It is a fair question, since he was not a writer, let alone a science fiction writer.
There are two reasons to name this award after Dr Abdus Salam. The obvious one is to pay a tribute to one of the pioneers of science in Pakistan, especially since he didn’t get the appreciation he deserved from his countrymen. The second reason reflects my belief that we often marginalize individuals and communities for their different beliefs, thus promoting conformity rather than diversity. I want to highlight this detrimental behavior of ours, and what better way than to encourage people to do the opposite of it, i.e. encourage them to think outside the box.
To me, science fiction or the broader term of imaginative fiction represents a crucial element of our growth: our curiosity. Simply put, if we curb the voices that question or challenge our beliefs, we are not only silencing that particular challenge, but also killing the courage to be curious again. On the other hand, if we reward these challenges, we are encouraging ourselves to ask more, be more curious and venture into the unknown realms of our existence without the fear of persecution or isolation. Looking at the history of our species, challenging the status quo has always been a driver of progress. Be it Galileo challenging the centuries old interpretation of the solar system, or Elon Musk’s persistence that we need not rely on fossil fuels for automotive vehicles, we progress when we challenge the status quo. On the other hand, we risk perishing when we conform.
Unfortunately, the environment in Pakistan has recently not been conducive to challenge the status quo. Diversity is seen as a threat, and yes-man attitude is seen as a sign of respect. This award, hence, is an effort to bring awareness to this issue and encourage people to think outside the box. It is true that thousands of such initiatives are needed to bring about a significant change, but the dictum ‘every drop counts’ is what keeps us going.