brigadier samson simon sharaf

Written by Eman Nawab 8:45 pm Interviews, Published Content

A Conversation with Brigadier (R) Samson Simon Sharaf

In our conversation with Brigadier (Retd) Samson Simon Sharaf, we follow the journey of one Pakistani Christian’s dedication to his military career. Following retirement, he continues to write on matters of political economy as an expert in the field.
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Ms Eman Nawab is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at National Defence University.
  • Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf, can you tell us something about your role in the Pakistani nuclear policy-making team?

When I was taken into the military operations directorate, they needed a high-profile officer who was qualified in nuclear strategy. My posting was ordered by the then Army Chief General Karamat sometime in April 1997, but my clearance took a long time, with the issue being my religion.

Sometime in November, General Karamat along with the DG MO called me to their office and said, “Simon, you know there is turmoil in India and the parliament is calling elections time and again. The trend is that BJP might win. My worry as COAS is that if BJP wins, they may become nuclear so I want you to write a study paper that if BJP comes to power will they go nuclear?” I agreed.

We asked for inputs from MI, ISI, and the Foreign Office, but we got almost no vital information. I told the COAS that I needed to study the Indian nuclear program deeply by buying books available in the international market. I also asked for high-speed internet which wasn’t allowed in the GHQ.

Finally, I convinced them and got the internet in a building which was probably a store outside the MO Directorate. For the books, I went to Amina Syed, the boss of Oxford University Press, and gave her a list of approximately 200 books. I went to see the books she already had which were ordered by Benazir Bhutto in 1996 along with my colleague Colonel Osaf who retired as DG SPD. I was a colonel at that time too.

A book I would specifically like to mention is “Command and Control of Nuclear Assistance” which had 5 volumes, each volume having 5000 pages. After all the research that I carried out, my conclusion was that if BJP comes to power, they will carry out five explosive tests in total describing the nature of the tests as well.

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I gave my first presentation in December which was all Greek for everyone present. Then people from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission were called and they were delighted that someone in the Army understood what they were doing. We then looked for satellite photographs of Indian atomic explosions through a French satellite called Antech.

We used to observe the changes through those photographs. They were only four people who knew about this including me as this was too sensitive information to share with anyone. I had suggested we carry out six explosions as India was expected to be carrying out five. Later, India went nuclear by carrying out five explosions just as I had predicted. After that, we carried out our tests as well.

  • Do you think the conditions for Christians in the military were better back in your time or now?

They are more or less the same. I feel the Air Force and Navy have better conditions as compared to the Army for us. It has been our tradition to produce competent officers in the Armed forces. My two brothers also served in the army. One of my nephews was also part of the army. I was a very successful officer as well. Two people from the Christian community have been promoted to the rank of General as well.

  • Keeping in mind your expertise in the military and then as a political economist, has the state ever contacted you to render your services in policymaking?

No. Pakistan has this culture that whoever is sitting on the revolving chair is the mister who knows it. I would not say that the hindrances in my career were due to my religion. The reason was professional jealousies mostly. Religion was just exploited in the process as it was a vulnerability. We have a very odd system, not in the military specifically but in Pakistan as a whole.

  • During the course of my research, I realized there were many points in the history of Pakistan where our fellow Christian citizens played a pivotal role in shaping things. For instance, how the 3 Christian votes decided the fate of Punjab or how SM Burke played a vital role in the Pakistan nuclear program. However, we as the public have never once heard of those services in the media, books, etc. What do you think led to this lack of recognition?

First, I will talk about some of the Christian contributions. When Punjab elections were held in 1945, Congress filed 17 petitions of rigging. Punjab’s chief election commissioner was Samuel Martin Burke. He gave all 17 decisions against Congress and the Muslim League was allotted all those seats. Had this not happened, Pakistan would not have come into being.

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Further, when he was Pakistan’s ambassador to Canada, he was very keen that Pakistan should go nuclear. Pakistan was already planning to send a rocket into space. Just for your information, after the Soviet Union, the second country in the world to send a rocket into space was Pakistan. So, SM Burke bought nuclear reactors at minimal prices before sending them to Pakistan; that reactor is functioning to this day in Karachi.

Apart from that, there was a lady from Lahore, Miss Ralia who was a very close friend of Quaid-e-Azam. She had advised Quaid to take Christians on board in the Pakistan movement.

The first case presented in the UN on Kashmir (on whose basis the 1948 resolution was passed for plebiscite) which was in Pakistan’s favor was fought by Mr CE Gibons. He was also a member of the National legislative assembly.

In 1948, the first two martyrs of the Pakistan Army in the Kashmir war were Christians. One of them was a Naik, while the other was Major Sloam. Coming back to your question, the reason for the lack of recognition is that the Pakistan we live in is not the Pakistan envisioned by Quaid-e-Azam.

  • Talking about the contributions of Pakistani Christians, keeping aside the sacrifices they made in the struggle for Pakistan and keeping in mind the post-independence era, most of the contribution date back to the early years and gradually start decreasing especially after the 1980s. Is it the lack of acknowledgment by the state or does the new minority generation not have the same sense of patriotism? What else could be the factors according to you that have caused a major brain drain of religious minorities from Pakistan?

If you carry out an analytical study all those people who performed for Pakistan (from the minorities) before its creation up to 1960 migrated to India, migrated abroad, or died mysteriously. Take the example of SP Singha. This problem of brain drain is not only faced by minorities but by Pakistani citizens in general.

Another very important reason is social inequality. It has two factors; one is that our society has a lot of fault lines based on religion. This was not the case in olden times. We used to coexist peacefully within the same neighborhoods irrespective of our religions. People began looking at Christians as Kafir, not as the people of the book. Secondly, the foreign missionaries left Pakistan and the locals took over bringing in their cultural mindset. They weren’t as devoted and focused.

  • What role can the state play in highlighting the contributions of our people or do you consider it satisfactory?
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Education and awareness are key players. Lack of education is what is attributed to this mindset. We have huge institutions but their sole purpose is earning money, not imparting quality education and producing intellectual mindsets. Even our Christian schools are not the same anymore. They are not able to groom young Christian minds. These institutes at one time polished all of my skills making me an all-rounder.

  • In the post-independence (till the late ’70s & early ’80s) Pakistan, what factors do you see that weakened the cohesiveness between the majority & minority religious communities, that even reached levels of attacking, lynching, and extreme discrimination of religious minorities (in cases like Shantinagar, Gojra, throwing of a young Christian couple in a burning brick kiln, etc) and what do you foresee in case of the reconstruction of a Hindu temple at the sight of Babri Mosque. Further, what do you think are the elements that catalyzed these problems?

There is a story called Arcadia, which is an imaginary wonderland where there is humanity, equal opportunities, prosperity, and no crime. That dream of Arcadia is not present within the movers and shakers of Pakistan. I believe it’s not just an issue of Christians but a collective issue for all Pakistanis.

Moreover, our state as a whole has never taken ownership of its people irrespective of who they are. The discrimination suffered by religious minorities is also the discrimination suffered by the poor people of Pakistan. Their issues are the same. If Pakistani society had been formed on Islamic values in their true sense, the situation would have been entirely different. Religion is only given lip service, and there is no implementation of Islamic laws.

  • Could you please mention your literary works?

I am the author of nearly 1000 articles. Some of them which are:

  • How Pakistan went Nuclear – Pakistan’s political
  • Forgotten Building Blocks – The Nation
  • Karachi’s forgotten communities – The Nation
  • Pakistan’s blitzkrieging diplomat – The Nation
  • A tryst with Jinnah – The Nation
  • Haunting Memories – The Nation
  • ‘Sharaf Sargodhvi – Sharafs WordPress’Sharaf Sargodhvi – Sharafs WordPress
  • Christian IDPs of Pakistan – Sharafs WordPress
  • In the name of religion – The Nation

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