| Narayanan, (bottom) Hoodbhoy
London, Dec. 16: Pervez Hoodbhoy, long-time professor of nuclear physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, has contradicted national security adviser M.K. Narayanan’s view that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are “largely safe”.
Hoodbhoy, who is considered by the international scientific community to be as straight as A.Q. Khan — “the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb” — was bent, has given a frank interview to the NewScientist magazine in London.
He was asked whether he shared “the concerns of many in the international community about what would happen to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal if the present government were toppled”.
Speaking outside Pakistan, while he was attending a meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in Trieste, Italy, Hoodbhoy appeared not to share the confidence of India’s national security adviser that all was well.
“The (Pakistan) government says there is absolutely no danger,” responded Hoodbhoy. “But I wouldn’t be so sanguine, because extremists have penetrated the depths of the army and the intelligence agencies.”
Narayanan takes the opposite view for in his interview with an Indian television channel, he insisted: “It is extremely difficult for any outside element just walking away with a readymade nuclear device.”
He added: “I would, therefore, say it (the Pakistani nuclear arsenal) is relatively safe or I would say it is largely safe.”
Narayanan pointed out that the Americans had given the matter “very close attention” and “they are quite satisfied with the checks and balances which are adequate”.
As for India, “we have a contingency plan in place (to deal with a situation) of nukes falling into wrong hands and getting used by elements in Pakistan”, he disclosed.
Narayanan agreed “there are certain secret radical elements (in the armed forces) but I think it is a remote possibility (of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling in the hands of radicals)”.
The NewScientist has projected Hoodbhoy, 57, “a long-time critic of religious extremism, irrationality and military rule” as “Pakistan’s voice of reason”.
He has taught at Quaid-i-Azam University for over 33 years, holds a PhD in nuclear physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the recipient of the Abdus Salam Prize for Mathematics, the Baker Award for Electronics, Faiz Ahmad Faiz Prize for contributions to education in Pakistan and the Unesco 2003 Kalinga Prize for the popularisation of science.
He is also a visiting professor at MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Maryland, Stanford Linear Accelerator, and often lectures at American and European universities and research laboratories.
In his interview, Hoodbhoy claimed that Pakistan had embarked on a nuclear arms race with India: “We in Pakistan are making as many warheads as possible. In spite of this, Pakistan is in greater danger today than it was in 1998. The threat is from within.”
Told that his anti-nuclear stance had not made him popular in the Islamic world, he argued: “Things are changing. The interesting thing is that in Pakistan, nuclear weapons are no longer thought of as a panacea for our ills as they were following the tests. The reason is that nuclear weapons have not put Pakistan in the ranks of technologically advanced countries, nor made it wealthier or better regarded.”
Hoodbhoy expressed dismay that though 50 new universities had come into being over the past six years, “many have been unable to recruit teaching faculty”.
His own university had bought a $7m Van de Graff accelerator from abroad two years ago but there were no plans for using it and “in all likelihood, it will spend its life in some basement”.
The scientist saw little sense in universities having English departments where the head “cannot speak a single straight sentence in English” — “nor does it make sense to have a physics department where the head is unable to solve A-level physics problems”.
Hoodbhoy said: “PhDs are being handed out to those barely literate in their fields.”