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The book ‘Espionage of the Century: An Untold Story’ is a masterpiece written by Ambassador (R) Zahid Said which narrates various notable events of his personal and professional life in a distinct yet frank manner, making readers hooked till the end.  The book consists of 282 pages and covers sixteen chapters followed by Reflection in which Ambassador Said covers his experiences while serving as Barrister-at-Law after having graduated from Cambridge University, practicing law in his home country, joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the revert back to law practice at the Supreme Court of Pakistan and other prestigious international courts.

His journey at MOFA where he started as Deputy Legal Advisor opened up for him numerous avenues as a diplomat. All chapters of this book are uniquely written with due diligence, however, the chapter ‘The Hague Netherland, Espionage of the Century (1974-1978)’ holds center stage, as the title of the book depicts. A brief account of the chapter is given later in the review.

Ambassador Said discusses the geostrategic location of Pakistan and draws parallels to how in history Pakistan had been plunged into unrest and wars due to either troubling neighbors, India and Afghanistan, or as a consequence of the power play of regional countries and the repercussions that followed. Dismemberment of Pakistan in December 1971 is one example and while discussing the tragic events, the author takes a leap ahead in justifying the use of force by Pakistan army. He made this point while highlighting the uncompromising nature of Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman and the atrocities of Awami League, which were then reciprocated by the Pakistan army, something that is known only among the army circle.

The major emphasis of the book is laid on the author’s contribution to making Pakistan a nuclear power. He reflected on the crucial ten days, 20-31 December 1974, when deputed at The Hague, Netherlands as Counselor, he helped transfer the nuclear material from Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, a young Pakistan scientist at that time, to the authorities in Pakistan, using his diplomatic channels. It was no less risky since any slight mishandling of the nuclear material could lead to embarrassment for Pakistan and strained diplomatic relations with the Netherlands.

Having faced the dismemberment of Pakistan in December 1971 and dealing with post-war problems, the Smiling Buddha surfaced as another challenge to Pakistan’s security. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, responded promptly and reciprocated in the same way by announcing that Pakistan to become a nuclear power at all costs. Dr. Khan at that time was working as a Pakistani scientist in the Netherlands at the production facility of individual parts of the centrifuge process.

It was his idea to use the ultra-centrifuge method to produce enriched uranium for making nuclear weapons. Upon Dr. Khan’s insistence and following the request of Dr. Munir Ahmed, Chairman, of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Ambassador Said accepted to help in the transportation of parts of the centrifuge unit and some other documents having instructions, via Pakistan’s embassy in Brussels, to be given to authorities in Pakistan, while carrying in diplomatic bags (p.85).

The pressure was huge as even the consent among institutes was not present and Mr. Agha Shahi, the then Foreign Secretary refused Ambassador Zahid to bring the nuclear material to Pakistan, with a clear instruction to dump it (P.79). Here the author makes a point referring to the term espionage, that the entire plan was carried out by an individual in his own capacity to serve his country, hence challenges the western propaganda to consider it an espionage (p.83), state-level spying.

The author further refutes India’s claim of stealing the technology from URENCO, where Dr. Khan was working, and maintains that the scope of Pakistan’s nuclear program is wider since it enriches Uranium up to 95% as against 5% enrichment in URENCO.

In chapter 8 while serving as DG Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey, he discusses Pakistan’s position as pivotal during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Ambassador Said notes that the Pakistan army’s strategy during this time was to keep the pot boiling but not to let it boil over. The army wanted to keep the military assistance to Afghan mujahideen at low-key so that it would not trigger Soviet forces and no clash could be made by the Soviet Union (p. 93).

Other chapters narrate his international postings as Pakistan’s representative and are listed as chapters 10, 11, 15, and 16. The Iranian revolution, the Iran-Iraq war, and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait were other notable regional developments that stirred tensions in the region and Pakistan was no exception who could escape. The manuscript particularly reflects Ambassador Said’s contribution towards safeguarding the national interests of Pakistan, especially at his duty stations abroad, and how he had been respected and obeyed among the Pakistani diaspora living in respective countries.

This was particularly evident during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 when he was serving there as an Ambassador of Pakistan. Another impression the author tries to convey is the importance of negotiation and bargaining for a representative to preserve his country’s national interest. Firstly in African countries, where the author tries to maximize imports of Pakistan’s rice; in Kuwait, whereupon his meeting with the then Prime Minister Sheikh Saad and requesting Kuwait’s investment in Pakistan for setting up an oil refinery, increase imports of Pakistan’s rice and to show solidarity over Kashmir issue; rehabilitation of Pakistani community in Kuwait after Iraq’s withdrawal, restoring Pakistani expats to their positions, in spite of the Kuwaiti authorities efforts for new recruits of local people; and to avert the pressure for maximizing imports of Spanish products in Pakistan and refused to purchase Spain’s rusted aged rail wagons. Even at homeland, while serving as acting Foreign Secretary in 1994, the author indicates the US’ last demarche for rolling back Pakistan’s nuclear program was refuted with his diplomatic dealings when the US Ambassador quoted India’s offer to negotiate with Pakistan for a nuclear weapon free zone in South Asia, perhaps, similar offers with Pakistan’s name to India were presented as well, who knows!

All these narrations give readers a true picture of success of his success as a diplomat, and above all, the role he played in making Pakistan a nuclear power today. Becoming a nuclear power was the resolve of Pakistani nation and there are many unsung heroes who played an important role and are still not revealed. The matter of fact is that Pakistan is a nuclear power today with the full spectrum of deterrence and people like Ambassador Zahid Said is one of them who helped in one way or another in achieving this goal. Having served to represent Pakistan internationally in such critical times was a profound experience for him, and dealing with the situation with the utmost wit endorses his professional vigor and dedication.

The author is Research Officer of RFI.

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