Of Scientists and Mohajirs

Just finished reading The Space Race by Deborah Cadbury. A delightful and fast paced coverage of race between US and Russians to reach the moon. The book traces development in rocket technology through the dual autobiography of the designers on both sides of the cold war.

By the end of world war II, the Germans were way ahead of everyone in rocket technology with their V-2 missiles. They were lead by their engineer Wernher von Braun. His ambition was not to  develop missiles as war weapons rather using the missile development as a springboard to achieve his childhood dream of reaching for the stars/space. If the path to space and learning and fine tuning technology passed through developing missiles of Third Reich through forced labor/concentration camps, he had no qualms about it.

The area in German where the missile technology research and production facility was located  was to be handed over to Russia after World War II end. However US with the help of British intelligence were able to extract most of the German engineers including von Braun as well as plans, blue prints, under development missiles and their spare parts to US for mastering the technology. By the time Russians arrived, it was swept clean of most traces of technology and know how.

Russinas were not to be under estimated. The Russians tried very hard to find and encourage the engineers or technicians that were left behind to join them. However, the masterminds had travelled to US as such the Russian progress in missile development was very slow. Then came in Korolev, the Russian chief designer who had earlier endured years of slave labor in cold Russian jail just because his colleagues had become jealous of him and told the russian security services that he harbored ill will towards mother land.

Korolev also had a childhood dream of reaching for space. However, despite being tortured for years in jail for no fault of his, he had no ill will towards his country despite the fact the country was responsible for ruining his health, family relations and reputation and worked his ass of for developing the rocket technology for his country.

Arrival of Korolev in Germany added fire to the Russian efforts. For fear of defection or spying by western nations, Russians shifted the left behind german technicians, engineers, etc to Russia in a facility outside Moscow.

Contrary to the belief that the governments of Russia and US were interested in reaching for the moon, the truth is quite different. No one was interested in the science of space except for the two dreamers von Braun and Korolev.

The Russian government was almost bankrupt from fighting Germans and they did not have funds to throw away at dreams. However, Korolev fighting red tape had convinced the Russian civilian and military leaders that the rocket can also take a lethal payload and would try squeeze pennies (or Rubles) out of government for development of rockets. There was lot of politics, infighting for funds, professional jealousies and failed attempts before Russia could finally launch a satellite into space called Sputnik.

Till that time, US did not trust von Braun and his team on account of being Germans. They had just brought him over so that Russians or others could not get their hands on them. However, when America woke up to realize that they have slept under a Russian moon (Sputnik), their efforts picked up pace.

However, its not that doors of US Treasury had been opened for rocket development. It had been more than a decade since the Germans were brought over yet they were not allowed to do much. By this time, large number of members of von Braun team had already left for private sector because nothing had moved in more than a decade they had spent on US soil. Even after Sputnik it was not an easy ride. Despite being years ahead in know how, the Germans were not trusted and the US government introduced a competition with Navy and Airforce having their own development programs with the government saying that final go ahead will go to just one program. Fighting the distrust, red tape von Braun had to work really hard to get his rocket designs approved and tested. There were no trust for the Germans as of yet.

When Russia put a man in space, i.e. Yuri Gagarin, it further dawned on America that they are being left behind in development. President Kennedy opened the flood gates of money by saying that they will put a man in space by the end of decade (70s). Now US was talking. A multi billion dollar industry complex developed around the space program of which US has reaped benefits till this day of infrastructure, technology and know how.

On the Russian side, things were bad as many other contendors had come up for Chief Designer post setting up competing rocket development platforms and fighting Korolev for the government funds. Moreover, the Russian government had become more interested in winning the propaganda war by putting first satellite in space, first animal in space, first human in space, first women in space, first space walk, first space docking etc. Falling ill due to over work and the effects of torture he had received earlier in life in Russian jails catching up with him, Korolev died and with him his dream and  the Russian program, never regaining the momentum.

With the Apollo, Americans were finally successful in putting the man on space and winning the space race. von Braunhad finally realized his dream.


What the book showed that human vision and ingenuity can overcome adversity and lack of resources. Germany was almost bankrupt by the end of war and the war had bankrupted Russia. However, the ingenious dreamers overcame them with their perseverence, hardwork and commitment.

Similar is the story of Pakistan’s nuclear program. For a country that was demoralized after losing its half, lacked resources, had no precision engineering setup, had always been on the brink of bankruptcy and holding out for international aid, for A.Q. Khan to make it into an atomic power is an achievement. Even if he stole the plan as a lot detractors claim, the know how, the technology, the infrastructure required to develop a bomb, refine uranium could only have come when he and his team put in his sweat and blood to achieve that dream.

Pakistan has blue prints for JF-17 striker plane. Lets see how many planes we make without a leader or a visionary to at the helm. So far we are just assembling and what I have heard from my sources in Air Force, we will keep on assembling. The setup required to design, build, test, maintain and manufacture is just not there and there is no visionary in our armed forces who has a dream of it.


One thing von Braun complained of was that he and his team was never trusted. Despite giving all his knowledge, dreams and know how and adopting the country, he was never considered their own, a son of the soil. In 1982, when US had made full use of them, they declassified the documents about his team’s concentration camp crimes and started proceeding against them. von Braun was dead but his trusted associate Arthur Rudolph had to gave up his citizenship and move back to Germany.

How does it feel to not belong to a place after living in that country for 40 years and giving your dreams to it and taking up citizenship? I have an idea. I had a chance to see the teaser of Abdul Qadir Khan’s interview to Mazhar Abbas on ARY News where he replies to Mazhar Abbas’s question that why he was sidelined after the atomic blasts. He replied, “I have never been considered son of soil. I am still considered a Mohajir.”


I could fees his pain. I belong to the so called Mohajir community though I prefer the label Ahl-e-Zuban. Since I grew up in Middle East (one does not get a nationality in middle east no matter how long you live there and to them you are not sindi, punjabi and mohajir etc, you are a Pakistani as everyone treats all Pakistanis the same) till 8th grade, we (me and my brothers) thought we are Sindhis because Karachi is in Sind. My father always said that you are a Pakistani and nothing else.

Anyway, upon reaching puberty we realized that we belong to the Mohajir community (though puberty had nothing to do with realization). However, though I never referred to myself as Mohajir (always saying Ahle-Zubaan or “Urdu-speaking”_its ironic how an English word “Urdu speaking” is denoted to tell people that you speak Urdu) but I really hated when I was adressed or labelled as Hindustani (the preferred term of Mohajirs for describing themselves). For someone who grew up as a Pakistani and nothing else finding one day that he is a Hindustani is like one day your parents telling you that they are your foster parents and then introducing you to your real parents which you don’t know or want to know. At least Mohajir tells you that you have immigrated to a new place, calling yourself Hindustani is not even accepting that.

With time I found out other labels such as matarwas, makkarh (used by Sindis because like a makkarh (wild ant) Mohajirs eat everything even the feet of cattles (payas) which Sindis don’t).

When I was studying in University, I went to visit my school friend who now lived in Lahore. I was sitting with his extended family and then issue of where I come from came up. His cousin called me a Hindustorha. I was shocked at the derogatory term. Though I was hearing the term for the first time, yet the derogation in the term made me feel that I was stripped of my identity, my roots in an instant. I felt nauseous. It took me almost a minute to regain my composure. After that I was OK.

Some of our family members after migration had settled in Punjab and they have assimilated there. For all practical purposes they are Punjabis. However, the families that came to reside in Sind are still mohajir, hindustani, hindustorha, matarwa, makkarh etc.

I don’t want to engage in blame games over here. Just some events in the book reminded me of the above so decided to share it.


Its a wonderful book and reads like a thriller. When I wanted to skip a few pages as I wanted to buy a new book (my wife says that I spend way too much money on books and should not buy new books unless I have finished old ones) I could not as the way author has written it kept me hooked.

I wish someone writes a similar book on heroic achievements of our scientists in bringing this poor resource lacking nation in the list of atomic nations.

We could have achieved so much more, if we can make atomic bomb we can also make other things from computer chips to nuclear power plants if we put our mind to it, however, the rulers of this country have no interest in advancement of any sciences and unless there is an incentive of making money and kickbacks, the government (civilian or military) is not interested.


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