Wikileaks on 1998 nuclear tests: ‘Talk of eating grass rather than actually eating it’

Cables say Benazir Bhutto acknowledged the disastrous effects of tests, but would never admit it in public.

Saba Imtiaz September 03, 2011
Wikileaks on 1998 nuclear tests: ‘Talk of eating grass rather than actually eating it’


In perhaps the most succinct summary of Pakistani politicians’ rhetoric over nuclear weapons, a US embassy cable sent out in 1998 stated: “Pakistanis have always preferred talking about eating grass (in pursuit of national security) rather than actually having to eat it.”

The ‘eat grass’ statements – used by former prime ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif – have been used to assure Pakistanis that austerity measures would be adopted but ‘national security’ would not be compromised.

The cables sent out in mid-1998, and released by WikiLeaks, highlight the state of affairs in Pakistan and US concerns over the testing of nuclear weapons by then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s government in response to India’s tests in early May. They also detail conversations with then-opposition leader and the late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and US pressure for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to oppose the tit-for-tat rhetoric adopted by religious and political parties in the wake of the Indian tests.

US diplomats assessed that opposition parties were using Sharif’s hesitation in responding to the Indian tests to advance their own political agendas and demand that Pakistan respond. However, despite private assurances to the US that the PPP had dropped the demand for a nuclear test, Benazir Bhutto publicly stated that a test was necessary to “keep India at bay and revitalise the struggle in Kashmir”.

When questioned by American officials over her public statements, Bhutto said that the time for the test had passed and it would have a disastrous impact on Pakistan’s economy and international reputation. However, Bhutto said that, “I cannot say these things publicly, but neither will I call for a detonation.”

The US also spoke to PPP leaders to convince Bhutto to soften her stance and cautioned Bhutto that her reaction to India’s tests had been criticised in the west. Officials suggested that the PPP publicly state that the issue of tests was too important to be used as a “political football”.

According to a May 25, 1998 cable, Bhutto told US officials that the party would focus its criticism on the state of governance instead. According to Benazir, there was resentment in the military’s lower ranks over Sharif’s lack of response (by then) to India and said, “I’m afraid Nawaz  may eventually have to be sacrificed to heal that sense of shame, but it’s hard to imagine who might take his place.”

Bhutto also repeated her famous quip which she had made in a rally, “Nawaz is trying to put handcuffs on me. But I’m going to put bangles on him.” However, the cable notes that Bhutto mocking Sharif’s manhood “may prove a powerful catalyst towards the nuclear test that she now claims to oppose.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2011.


naeem khan | 12 years ago | Reply

I always thought that PPP is a security risk for Pakistan,I lobbyed on behalf of PPP in the USA and US congress and what I saw then, this cable reinforced my opinion of PPP leaders.They are corrupt to the core and will do just anything to get into power.It is the USA who brought this duo of Zardari and Jilani.Zardari did the corruption and went to jail for a short while and Jalani's wife wiggled herself out of paying million as she borrowed from the banks.What a country?Who needs enemies when we have friends like USA.US is practically dictating Pakistan ever since PM Suharwarthy, the present government is no different.Mian Sahib was told to lay off Zardari and his turn will come, he just has to be patient.It is very sad that US is interfering so much in Pakistan's affairs and tell Pakistani politicians that road to Islamabad goes through Washington DC.Pakistanis has no guts or shame.One could learn some lessons from our neighbor, Iran, to have an independent county with pride.

Samreen Anwar, | 12 years ago | Reply

Thank you Ms Saba Imtiaz, your thought-provoking despatch make us think on and of our so-called leaders/rulers, elected or non-elected, who are always fearful of both, insiders(people)as well as out-siders( super-powers), and try to pacify and please both at the same time, almost an impossible task, and therefore had to lie with either side.Rehtorics like eating grass or to fight a thousand years long war(with India over Kashmir dispute). All such statements are aimed to fool the people.This means, in practice our rulers are like elephants, who have two types of tooth, outer ones to show and inner ones to eat. Our foreign masters say and do their things with exactly identical wordings and acting/practice.They warned Bhutto to be taught a lesson if he continued his nuclear programme and Pres.Bush gave us threats sending us back to stone age.We see all possible signs of death and destructions, both from within and without,and our present-day,round the clock power and gas load-shedding and other deprivations are sure signs of our actually going into the stone age. Our life and society has already become heart-lessness, very much like stone,with no feeligs of love, sincerity, mutual regard and respect for each other in society of overwhelming muslim majority papulace and plz excuse me if Isay that we live and actually lead a 'hell-like' life. May God bless us and keep us on right path and we become truly faithful in practical life to ensure ourselves to become in the words of The Holy Quran,yes!believers of Islam as a'Khair-e-Ummat', the best of all nations of the world..Ameen.

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