Fevered with dreams of the future: The coming of the atomic age to Pakistan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

11 Scopus citations


On October 19, 1954, Pakistan's prime minister met the president of the United States at the White House, in Washington. In Pakistan, this news was carried alongside the report that the Minister for Industries, Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, had announced the establishment of an Atomic Energy Research Organization. These developments came a few months after Pakistan and the United States had signed an agreement on military cooperation and launched a new program to bring American economic advisers to Pakistan. Each of these initiatives expressed a particular relationship between Pakistan and the United States, a key moment in the coming into play of ways of thinking, the rise of institutions, and preparation of people, all of which have profoundly shaped contemporary Pakistan. This essay examines the period before and immediately after this critical year in which Pakistan's leaders tied their national future to the United States. It focuses, in particular, on how elite aspirations and ideas of being modern, especially the role played by the prospect of an imminent "atomic age," shaped Pakistan's search for U.S. military, economic, and technical support to strengthen the new state. The essay begins by looking briefly at how the possibility of an atomic age as an approaching, desirable global future took shape in the early decades of the twentieth century. It then sketches the way that this vision was expressed in the American elite imagination after World War II, and how, with the coming of the Cold War, it became a central element of U.S. foreign and security policy. The essay goes on to examine how, against this background, those of the emergent elite of newly independent Pakistan sought to end their sense of national insecurity, poverty, and backwardness, and secure their position and that of the state, both within their own society and internationally, by developing military allies and capabilities, planning economic development, and establishing a scientific community and public sensibility that would be appropriate to the atomic age. Their aspirations and decisions exemplify a broader pattern that Eqbal Ahmad identified as characteristic of Third World societies, where people find themselves "living on the frontier of two worlds-in the middle of the ford-haunted by the past, fevered with dreams of the future."1 Pakistan's elite has succeeded, at great cost and with help from the United States, in making its dreams come true. They have created a Pakistan that has nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants, and a nuclear complex that dwarfs all other areas of science and technology. But in this fifty-year-long effort, Pakistan's elite has failed to meet many of the basic political, social, and economic needs of its citizens. The essay concludes by looking at the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests and the state's promotion of nuclear nationalism as the basis for a shared sense of identity and achievement. My argument is that the peace movement in Pakistan, if it is to prevail, needs to look beyond a simple opposition to nuclear weapons. It must also offer a vision of an alternative future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSouth Asian Cultures of the Bomb
Subtitle of host publicationAtomic Publics and the State in India and Pakistan
PublisherIndiana University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9780253352538
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Fevered with dreams of the future: The coming of the atomic age to Pakistan'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this