The days when people in Pakistan sat glued to their television sets watching ‘Waris’ on PTV have given way to moribund ‘broiler chicken’ productions lacking the punch to hold viewer interest through even one full run. Salahuddin Tino might have won an award for his acting skills at the 12th PTV awards held last October but his performance or that of his counterpart Farha Nadeem was not good enough to up the consistently falling viewer interest in PTV. Even a survival attempt by PTV to launch PTV World could not wean the viewer – the content lacked originality. While the famed ‘family dramas’ on PTV have lost their lustre to the host of new channels airing game shows (‘Maal Ka Sawaal´ on Indus Vision), entertainment shows (‘Hum Sab Umeed Say Hain’ on GEO), current affairs programmes (´Question Time Pakistan´ on BBC World) and even drama serials (‘Umrao Jan Ada’ on GEO), the AQ Khan apology earlier this month on television was a clincher all the way. It was the mother of all reality-TV shows for Pakistan, only this time PTV got lucky.
“I have much to answer for. The investigations have established that many of the reported activities did occur and these were inevitably initiated at my behest…I was confronted with the evidence and findings and I have voluntarily admitted that much of it is true and accurate…I have chosen to appear before you to offer my deepest regrets and unqualified apologies to a traumatised nation”, said Khan. This was followed by a presidential pardon on the recommendation of the cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali.
While the craft of ‘sweeping it under the carpet’ was on accurate display, a ‘carpet fibre’ syndrome emerges in this case as well. It goes back to the mid 1970s when a certain Zulfikar Ali Bhutto vowed that his country would “eat grass”, if necessary, to develop nuclear weapons. This was after the Indian side tested its first nuclear device. Even in the second half of 2001, President Musharraf warned in not-so-unclear terms, regarding threat of Indian aggression, that Pakistanis had not worn choodiyaan (bangles; gender insensitive metaphor for spineless) and his references on other occasions to ‘wars which would no longer be conventional’.
One element that comes clear from all of this about the nuclear status of Pakistan is that – for Pakistan the bomb was much more than a strategic leverage, it was a matter of pride. The iconic status accorded to AQ Khan is nonpareil especially if one sits to compare the Pakistani public’s perception of him, as opposed to state-felicitation, to nuclear scientists elsewhere so much so that Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri was said to have said that ‘nobody in Pakistan can “touch” Abdul Qadeer Khan’. When a tactical weapon reveals more than ammunition value, heroes are created and AQ Khan was one such hero.
For such attachment to the weapon, it seems rather surreal that the weapon of pride or parts/designs thereof could be shuttled around without the knowledge if not assistance of the military. When former Pakistani army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg’s clarifies on BBC World´s ‘Hardtalk Pakistan’ that the army has ´never been in control´ of the country´s nuclear programme, except in times of military rule, it seems even more out of place. Interestingly the prodigal son they are talking about had a XXX (Vin Diesel’s spy thriller) streak from much before. That he allegedly managed to steal blueprints for making uranium enrichment centrifuges from the Physics Dynamics Research Laboratory (known as FDO) in Amsterdam that conducted research on behalf of URENCO, a British-Dutch-German nuclear engineering consortium and for which a Dutch court sentenced him to four years´ jail in 1983 after he was convicted in absentia of nuclear espionage is less known. The decision, however, was overturned on a technicality and Khan still denies the allegations.
The revelations which sparked off the reality-drama on PTV had a pan Asian sweep. Khan is alleged to have had an associate called Tahir in Sri Lanka who in turn had alleged links to the Malaysian prime minister’s son who in turn had a company manufacturing centrifuge parts which in turn sent this particular consignment to Dubai from where it was to reach Libya. Everyone it seems took turns, including AQ Khan on TV, President Musharraf and even GWB talking of AQK on TV and now the whole world in turn has no clue as to why anything to do with the ‘N’ word was hushed up in this manner.
Coming back to PTV, they have nothing less than a Bond movie in their hands. They had the locales and now they have a story idea. A crime thriller with an international star-cast would be an ideal beginning to regain ground lost to the other channels. About time that the scriptwriter gets to work!