May 28, 1998 is observed as a red letter day because on this auspicious day, Pakistan responded to Indian nuclear tests on May 11th and 13th by calling its bluff and conducting its own reciprocal tests at Chaghai, Balochistan. Of course Pakistan had to pay a heavy price for its audacity since harsh financial sanctions were imposed as punitive action against it. The world of course was appalled at the jubilations in Pakistan after acquiring the means to annihilate humanity. They failed to see the method in the madness because Pakistan has been considered as an undeveloped country, which was not even capable of producing a needle had now acquired the sophisticated capability to deter its enemies to make them think twice before undertaking any misadventure against Pakistan. India had started hurling barbs and taunts after crossing the nuclear threshold, assuming that Pakistan did not possess a nuke in the closet. The achievement unified the people of Pakistan to forget their petty differences and party lines and depict a collective national spirit with a firm resolve to exist as an independent and sovereign state.
Having said that, hindsight, which is 20/20, portrays a different picture. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the progenitor of Pakistan’s nuclear programme had promised that “Pakistanis will eat grass but produce the bomb.” He did not live to see the fruition of his dream but the economic sanctions and restrictions imposed on Pakistan were enough to push it in a retrograde motion towards the dark ages. However, the government then vowed to overcome the adversity by tightening its belt and adopting austerity measures. It was a golden chance for Pakistan to break the “begging bowl” and traverse the path of self sufficiency and indigenization. Unfortunately Pakistan missed the boat as the political dispensation resorted to mere rhetoric and failed to put preaching to practice.
The clock has travelled a full circle and the same political dispensation is back at the helm of affairs. Once again Pakistan is passing through the most crucial phase of its history. Terror reigns supreme, double digit inflation, acute energy shortage, lawlessness, ethnic and sectarian strife, unemployment and chaos are the order of the day. Under these relentless challenges, it will be a Herculean task to overcome the problems. The positive side of the picture is that Pakistan is a land of intelligent, resilient and brave people who are capable of turning the table in their favour, given the right opportunities and the need to meet the obligatory compulsions required to safeguard their collective national interests. Recent elections have proved that the citizens of Pakistan are extremely patriotic who are serious to see Pakistan become a prosperous state with strong deterrence to protect its national assets. They want to observe Yaum-e-Takbeer (day of greatness) as a milestone achieved on 28th May 2013.
The onus is now on the new government that it does not wither away the opportunity as it did in 1998 and guides and steers the nation out of the choppy waters and puts them on the course of development, so that Pakistan can rise to its true potential.
While the nation observes Yaum-e-Takbeer with jubilation, there are some misguided souls in Balochistan, who are bent upon observing May 28th as a “Black Day”. They propagate the rationale that Chaghai Mountain was used to test the nuclear device and claim that owing to the tests, radioactivity has spread in the adjoining region causing leukemia, cancer and numerous genital diseases. This can be easily verified whether it is mere propaganda by the detractors or there is an element of truth in it. Pakistan conducted the nuclear tests by excavating a 300 feet deep tunnel with a diameter of 4-5 feet and digging a cavern at the bottom. The Nuclear device was lowered down the shaft and placed in the cavern, while wires attached to the device were drawn through the shaft, which was filled back with dirt, while the hole at the surface was capped with concrete and lead. These precautions were taken for the very purpose that the negative effects of radioactivity could be trapped in the deep cavern.
This Yaum-e-Takbeer, the nation should resolve that it would unify to tackle its problems, adopt austerity and rise to the occasion. If it fails to tackle the challenges head on, it would be doomed to be dumped in the trash can of failed nations, from where there would be no recovery, while its nukes would prove to be a mere millstone around its neck.
The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and host of programme Defence and Diplomacy