When Riazuddin, that was his full name died in September 9, 2013 at age 82 in Islamabad, international science organizations extolled his contributions to high-energy physics.
But in Pakistan, except for a few newspaper lines and a small reference held a month later at Quaid-e-Azam University, where he had taught for decades, his passing was little noticed.
In fact, very few Pakistanis have heard of the self-effacing and modest scientist who drove the early design and development of Pakistan’s nuclear program.
Riazuddin never laid any claim to fathering the bomb, a job that requires the efforts of many and after setting the nuclear ball rolling, he stepped aside.
Pakistan’s much celebrated bomb makers, who knew little of the sophisticated physics critically needed to understand a fission explosion, would have been shooting in the dark.
A bomb maker and peacemaking, conformist and rebel, quiet but firm, religious yet liberal, Riazuddin was one of a kind. Mentored by Dr. Abdus Salam, his seminal role in designing the bomb is known to none except a select few.
The story of Pakistan’s bomb, at the least its early beginnings, is well known by now. In the aftermath of Pakistan’s humiliating defeat in December 1971, President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto convened a meeting in Multan on Jan. 20, 1972, to which the country’s preeminent scientists were invited.
Soon thereafter, perhaps around September 1972, Salam summoned Riazuddin to his office at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. He had decided that Riazuddin was to design the bomb.
Riazuddin was pleased but not joyous. He accepted quiet congratulations from his former colleagues, with whom he had ceased to have a working relationship many years ago, and he also accepted a high government award, the Hilal-e-Imtiaz.
The country’s powerful nuclear and security establishment was clearly not willing to celebrate a man who have done a spectacular job.