The wrong father of the bomb

A new book in Pakistan raises damning questions about A.Q. Khan

I fell for Kuldip Nayar when I met him first in 1990-91 during a track-two dialogue between India and Pakistan. Many people in Pakistan consider the maverick journalist a friendly Indian, barring moments when he unleashes on us some home truths we don't relish. I hear that in India his fraternity is divided over his stature, but I give him full marks for one scoop that no other journalist in India can boast: A.Q. Khan's confession that Pakistan had gone nuclear. Kuldip probably still doesn't know what that scoop actually unleashed on Pakistan.

Kuldip had travelled to Pakistan in 1987, to attend the wedding of Mushahid Hussain Syed, then editor of the Islamabad daily The Muslim and currently a senator, who said he would give a "wedding gift" (sic) to him by throwing him together with A.Q. Khan, believed by most Pakistanis to be the father of Pakistan's atom bomb. The meeting took place and Kuldip was able to squeeze the truth out of him about a lab-tested bomb ready for delivery.

He thought the interview was sanctioned by the government — meaning President Zia ul-Haq — but the truth that came out this year indicated that it was planned and executed by General Aslam Beg, who later became second-in-command to General Zia and was close to Khan. He may have persuaded Mushahid Hussain to help in his plot to "showcase" the Pakistani bomb.

In his latest book, Beyond the Lines: An Autobiography, Kuldip tells the story thus: "thought I would provoke him. Egoist that he was, he might fall for the bait. And he did. I concocted a story and told him that when I was coming to Pakistan, I ran into Dr Homi Sethna, father of India's nuclear bomb, who asked me why I was wasting my time because Pakistan had neither the men nor the material to make such a weapon." A.Q. Khan exploded and boasted that Pakistan had made the bomb, adding the threat, "If you ever drive us to the wall, as you did in East Pakistan, we will use the bomb".

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