan, says Bhatia, “British old school, more old fashioned.”
Bhatia notes that if Pakistan had nuclear capability years before it cold-tested in 1984, let alone detonated a nuclear bomb in 1998, it has “far-reaching implications” when it comes to Pakistan’s nuclear blackmarketeering.
Some scholars, like Ashok Kapur of Waterloo University in Canada, have argued that China may have handed a complete nuclear bomb to Pakistan after India’s first test in 1974. However, rather than detonating and wiping out Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent for largely symbolic reasons, Islamabad held on to this lone bomb and focused on trying to master the full breadth of technology, which is what the two Khans accomplished.