Ishrat Hussain Usmani

15 Apr 1917
17 Jun 1992
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Ishrat Hussain Usmani, NI (Urdu: ڈاکٹر عشرت حيسن عتثمانى‎ 15 April 1917 – 17 June 1992), best known as Dr. I. H. Usmani, was a Pakistani bureaucrat and an atomic physicist who was the second chairman of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) from 1960 to 1972; as well as the associate director of the Space Research Commission.

During his career, he was also the officiated as the Chairman of the Board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1962 to 1963, and at there played a vital role in country’s peaceful development of nuclear technology to acquire the facilities.To his peer, he is remembered as one of chief architect of country’s nuclear power expansion and also given co-credited to established country’s first nuclear power plant in Karachi in co-operation with Canada, with Abdus Salam.

As a bureaucrat, he lobbied for science and development to became part of national politics and his efforts were also involved sending hundreds of young Pakistan’s students abroad to pursue higher education in the field of nuclear technology.Due to his long tenure as chairman of the atomic energy commission, Usmani is colloquially known as father of the “atomic energy commission”, a title given to his peers.

Usmani was born into a respected, cultural, upper middle class, and an educated family of Delhi and Aligarh. After his school education in Aligarh he joined his maternal uncle Dr Khwaja Abdul Hamied, the founder of CIPLA and a pioneer of pharmaceutical industry in India, and joined the St Xavier’s College Bombay from where he obtained in 1936, his BS (with honours) in Physics and later obtained MSc in Physics from Bombay University. In 1937, the Ishrat Usmani proceeded to the Imperial College, University of London, for research in atomic physics with the Nobel Laureate Professor P.M.S. Blackett, and he produced a thesis entitled “A study of the growth of compound crystals by electron diffraction” in 1939. He completed his doctorate in Atomic Physics from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, after writing a brief thesis on Electron diffraction, prior to start of World War II.He thereafter successfully appeared in the Indian Civil Service Examination (ICS)and became the first ever entrant to that service with a PhD. On Partition of the undivided India into post independent India and Pakistan he opted to serve in Pakistan and served the Government of Punjab.

In 1950, while at London, he was personally invited and delegated by American nuclear physicists dr. Alvin M. Weinberg, dr. Robert Charpi, Karl Z. Morgan— the scientists who had worked in Manhattan Project— to the United States where he carried out his research in nuclear power and reactor technology at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory whereas he served as a director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Usmani returned to Pakistan in 1954, joining the Directorate of Science the same year. He played a vital role and served in several senior administrative positions in Pakistan Government. In 1958, Usmani volunteered to join the newly established nuclear government agency, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and personally tasked himself to build the nuclear power program. Dr.Nazir Ahmed (physicist) was the chairman of the Commission at that time. Usmani played an important role in formulating the nuclear policy for Government of Pakistan. His recommendation and the newly proposed nuclear policy were gladly accepted by the then prime minister of Pakistan Husain Shaheed Suhrawardy and his p0sition in the government was upgraded to Minister of State. In 1959 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who then Energy Minister in Ayub Khan’s Cabinet, appointed him as a member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission

In 1960, Nazir Ahmad lost the slot as the Chairman of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission to Usmani, who became its second chairman, on a request of President Ayub Khan. One of the earliest tasks he initiated was to begin building the man-power for the nuclear power industry. He introduced the scholarship program at the commission and sent hundreds of scientists abroad. Usmani requested his lifelong friends Dr. Alvin Martin Weinberg and Dr. Robert Charpi to allow Pakistan’s foreign exchange students to carry out their research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), asking them to arrange an on-the-job training programme in nuclear science and engineering for a team of PAEC personnel. In 1965, after Salam undertook to establish a world-class physics institute in Pakistan, Usmani lobbied for it in the United States. The institute is now called the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH). Building a world-class research establishment also gave Salam the opportunity to exercise his abundant artistic talent. He took particular interest in creating a laboratory that was a masterpiece of architecture, first by choosing the world-famous Edward Durrell Stone as architect, and then by paying full attention to every detail in the construction and the furnishing of the facility.

Professor Abdus Salam was Usmani’s most trusted friend and adviser in science policy in the 1960s. He met with Salam when the latter was the professor of Theoretical Physics at the Imperial College of Science and Technology. He provided the crucial support to Salam in establishing the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), and played a supportive role to make Abdus Salam the Director of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics. Salam and Usmani worked as a powerful team to obtain national and international support for the development of science and technology as fundamental to economic growth. It was Salam’s advice to Usmani to establish the Pakistan Atomic Energy Center at Lahore where he made D. Ishfaq Ahmad as its first scientific director.Abdus Salam also helped Usmani to establish the various atomic research centres such as Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB) in Faisalabad, and the Nuclear Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in Islamabad.

Dr. I.H. Usmani conceived the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology as an architecturally inspiring edifice that would motivate scientists, and as many other Pakistani scientists, Usmani had worked closely with Abdus Salam on building nuclear power plants. Usmani became the second chairman of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, where he, along with Dr. Abdus Salam, became an instrument in setting up nuclear research labs in Pakistan

By the 1971, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) had turned into the world’s leading nuclear organisation, and led PAEC in many international organisations.His efforts to build the nuclear industry had turned Pakistan into the first Muslim country in the nuclear power capability. Over the years, Usmani carefully and painstakingly developed the country’s atomic energy program, and supervised the construction of the facilities that were producing prolific publications in nuclear technology.In spite of being close to Bhutto, Usmani developed serious differences with and resentment towards Bhutto, after Bhutto continued interfering in his work. Therefore, Usmani began to transfer scientists in different laboratories and directorates, to keep the scientists away to work on the atomic bombs.Prior to start of the East Pakistan crises, followed by the 1971 Winter war, Usmani had disclosed all the facilities, technical institutes, and called back its personnel to West-Pakistan.During this time, Usmani intensified Pakistan’s non-nuclear weapon policy, and was instrumental in promoting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

After witnessing the war, Usman’s relations with Bhutto further deteriorated and Usmani began criticising Bhutto and his policies. He was an outspoken and even a harsh critic of Bhutto’s government policies which duly brought about an increase in the number of his enemies, even in his government agency. In January 1972, Abdus Salam arranged and participated in a secret meeting which later emerged as “Multan Meeting” where Salam invited Usmani to meet with Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Large and loud complaints against Usmani were lodged; his peers and junior scientists, as well as his seniors, were turned against him. His actions of replacing and transferring scientists in different directorates that disrupted the research were criticised. Bhutto lost no time to announce, nuclear engineer Munir Ahmad be PAEC’s new chairman. At this meeting, Usmani was the only scientist to have protested against the projecy atomic bomb project to build the nuclear deterrence against India, while Abdus Salam remained silent in support of Bhutto when Usmani turned to Salam for the support. Usmani asked Prime minister Bhutto not to divert the peaceful programme to aggressive nuclear weapons, but Bhutto rebuffed, while Salam provided his support to appoint Munir Khan as the scientific director of the atomic bomb project.

After the meeting, Usmani reached out to Bhutto and privately tried to have a conversation with Bhutto to reverse the decision of developing the atomic weapons. However, Prime Minister Bhutto patiently listened to him and declined his advice.The Following year, he was safely silenced. According to the Pakistan Defence Megazine, Usmani had opposed the decision of developing nuclear weapons “because at the time Pakistan did not have the necessary infrastructure needed for such a technologically giant and ambitious project”. Still,as Bhutto needed the civilian infrastructure to be built, he established the , he appointed Usmani Minister of Science in 1972.

In November 1972, when the Kanupp-I was inaugurated, Usmani was deliberately not invited by Prime minister Bhutto, instead was accompanied by Abdus Salam and Munir Ahmad Khan at the Kanupp-I ceremony.This was the foundation of Usmani’s disagreement with Bhutto and later he claimed that in many of the scientific projects he was not taken into confidence by Bhutto. Usmani soon resigned.Bhutto immediately replaced Usmani with Dr. Mubashir Hassan, Bhutto’s close friend and confidant who would later play a vital political role in scientific research on atomic bomb project.

Usmani contributed in the rise of Pakistan’s science and wholeheartedly provided his bureaucratic support to Abdus Salam to establish the Space Research Commission (SUPARCO)— the supreme national astrophysics and space authority— as a space-wing in the PAEC. Usmani was put jointly in charge (associate director) of Space Research Commission with Abdus Salam being the first and founding director. In 1962, Usmani and Salam travelled to United States where they had a brief meeting with NASA’s officials and due to their hard efforts, the United States and the NASA’s engineers and scientists visited Pakistan where NASA decided to set up the country’s first spaceport, Sonmiani Terminal Launch.

However, during the successive period, Abdus Salam decided to separate the authority from the PAEC; therefore, after reaching out to President Ayyub Khan, Salam succeeded in separating the authority, being its execute director in 1962.Abdus Salam brought in Brigadier-General and aerospace engineer Dr. Wladyslaw Turowicz of PAF in the space program, appointing him the director of the Sonmiani Terminal Launch. Soon the rocket testing programme was initiated by General Turowicz and Abdus Salam witnessed the country’s first rocket launch, the Rehbar-I in 1964

Due to Bhutto’s intensification of his nuclear policy, that was completely disagreed and often protested by Usmani on numerous occasions at the cabinet-level meeting, led him to resigned from his government post of which he was appointed by Bhutto. As science minister, Usmani helped established the Pakistan Science Foundation— the government agency for the promotion of Science and Technology. As science minister, Usmani presented the idea of Scientific Services, parallel to the Civil Service of Pakistan, with many scientist would soon follow him, for instance Munir Ahmad Khan who later took his place.

However, Usmani departed from the country and took an international assignment of the United Nations.Usmani was appointed the adviser to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), headquartered and located in Nairobi, Kenya, leading the surveys and reports on Solar radiation management and renewable energy in the developing states. Usmani later went on to established the Solar radiation management centres in Sri Lanka and Senegal, and in 1978, Usmani left the UNEP to join the IAEA

Usmani became the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and headed many conferences entitled “Atoms for Peace”. In 1978, Shah of Iran Mohammad Rezā Pahlavi invited Usmani to Iran to conduct a scientific survey to establish the three commercial nuclear power plants in the country, but the scheme was never performed due to the Iranian Revolution, and in 1980, Usmani joined the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) where he urged for peaceful use of nuclear technology.

While there, he produced a brief investigative report on the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and made his efforts to enhance the NPT. Unlike Salam, who remained associated with country’s atomic bomb programme, Usmani was ejected from the atomic bomb programme. In 1981, Usmani published the influential technical article at the “Nucleonics Week— an influential European nuclear publication— claiming that the atomic bomb project has been failed and is unlikely ever to be capable of producing even the crudest of nuclear devices; therefore the programme is near collapse.Although, Usmani was notified and knew well that in fact, the atomic bomb project was a complete success and the atomic bomb program has gone mature and passed the critical phase of producing the fissile cores had been achieved since 1978.His publication played an influential role in convincing the United States’ policy to ease off the nuclear embargo on Pakistan.

Usmani served as an energy adviser to the United Nations in New York, and adviser to the UNSCEAR until 1985.Soon his resignation from the United Nations, Usmani joined the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, (BCCI) as an adviser and remaining their until 1991. He finally took the retirement and returned to Pakistan after long 17 years. While in Pakistan, Usmani became a consultant of the New and Emerging Sciences and Technology (NEST), a scientific think tank based in Pakistan.

Usmani remained a vital scientific figure in Pakistan’s Civil Service, and is widely given the credit of presenting the idea of scientific civil service, with many engineers and scientists would soon follow his footsteps. However, he is most remembered for established the country’s nuclear industry, and was involved in the civil-peaceful projects as part of Pakistan’s During the 1960s, Usmani’s effort was involved in nuclear technology project.

It was Usmani’s effort to send 500 scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and physicist into the best institutions of United States and Europe. In 1972, KANUPP was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan; KANUPP was successfully commissioned marking Pakistan’s entry in the nuclear age as the second developing – and the only Muslim – country to draw energy from the heart of the atom.

Dr. Usmani peacefully died in Karachi on 17 June 1992, and the occasion brought tears to the eyes of many scientists and reformers who regarded him with affection. In May 1998, the Government of Pakistan belatedly recognised Usmani’s vital services by awarding the Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Nishan-i-Imtiaz posthumously by the prime minister Nawaz Sharif when Pakistan conducted its first successful nuclear tests.

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