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Remembering Professor Abdus Salam

Professor Abdus Salam (1926-1996) was one of the leading scientists of his generation and his outstanding contributions to the world of theoretical physics were widely recognized, including by way of the Nobel Prize for Physics, 1979. He made seminal contributions to the development of science and technology in his own country-Pakistan- and yet, Pakistan as a nation has not given its due to him, thanks to his unwavering personal faith in the messages of the Promised Massih Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) of Qadian. In a country that has legalised intolerance and the persecution of people and systemically prosecute the Ahmadi Muslims for their essential personal convictions, the memory of the great scientist is sought to be erased even from his tombstone!

For the benefit of our readers, we reproduce below an article written by columnist Mohammad Ahmed in the Pakistani newspaper The News on November 21, 2012 on the 16th death anniversary of Professor Abdus Salam.

Unmourned in his own country

Today is the death anniversary of one of Pakistan’s ablest sons, Dr Abdus Salam. Unfortunately, his achievements and services remain unacknowledged in his own country, where he was made an alien because of the belief into which he was born, although they are celebrated around the world.

Born on January 29, 1926, into a working-class Punjabi family, he went on to be celebrated as one of the world’s greatest minds as a leading theoretical physicists of his day for his contribution to the Grand Unified Theory.

Professor Abdus Salam was one of three scientists who received the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, “for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles.”

At 31 he had been the youngest-ever professor of theoretical physics at London’s prestigious Imperial College. By the time he died in 1996, he had received 42 honorary doctorates from universities across the globe.

When his country needed him, he returned from the west to assume the position of adviser to the president. He expanded the web of research and development in Pakistan by sending scientists abroad. In 1961, Dr Abdus Salam approached the president to propose the setting up of Pakistan’s own national space agency.

The Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) was established on September 16 that year, with Dr Abdus Salam as its first director. The following month, he travelled to the United States to sign the Pakistan-US space cooperation agreement.

Two months after Suparco’s establishment, Pakistan started to build a space facility in Balochistan, and he was appointed the technical director of the Flight Test Range.

Dr Abdus Salam played a significant role in Pakistan’s development in the nuclear field. He called back from Switzerland nuclear physicist Ishfaq Ahmad, who became the man in charge of the Nuclear Physics Division. As the first member (technical) of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), he established research laboratories all over the country.

Due to the efforts of Dr Abdus Salam, Canada and Pakistan signed a nuclear energy cooperation deal in 1965, and the US provided Pakistan with a small research reactor. In 1965 the professor led the establishment of the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology.

Pakistan rightly takes pride in its nuclear programme in whose development Dr Abdus Salam played a critical role. In the 1960s he was instrumental in sending abroad about 500 Pakistani scientists and engineers who were later to become the backbone of the country’s nuclear programme.

He was present at the Multan meeting of scientists and engineers in1972, which was called to orchestrate the development of Pakistan’s deterrence programme. Bhutto formed a group of scientists and engineers, first headed by Dr Abdus Salam, to pursue this goal.

In December 1972 he established the theoretical physics group (TPG) in the PAEC. In this connection he called two theoretical physicists working at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics near Trieste, Italy.

Dr Abdus Salam formed the Mathematical Physics Group that was charged, along with the TPG, to work on the mathematics involved in the theory of nuclear fission.

Although he left the country after Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims by parliament in 1974, Dr Abdus Salam maintained close working relations with the theoretical physics division at the PAEC, whose officials kept him informed about the status of the calculations needed to judge the performance of the planned atomic bomb.

He personally approved many appointments and sent a large number of Pakistani scientists to the ICTP and to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). He remained engaged in research with the scientists.

What has this country given to this great man in return? This is a question best left unanswered.

Pakistan issued a single stamp in honour of Dr Abdus Salam, but so did the African country of Benin. Except for the Department of Mathematics at the Government College University in Lahore, there is no department, or organisation, building or other landmark named after the greatest scientist of this country.

Meanwhile, the ICTP, which he had established in 1964, has been renamed Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics.

In 1986, when he desired to become director general of Unesco, Gen Zia refused to nominate him, and instead named Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan.

Of course, there was little comparison between the scientist and the former general and diplomat.

In contrast to his motherland, Britain and Italy offered to support his candidature but he refused their offers on their terms. The result was that Pakistan’s candidate lost by a big margin.

Dr Abdus Salam served on a number of UN committees related to science and technology. He founded the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and was a leading figure in the creation of a number of international centres dedicated to the advancement of science.

The Higgs Boson, predicted and worked on by Salam, is at the centre of research at CERN, which has the world’s biggest particle physics laboratory. CERN has conducted the largest experiment in history in search of fundamental answers to the creation of the universe and has named a street in honour of Dr Abdus Salam.

He died in Oxford on November 21 and is buried in Pakistan. But the inscription of his tombstone was altered by the local magistrate to appease intolerance.

Can we forgive ourselves for how we treated one of the greatest sons of this country?

As acts of redemption a few steps need to be initiated. Naming an institute or two after him will be a good first step.

Inclusion of information about the services rendered by this great Pakistani is imperative in our textbooks. These are small changes easy to be carried out, but they would carry a strong message.

(C) The News International (2012)

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