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POSTCARD USA: Remembering Dr Salam — Khalid Hasan
Here is Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s chance to redeem himself. He should visit Dr Salam’s grave in this 10th anniversary year and lay a wreath on it on behalf of the people of Pakistan.
Dr Abdus Salam has been dead ten years, which is a long time but he is mourned and remembered everywhere except in the country that he considered home, despite all his years away from it, and in whose earth he lies because that was where he wished to be.
The most endearing quality about Dr Salam was his humility and his sense of humour. During the 1980s, he used to come to Vienna every now and then for consultations with one or the other US agency, no less than to see his younger brother Majid, a technical specialist with the UN Industrial Development Organisation. The UN building in Vienna, on the right bank of the Danube, has a huge domed rotunda as you enter it. One afternoon as I was walking across it with a friend on my way out to take the underground train to my place of work, I saw Dr Salam and hailed him from a distance.
“Dr sahib,” I said. He stopped and we stood under the rotunda for a long time chatting, mostly about Pakistan. I introduced my friend with whom he shook hands with great warmth. After he was gone to the meeting he had flown in for from Trieste, my friend asked who this was. I told him who. “My God. The Prof. Salam. But he is so modest. I have never seen a man more simple.” “My friend,” I said to him, “you have just met one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century.” Dr Salam was utterly self-effacing, the last word in his book being the first person singular, I.
I never met Dr Salam in Pakistan though I did see him at the famous Multan meeting at Nawab Sadiq Hussain Qureshi’s house — which was called White House and I am sure still is — where in early 1972, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a stirring speech to scientists announced that Pakistan had to take the nuclear road. He asked them if they could do it and they all responded emotionally, even promising to deliver in three to five years. It was Dr Salam who calmed them down.
In 1975, when I was in Ottawa, serving at the Pakistan embassy, I learnt that Dr Salam was arriving for certain meetings with Canadian officials. He was no longer the chief scientific adviser to the government of Pakistan, having resigned after the deplorable and disastrous 1974 national assembly decision declaring the Ahmadis non-Muslim. I went to he airport to receive him and did not recognise him at first because he had grown a beard. “You have grown a beard,” I said. “Well, the day we were declared non-Muslim, I decided to fulfil Sunnat-e-Rasool,” he replied, his eyes twinkling.
He would not accept the use of the official car as long as he was in town but I insisted and in the end he agreed. He was touched. A few days after his return to Trieste, he wrote me a gracious thank you note, adding, “Please thank Mirza Abdul Rehman for showing me around.” Mirza Abdul Rehman was one of the embassy drivers who had driven Dr Salam for the couple of days he was there. I can’t think of another Pakistani who would do this, since we don’t even notice those who serve us and do not consider them worthy of any kind of attention. Such gestures were typical of Dr Salam, who helped thousands of people in his life in all kinds of ways and who treated everyone as an equal and worthy of respect.
I asked him why he had resigned after the 1974 decision. He told me that it was the same question Bhutto had asked him. “Salam, what is this? Why have you resigned as chief scientific adviser?” Salam told him that after the national assembly verdict declaring his entire community of Ahmadi Muslims non-Muslim, he could not possibly continue. “But Salam that is all politics,” Bhutto told him, then added, “Give me time; I will change it. Believe me.” Salam said to Bhutto, “All right Zulfi, I believe you, but write down what you have told me on a plain piece of paper and it will remain between the two of us, forever and always.” Bhutto’s reply was classic Bhutto, “Salam, I can’t do that; I am a politician.”
In London, Dr Salam lived in Putney and when he won the Nobel Prize, I too was living in London, working with Mr Altaf Gauhar at his Third World Foundation, having resigned from foreign service after the July 1977 Zia coup that overthrew Bhutto and plunged Pakistan in the black pit of obscurantism. Salam and AG (which was what we called Mr Gauhar) were at Government College around the same time. The Foundation threw a big celebratory party in honour of Dr Salam that I coordinated. Some days later I took an album of the pictures taken there to him at his Putney home, which pleased him immensely, although the pleasure was really and truly mine. In his company you felt lit up.
He was a man without bitterness. For example, had Pakistan nominated him as UNESCO director general, he would have won easily; but Zia nominated Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, with Attiya Enayatullah acting as his principal lobbyist. The election was lost from the word go, but the last nail must have been Ms Enayatullah’s declaration in Paris: A general saved France; a general will save UNESCO. In Vienna, Dr Salam told me that he had gone to every Muslim capital after his Nobel, begging them to set aside one percent of their GNP for scientific education. None had agreed.
In Libya, he was whisked off his aircraft after it had begun to taxi to see ‘The Leader’ and all he had asked Salam was if he could make him a nuclear bomb. “I am not that kind of scientist,” Salam had replied. The Colonel had shown no more interest in Salam thereafter or his ideas.
Prof Ashfaq Ali Khan once said that Ayub was an unfortunate man. “History tries to lead him by the hand to greatness and every time he wrests his hand free.” So, here is Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s chance to redeem himself. He should visit Dr Salam’s grave in this 10th anniversary year and lay a wreath on it on behalf of the people of Pakistan. He should also scrap the revolting regulation that changed Rabwah’s name to Chenab Nagar. And one day, I hope, the despicable 1974 law that has thrown Pakistan into the witches’ cauldron of sectarianism will be annulled.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is khasan2 6 cox.net