Pakistani youth: Don’t agonise, organise!

Published: December 30, 2010

Perhaps Abdus Salam’s memory can act as a mentor to teach these promising youth ‘how to fly.'

A bespectacled teenager cycles his way from Lahore to his small town. It’s a long journey, but the merry boy has not a care in the world. After all, securing the highest marks ever recorded for the Matriculation Examination is no small feat.

Tears of joy complement the bright smile on his face as he enters the town. The town folk are all gathered around his humble family abode to give a hero’s welcome to their very own ‘Ramanujan.’

But among the multitude of admirers of the boy, no one ever imagines that Abdus Salam would have the honour of becoming the first Pakistani Nobel Laureate.

I recently met Professor Michael Duff, a prominent British theoretical physicist in London. Through his incisive observation, he spotted my subcontinent accent and asked inquisitively about my background. “Pakistan,” I replied promptly, half expecting no follow up comments from Professor Duff.

To my pleasant surprise, he beamed at me and enthusiastically said:

“From Abdus Salam’s homeland!”

“You know him?” I enquired.

“Of course, I was his doctoral student at Imperial College London,” exclaimed Duff, “Trust me, students have wings and mentors like Abdus Salam teach them how to fly.”

Incidentally Professor Duff currently holds a position at Imperial College which is named after his accomplished teacher: Abdus Salam Chair of Theoretical Physics.

In adverse times like these, when sanguineous and gory news make headlines in Pakistan, figures like Abdus Salam act as shinning stars on a dark night. They are testimony to our nation’s enormous potential. When we witness the abhorrent corruption of our politicians and their inept administration, it is convenient to make them the scapegoat for our nation’s many shortcomings. But, we fail to appreciate that it is us who instinctively go with the imperfect status-quo rather than endeavour to sow seeds of hard work and reap the harvest of success. After all, when Abdus Salam was awarded full scholarship at University of Cambridge, Pakistan was still in the infancy stage of its development which was marked by primitive infrastructure. It was not self pity which paved Abdus Salam’s path to Cambridge. It was self determination.

Another gem of Pakistan is Asim Khwaja, the first Pakistani Professor at the prestigious Harvard University. His research has received coverage from numerous media outlets including the Economist, New York Times, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, Aljazeera, CNN and BBC.  I was fortunate enough to hear him speak during the workshop ‘Firms and Household enterprises in Developing Countries’ at the University of Warwick. Professor Khwaja focused on Pakistan and it was pleasing to note that during his empirical presentation, he managed to deal with quite a few stereotypes regarding Pakistan. After expounding on the meaning of the word ‘Talib’ (i.e. student), Professor Khwaja noted that there are numerous promising ‘Taliban’ in Pakistan who have the potential to become top-notch researchers. Contrary to the popular perception, he emphasised that in-name-only ‘Taliban’ are a minority and the overwhelming majority of Pakistani youth believe that the “pen is mightier than the sword.”

With so much to offer, Pakistan still faces a dearth of human development. And therein lies the irony. Twenty years ago, it was the renowned Pakistani economist late Mahbubul Haq, who devised a composite statistic which was consequently adopted by the United Nations to rank countries by level of human development. The index known as HDI, places Pakistan at an unimpressive 125th position. If Mahbubul Haq was alive today he probably would have been awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics. But he would have been more pleased if a Pakistani political or civil society leader had the honour of winning the ‘Mahbubul Haq Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development.’ The award was established by UNDP in honour of Dr Haq and it still awaits a Pakistani recipient.

If we make it a habit to lament about our remorseful state, then we will remain stagnant in all spheres of life. In other words it is a choice between organise and agonise. Asim Khwaja discussed the enormous potential in Pakistani youth. Perhaps Abdus Salam’s memory can act as an inspiration to teach these promising youth who need to learn how to fly.


Hassan Talal Maitla

A student of economics at the University of Warwick and the President of the university's Islamic Society

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Humanity

    Thank you for contributing an inspirational, thought provoking article to this space. It is a breath of fresh air!

    Thank you for keeping focus on the achievements of Dr. Adbus Salam and for presenting him as an admirable person who kept his head high despite all hurdles. The young generations needs good role models and mentors. Dr. Salam is larger than life personality and every Pakistani should feel proud of his accomplishments.

    Let the new year begin with a hope that people will expend their energy on productive endeavors instead of throwing away the gift of life only to feed hatred and bigotry.

    “A Nation reveals itself not only by the the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers…” President John F. KennedyRecommend

  • Abbas

    10 on 10 Recommend

  • Talha

    “Any nation that does not honor its hero’s will not long endure.” – Abraham Lincoln

    Dr Abdus Salam was the shining light of Pakistan, a man who rose from a poor background to reach the peak of his career as a scientist.

    He was the greatest mind produced by Pakistan, additionally he had a big hand in setting up SUPARCO, Pakistan’s Nuclear Program and many other feats.

    Had Ayub listened to him and implemented the plans for Nuclear power plants in the 60’s, Pakistan would not have suffered from any shortage of Electricity.

    In a recent incident, someone inquired about Scientists hailing from the Muslim world and the whole room full of people from around the Muslim world went quiet, this is when I jumped up and said Dr Abdus Salam was the first one and he hailed from Pakistan.

    Pakistan was envisioned to be the great nation by Jinnah and glimmers of hope by the likes of Dr Abdus Salam make it seem that this country can still achieve the greatness it ought to.

    He quoted this line from the Quran (at his acceptance speech) which everyone should try and understand:

    Thou seest not, in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection, Return thy gaze, seest thou any fissure. Then Return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze, Comes back to thee dazzled, aweary.


  • Mahvesh

    This is such an amazing piece in the otherwise ridiculous blogs that are usually published. Thanks for contributing something actually worthwhile. Recommend

  • abc

    Much Appreciated!Recommend

  • Syed Abdul Wahab Gilani

    Loved It. Thumbs up!Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Very nice post.
    We (as a nation) really did not do justice with the greatest man we produced so far just because of his religious beliefs. There is no mention of his achievements in our text books, I am truly inspired by the great Abdul Salam.Recommend

  • Hassan Talal Maitla

    @Humanity and Talha: Interestingly, both of you have quoted two great American presidents to outline the importance of paying homage to nation’s heroes. And surely America has produced more Noble laureates than any other country for it gives them the respect they deserve.

    Moreover, as Talha you rightly pointed out, Abdus Salam acted on the Quranic injunction of studying the ‘creation of the All-merciful’. Many of us would mention Quran’s emphasis on acquiring knowledge, yet unlike Abdus Salam few have pursued this commandment.Recommend

  • Talha

    @ Hassan Talal

    It was that particular Quranic verse itself which enabled Dr Abdus Salam to achieve the great feat he so famously did.

    He was working on further projects which would have brought him and Pakistan alike more Noble Prizes but his health hindered their progress.

    If only the Pak Gov concentrates on promoting and concentrating on concepts outlined by Dr Salam, we would have been able to achieve much.Recommend

  • Humanity

    @ Talha: Re: Abraham Lincoln’s quote “Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.”

    The above statement is mis-attributed to Abraham Lincoln. The actual quote, attributed to Hugh Gordon Miller, is in reference to honoring Lincoln and states:

    the nation which fails to honor its
    heroes, the memory of its heroes,
    whether those heroes be living or
    dead, does not deserve to live, and it
    will not live

    The remark poignantly states that the character of a people and their destiny are determined by how they treats their great men and women.

    Reference: under Misattributed.Recommend

  • Minto

    Fantastic piece! I wasnt aware that HDI was invented by a Pakistani. We salute you Mr Mahbub ul haq and Abdus Salam.Recommend

  • Hasan

    Very good piece and a timely reminder for all of us about Pakistan’s unsung heroes. Recommend

  • Belal

    Some times I wonder, How is it possible to have so much diverse talent in a country like Pakistan. What are not we? We have scientist, Economist, best athletes in cricket, squash, hockey, tennis and so on. we have one of the best armies and we have the best corrupt leaders…

    If we were properly educated, given opportunities and our leader were true to us, we probably would not have been here, in this condition.. God has blessed Pakistan with everything but candid leaders…

    Good article..Recommend

  • Anwar Sheikh

    Thank you, Mr Hassan Talal Maitla and Tribune too, for feasting the readers with such an inspiring piece of reading into the life of the outstanding Pakistani son of the soil, in the person of Dr. Salam, Dr. Haq and others. These observations really make us believe that the muslim Ummah could become Khair-e-Ummat(best of all nations) only if our rulers could see beyond their nose and could do justice to the God-gifted individuals. Recommend

  • Ibne alam,

    mention of two out-standing Pakistanis, Dr. Salam and Dr. Haq takes me back to the dark period of dictator Gen.Zia.The occasion was that the UN general assembly was to elect Director General of UNESCO and Dr.Salam’s name was being unanimously proposed by the governments of many UN member states. But Dr. Salam said that he will consent to this proposal only if the government of Pakistan proposes and officially sends my name for the UN post. The idea was conveyed/picked up by Finance Minister, Dr. Mahboob ul Haq,( an old Ravian and afriend of Dr. Salam). Dr. Haq said ‘no problem’ and was confident that he, through Foreign office, will manage to send an official letter proposing Dr. Salam’s name. And when Gen. Zia came to know that a pakistani is 100% sure to win, then why not he sends the name of his own Foreign minister. Ah! what a bad luck of Pakistan and its people, that an appointee of Mr. Bhutto, had dared to send the name of Foreign minister, Gen. Yaqub Khan. The whole episode looked like a joke, humiliating one, when voting was done, Pakistani candidate got only three votes in the Security Council and ultimately the UN General Assembly elected the Spanish candidate to head the prestigious world organization, aimed to promote world peace through Education, Science and Cultural co-operation. Peace and prosperity of human race was the ideals which Dr. Salam cherished through out his life, under the slogan of Atom for Peace- and to use science for the service of mankind. Thanks to Tribune for reviving the memories of our real Heroes. May God bless them.Recommend

  • Hina

    Great peice of work..:)Recommend

  • Talha

    @ Humanity

    Thanks for the info.Recommend

  • Milestogo

    There are more international personalities from Pakistan – NaziA hasan being one…Recommend

  • Hamza Malik

    The reason Dr Abdus Salam wasn’t accorded the respect he deserved in his homeland is because he was an Ahmedi. The Maulvis and the Mullahs have even defaced the tombstone on his grave. I wonder when the Government of Pakistan will have the guts to stand up and declare that we are above religious differences for we are all Pakistanis.Recommend

  • Mubarik Ali Tahir

    I want to share an incident which happened almost 32 years ago when I was a fellow at Centre for Nuclear Studies in Nilore Pakistan. One evening after having dinner I was strolling with few friends and we went to the outskirts of our colony. There is a small rest house situated at the boundary of the PINSTECH complex. We greeted an old security guard stationed at the rest house and security guard was very pleased with our greeting gesture. Security guard told us that our greeting and respecting him reminded him about Dr. Abdus Salam. He narrated that this rest house was built before construction of PINTECH and Dr. Abdus Salam used to come and stay at this rest house some knights. There was some scientific equipment stored at the rest house as well in those days. Dr. Salam will tell the security guard that since this equipment was very precious it must be guarded well to avoid theft. Dr. Salam told the security guard that whenever he felt sleepy he should inform Dr. Salam so that Dr. Salam will take the duty of the guard and the guard could go to sleep. Security guard further told us that in the morning Dr. Salam would put the tea pot on the stove and prepare tea for himself and the guard and offer him cup of tea. This incident occurred in 1978 when Dr. Salam had not received Noble Prize yet. This incident shows Dr. Abdus Salam’s humility and love for his home land.Recommend

  • Talha

    @ Hamza Malik

    Post Bhutto, Pakistan lost many of its best and brightest.

    Had Dr Salam been in the same Pakistan it was pre Bhutto era, he would have achieved a lot more magnificent feats for this nation.

    Not just him, many others were there who could have turned Pakistan into a respectable nation, as it was during Ayubs time.Recommend

  • moinuddinalikhan

    I remember Dr. Salam analysis of Education system of Israel and what we can learn from it. He was a good educationist.
    Moin KhanRecommend

  • Abcd

    Good piece, but as an economist, I can tell you the HDI construction would not constitute a Nobel in Economics. If so, the committee would be going against almost every other Nobel they have awarded.
    As far as Khawaja, there are a few more good Pakistani (look atleast) economists out there, look into Atif Mian and Amir Sufi…Recommend

  • Robin

    Pakistani Youth – Organise, Agitate, bring Jehadi revolution, Unite Ummah, follow the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Liberate Kashmir….Recommend

  • Furqan

    great and inspirational pc of work …Recommend

  • sadaqat

    @Ibne alam,:
    The whole episode makes me sad for being deprived of many efforts/chances of making Pakistan a great role-model state for the rest of the world, when our selfish greed-ridden rulers failed themselves to play their due role did not give the due respect and recognition to that truly a great man, with rare humane-humility, our gifted physicist,universally acknowledged scientific genius, having a pure Pakistani soul of the soil of Jhang town, alas, was not given the chance to use his God-gifted science knowledge/intellectual capabilities to serve his own people and make his own motherland a great country by using our own talented/gifted sons of the soil. Now, I have an inner feeling in myself which make me confident, the noble dreams of our Nobel laureate, physicist Dr. Salam, will be definitely realized by the silence-observing team of tested nuclear scientists and engineers headed by the Nuclear physicist in the person of, Dr.Samar Mubarakmand. Insha Allah. But, here is one condition of ‘if’, yes– only “IF” our rulers have the required courage/conviction to with-stand the pressure from within and without and demonstrate the will-power of “Yaqeen-e-Mohkam” in our talented/gifted sons of the soil and provide/allow them “full funding-plus-free-hand,” in decision-making, minus interference of vested interests/mafias, so that Pakistan may become an “Asian Economic Tiger” in 10 years as confidently opined by Dr. Samar, really a great statement for a country/nation, called 6th Nuclear power, but, passing through the ‘dark-e like’ period of Gas and Power load-shedding. What a great contradiction? Let us hope we will see end of this contradiction in our own lifetime. Recommend

  • amaan

    @Mahvesh:i agree uRecommend

  • daud dard

    Great Article.
    But how could you miss another Pakistani Star, Professor ATIF MIAN? After being a professor at the University of Chicago, he is now at UC Berkeley. Academic research wise as well media coverage, he ranks higher than Professor Asim Khawaja, his close close buddy.
    . Recommend