Craving Energy and Glory, Pakistan Revels in Boast of Water-Run Car

Declan Walsh, New York Times, August 4, 2012

In a nation thirsting for energy, he loomed like a messiah: a small-town engineer who claimed he could run a car on water.

The assertion—based on the premise that he had discovered a way to easily split the oxygen and hydrogen atoms in water molecules with almost no energy—would, if proven, represent a stunning breakthrough for physics and a near-magical solution to Pakistan’s desperate power crisis.

“By the grace of Allah, I have managed to make a formula that converts less voltage into more energy,” the professed inventor, Agha Waqar Ahmad, said in a telephone interview. “This invention will solve our country’s energy crisis and provide jobs to hundreds of thousands of people.”

Established scientists have debunked his spectacular claims, first made one month ago, saying they violate ironclad laws of physics. But across Pakistan, where crippling electricity cuts have left millions drenched in the sweat of a powerless summer, and where there is hunger for tales of homegrown glory, the shimmering mirage of a “water car” received a broad and serious embrace.

Federal ministers lauded Mr. Ahmad and his vehicle, sometimes at cabinet meetings. {snip}

The country’s most famous scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan—revered inside Pakistan as the father of the country’s nuclear weapons program and reviled elsewhere as a notorious figure in the international nuclear black market—gave it his imprimatur, too. “I have investigated the matter, and there is no fraud involved,” he told Hamid Mir, a popular television journalist, during a recent broadcast that sealed Mr. Ahmad’s celebrity.


It shows “how far Pakistan has fallen into the pit of ignorance and self-delusion,” wrote Pervez Hoodbhoy, an outspoken physics professor, in The Express Tribune, a national English-language daily. He added: “Our leaders are lost in the dark, fumbling desperately for a miracle; our media is chasing spectacle, not truth; and our great scientists care more about being important than about evidence.”


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