Pakistan’s eminent physicist, Dr I. H Usmani was among the pioneers of nuclear energy and technology in Pakistan. He was an effective administrator, visionary, mentor and a tireless perfectionist.
Ishrat Hussain Usmani was born on April 15, 1917. He graduated in Science from the Muslim University in Aligharh and did his Masters in Physics from Bombay University.
In 1939, young Usmani moved to Imperial College, University of London for a doctorate. He wrote his thesis entitled “A study of the growth of compound crystals by electron diffraction” under the supervision of renowned physicist Niels Bohr – The Nobel laureate and founder of the atomic model. He was also taught by G P Thomson, the Nobel laureate son of Professor J. J Thomson. Interestingly, he did his PhD in Physics within two years; he was only 23-years-old when he successfully finished his PhD.
In 1942, He also passed the Indian Civil Services (ICS) examination with distinctions and served as District Officers at Madras Presidency from 1942-47.
After the independence, Dr. Usmani moved to Pakistan where he was appointed as chief controller of imports and exports and served in various Governmental designations.
A visionary for nuclear science and technology
In 1959, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – then a young minister of Ayub Khan’s Cabinet – appointed I. H. Usmani as a member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PEAC) and upon the request of President Ayub Khan, took charge of the chairmanship of the PEAC in 1960.
Almost immediately, Dr. I. Usmani worked towards enhancing the PEAC as a world renowned organization. He used various practical and innovative strategies in a scientific manner to develop high-class manpower, up-to-date instruments and state-of-the-art facilities.
He selected 50 individuals with masters’ degrees in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering and Geology on merit basis for the orientation of the nuclear science and technology program. These scientists were named Officers on Special Training (OSTs) and then sent abroad for doctoral and post-doctoral research in esteemed universities and institutes abroad. For this vision, Usmani put in immense effort and resources; using even his personal contacts all across the world.
He produced at least 400 bright minds in various disciplines of nuclear sciences and technology in a very short span. It was then that the well-educated and dedicated team of experts ushered in a new era of research and development in the country. He was the only person in Pakistan’s history to have created the largest galaxy of experts in nuclear-related fields.
As a strong proponent of peaceful usage of nuclear technology, he launched multi-dimensional programs to produce nuclear energy, research and development to address national needs by using radio isotopes in health, agriculture and industry.
Dr. I. Usmani fully utilized the services of OSTs and established nuclear centers in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Tando Jam, Dhaka, Chittagong, Memon Singh.
These state-of-the-art centers paved the way for research and development in metallurgy, agriculture and the health industry with the help of nuclear technology. Even today, the country-wide cluster of nuclear diagnostic centers, the new variety of crops and precision engineering are fruits of his vision and efforts.
Dr. Usmani also served as vice-chairman of the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO); setting the foundation of the country’s national space agency.
He also played a pivotal role in establishing the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH), now a leading establishment for research, training and capacity building – Dr. Usmani spent many a late night on this, his dream.
As a determined leader, he enthused world renowned architect Edward Stone to design and construct the PINSTECH building. Edward Stone fused eastern architecture with the modern labs building; giving it a likeness to the Taj Mahal. The building was dubbed as “Best of both the worlds” by Time Magazine. It also holds a research reactor.
Dr I. H Usmani left the PEAC in 1971 and turned the commission into the world’s leading research organisation for the peaceful utilisation of nuclear power.
The sad story
He also negotiated with international bodies – like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – for the first ever nuclear power plant of Pakistan. After years of hard work, he finally succeeded to develop the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) which is also the first ever commercial nuclear reactor of the Islamic world.
Sadly in 1972, at the inaugural ceremony of Kanupp, he was not invited – even as a respected citizen! Dr. Usmani was an outspoken person and even a harsh critic of government policies which duly brought about an increase in the numbers of his enemies.
Following this, he was invited by Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, Shah of Iran to establish three nuclear plants in the country, but the scheme was never performed due to the Iranian Revolution.
Dr I. H Usmani presented the idea of Scientific Services, parallel to the Civil Service of Pakistan. He was a strong supporter in wanting to attain energy for the country needs and a pioneer of the Pakistan Science Foundation, the government agency for the promotion of Science and Technology; thus unquestionably making him among the founder of Pakistan’s scientific infrastructure.
He was also elected as the chairman of the board of governors for the IAEA and headed many conferences entitled “Atom for Peace”. He was then appointed as UN’s Senior Energy Advisor from 1974-78 when he did comprehensive surveys of renewable energy particularly in developing states.
Dr. Usmani established two regional centers of alternative energy in Senegal and Sri Lanka. He was a strong advocate of the non-conventional ways of producing energy and dedicated the last days of his life for the same cause.
Dr. I. H. Usmani also served as a Secretary General of the BCCI, International Foundation for the New and Emerging Sciences and Technologies (NEST).
Dr Abdus Salam always said: “Science is the common heritage of mankind”, surely as scientist Dr. Usmani was a heritage of all humanity. He breathed his last on June 17, 1992.