The decisions by each of China, India, and Pakistan to develop nuclear weapons was the outcome of threats of attack and humiliation. In the case of China, it was the threat of nuclear attack by the United States in the 1950s. India developed its nuclear weapons in order never to be humiliated again at the hands of China’s People’s Liberation Army, as its army had been during the border war of 1962. Similarly, after India played the most crucial role in transforming East Pakistan into Bangladesh in the India-Pakistan war of 1971, Pakistan decided to develop its own nuclear weapons, even if it meant “eating grass,” which was a metaphor for experiencing extreme hardship as it channeled resources to the effort. Feroz Hassan Khan’s book Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb is a comprehensive description of Pakistan’s campaign to develop its nuclear weapons. In the words of the author, the book “examines how and why Pakistan managed to overcome the wide array of obstacles that stood between it [End Page 126] and nuclear weapons” by focusing on “the interplay of personalities and organizations involved in developing the bomb against a backdrop of political, security, and economic constraints, as well as opportunities.”
Pakistan understood that it was an “orphaned state” in the international system, meaning that it did not have any protection under the US or the Soviet/Russian nuclear umbrella. It was aware that the gradually strengthening nature of the global nuclear nonproliferation regimes under the resolute leadership of the United States meant that Pakistan would have to find loopholes, gray markets, and other means to obtain nuclear or dual- use technologies. Finally, given the sui generis nature of its security and the dire nature of its economy, it also knew that it would have to undergo severe hardships to obtain a bomb. Thus, Eating Grass underscores not only the economic price that Pakistan was ready to pay (and, indeed, paid) in order to acquire nuclear weapons but also the supreme resolve of the nation to become a nuclear power.
The necessity for developing nuclear weapons for Pakistan was the brainchild of Zulfikar (Zulfie) Ali Bhutto. He might have been in the minority regarding his India-related threat perceptions through the late 1960s, but after Pakistan’s defeat by India in 1971, and especially after India’s so- called peaceful nuclear explosion, there emerged a “national consensus” in Pakistan, whereby “the necessity of nuclear weapons became a mainstream belief.” That belief not only drove the process of the development of nuclear weapons capability but also operationalized it once that capability was developed.
Based on Pakistan’s reading of the global realities and the steadfast refusal of the United States to make nuclear or dual- use technologies available to Pakistan, the author presents three themes that are essential aspects of the narrative of Pakistan’s acquisition of the atom bomb: national humiliation, international isolation, and national identity.
Bhutto applied his “granite determination” to acquire a nuclear capability for his country. The Pakistani army was first exposed to the thinking of their country’s civilian leadership on nuclear power in 1967, when the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission chairman Ishrat Hussain Usmani made a presentation at the general headquarters. At that time the army was not monitoring the nuclear developments in India. Khan’s book highlights that Pakistan’s army was not even aware of the details of the progress on the bomb until 1977, “although it had been providing technical and logistical support a year earlier to Khan Research Laboratories.” However, the combined effect of Bhutto’s rhetoric related to nuclear weapons and Usmani’s lecture “began to change the strategic culture in Pakistan. The military, in the 1960s hitherto resistant to the idea of nuclear weapons, began to view the role of these weapons as an equalizer to conventional force imbalance, accentuated as a result of the US embargo.”
India’s nuclear test in May 1974 proved to be a setback...