Eating grass

Published: January 24, 2015
The writer teaches History at Forman Christian College and tweets at 

The writer teaches History at Forman Christian College and tweets at @BangashYK

In the 1970s, the then prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, famously declared that, “We will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will have our own,” while referring to the attainment of nuclear weapons. Forty years after that declaration, we both have the bomb and — with electricity, gas, petrol and other shortages — are on the verge of eating grass too.

A few days ago, I had the honour of speaking at the book launch of Professor AH Nayyar’s new book, Taaqat Ka Saraab, which is an edited volume of articles in Urdu by leading Pakistani and Indian scientists pointing out the complications and dangers of being a nuclear state. In today’s Pakistan, nuclear technology is considered almost an element of faith. Hardly any space is given to those who argue that nuclear weapons are detrimental to Pakistan, South Asia and the world, and the impression is that anyone opposing them is unpatriotic, as if nuclear weapons are the cornerstone of the country. It is a pity that even after nearly 70 years of existence, many in Pakistan think that opposing anything like nuclear weapons or Islamisation of the country will undermine the existence of Pakistan. At least I am sure that Pakistan will not suddenly disappear if we give up nuclear weapons; it is a lot stronger than that.

By bringing out this book, Professor Nayyar has managed a great feat. First, for a long time the discourse against nuclear weapons was conducted solely in English, which despite being the official language of the country is properly understood by a small minority of people. This factor meant that the vast majority of the population of the country was unaware of scientific, scholarly and reasoned arguments against nuclear weapons. Bringing this important discussion into the realm of Urdu — in which an overwhelming percentage of our population interacts — is an important widening of the scope of the discussion.

Secondly, this edited volume contains articles by eminent nuclear scientists. This is a very important facet of the book — that is written by people who know what they are talking about and the discussion these scholars undertake in their articles is academic, not polemical. This is a departure from the usual practice in Pakistan where the discussion on scientific issues is often conducted by non-specialists, who rely on emotions to carry their argument. This book is full of sound scientific arguments, which are backed up with further research and academic references. A discourse with such academic depth was also missing in the Urdu literature of today in Pakistan.

Thirdly, this book is written by scientists from both Pakistan and India — the two nuclear powers in South Asia. It contains articles by three Pakistani scientists, Professor AH Nayyar, Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy and Professor Zia Mian, as well as several leading Indian and international scientists. This is a significant point because this facet exhibits that nuclear weapons are a danger for all of South Asia, not just one country or region. The bomb, once launched, is not only going to affect one country, but will have severe repercussions on both South Asian neighbours. Furthermore, despite the rhetoric of Pakistan’s bomb being the ‘Islamic bomb’, the bomb, once launched, will not discriminate between Muslims and non-Muslims and will wipe out all in its path — which means Muslims living in India will also be affected. Just as academic disciplines have no religion, weapons, too, do not discriminate on the basis of religion.

Fourthly, and most importantly perhaps, this volume lays bare the multiple problems with regard to nuclear weapons. The book has over a dozen articles, which clearly exhibit that having nuclear weapons will never improve South Asia’s security, and will in effect make it more dangerous. Not only is it nearly impossible for either India or Pakistan to stop a nuclear warhead once it is launched (since the maximum delivery time is less than 10 minutes in South Asia), no adequate civil defence plan can be organised to protect civilians in the event of a nuclear war. In short, destruction and total destruction are the only alternatives when it comes to nuclear weapons.

Taaqat Ka Saraab is a commendable book and there is a critical need for the wider public in both Pakistan and India to engage in the arguments presented in it against the nuclearisation of South Asia. All of us want the ‘good life’ as Aristotle famously exclaimed; let us at least have a life so that we can have a chance to make it good.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • Anticorruption
    Jan 24, 2015 - 2:44AM

    There are indeed many problems and complications associated with nuclear weapons. But then, the argument that usually seals the debate is that they are a necessary evil when India and several other countries have nukes and when India has a huge superiority in conventional weapons. The main point of having nukes is not to use them but to have them as a deterrent. Would the country be more secure and prosporous if it gave up this deterrent and left itself at the mercy of others? If so, you haven’t made that case.


  • Asif
    Jan 24, 2015 - 2:47AM

    We needed nuclear weapons. However, this is not our problem.
    The problem is the false sense of security provided by the nuclear weapons. The deep state and army using non-state actors for geostrategic goals. As they call it using terrorism as a negotiating tool with our neighbors and America. Obviously it has badly backfired on us.

    We don’t have to eat grass. We could still have nuclear weapons and continue to be a prosperous, progressive nation.


  • MSS
    Jan 24, 2015 - 2:49AM

    It is good that many people will be able to read this book in Pakistan and some may be enlightened. To understand the full implication of nuclear weapons, one has to be reasonably educated.
    Will there be an English version available? Otherwise most people in India will not be able to read it even if they are well educated.


  • John B
    Jan 24, 2015 - 3:42AM

    The purpose of nuclear weapons between India and PAK are different.

    India’s program was launched in Nehru’s time for country’s long term energy security based on her three stage nuclear energy program, initiated by the pioneer in the field Dr. Baba and documents indicate that Nehru and subsequent PMs were managing the fission program based on global political maneuvering (ie Permanent seat at security council) and detonation in 1970s is an inevitable scientific outcome. In contrast, PAK program was initiated for destructive purpose specially against India and took the life of its own as “Islamic bomb”.

    That said, India has moved a long way in her three stage program and the last PM MM Singh gave a brief to the parliament on the progress. It was the progress of the three stage program focused exclusively on civilian use brought the global agreement, and no first use policy is as good as NPT.

    Whereas, PAK’s exclusive focus on bomb, and her no first use policy and her global proliferation activities not only brought more grass, it also jeopardized PAK in her quest for nuclear energy. Current political climate is not going to permit PAK to extend her nuclear activities for energy purposes cry as she may.

    The era of nuclear war between nation states is over, and as discussed by the author, destruction will be more to PAK than to India. It is pointless destruction for both, nonetheless. Only in PAK, people talk about nuclear war with India as if is a party talk.

    Maintaing nuclear weapons is an energy intensive and costly affair and PAK cannot continue to do so in this volatile political climate. PAK nuclear weapons brought her only nightmare since the intent itself was destruction and the spin that it is a deterrence against India aggression was proved wrong in Kargil. But average PAK citizen in the street worships the nuclear weapon and so there it is. Adding IS -TTP goons in the mix creates a nightmare to the world.

    It will be interesting to watch the outcome of US-India meeting next week.


  • AVMPolpot
    Jan 24, 2015 - 4:34AM

    Dear Editor, Kindly provide an english translation of Taaqat Ka Saraab. Shukriya


  • nana
    Jan 24, 2015 - 4:55AM

    I am not sure if Nuclear Weapons or Technology is detrimental to Pakistan but definitely Islam and Hate of India or any thing native is. It’s not Nuclear Weapons which made Jinah, Ayub and every leader/dictator of Pakistan become work for alien Arab & Anglo’s interest and in the process destroy itself. Terrorism needs a fertile mind filled with Hate to grow. It has grown so much that it feels that whole Pakistan has put on a Nuclear bum suicide jacket. If Pakistan was peacefully eating grass for Nuclear Technology with malice for none then Pakistan would not have become world’s migraine.


  • Feroz
    Jan 24, 2015 - 5:36AM

    The most important point on discussion should be about command and control systems in place. This framework should be very strong and so structured that its control is wisely and widely spread. To activate the Nuclear weapons the pillars of State have to be all on board and not in the hands of any military. The PM, Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Speaker of Parliament, Leader of Opposition and COAS should all have the button which can only be activated by synchronized action.


  • Butt Head
    Jan 24, 2015 - 6:20AM

    Indians are not obsessed with the nuclear weapons which is clearly seen from it being almost missing from it’s high pitched media and largely circulated newspapers.

    India seems more keen on nuclear power for it’s masses and not in building bombs, a contrast to Pakistan’s position.


  • Naeem Khan
    Jan 24, 2015 - 8:13AM

    ‘.“At least I am sure that Pakistan will not suddenly disappear if we give up nuclear weapons; it is a lot stronger than that.” Yes it will. I myself a liberal person as they come, living far away from the country for the last 50 years, I see things differently than those who are living in Pakistan. I have seen the 65 and 71 wars from here and both of them were detrimental to Pakistan. By the way who introduced this nuclear curse in the Sub-Continent in the first place, nuclear weapons may not secure South Asian Security but it does secure Pakistan’s security for time being. We have seen India’s belligerent behavior for decades and nothing will suit them better if some how they could balkanize Pakistan. Americans saw their nuclear assets as deterrent against USSR and we see our nuclear weapons as deterrent against India’s nefarious designs. I recall when Ayub Khan invited India to have no war treaty but it was dismissed by the Indian ruling class. It is true that nuclear war between Pakistan and India is a lose lose situation but why even think about nuclear war or any war. Indian defense thinker already made policy to strike Pakistan first in any conflict, so what kind of choice remains for Pakistan, yes they will destroy Pakistan but in the process most of their country will have the same consequences. The best strategy for us is to convince India that we don’t want any war with them and would like to decide all the problems among us peacefully and amicably. However if they want to repeat the 1971 scenario, then Pakistan’s survival will be in jeopardy and may come to nuclear holocaust. I think it is wishful thinking on any ones part that both India and Pakistan will relinquish their nuclear weapons for realizing the mutual destruction. Since Pakistan is a smaller and weaker country, relinquishing the nuclear weapons will be just insane. We are in a messy situation, we can’t live with it or without it.


  • S.R.H. Hashmi
    Jan 24, 2015 - 10:06AM

    Referring to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’ statement “We will east grass, even go hungry, but we will have our own (nuclear bomb)” the writer says that with electricity, gas, petrol and other shortages, we are on the verge of eating grass too. However, these shortages and other misfortunes of the country and the people are the direct result of excessive greed, corruption, nepotism and ineptness of our rulers, both civilian and military, and are not caused by the development and production of nuclear weapons, as the writer seems to imply. Due to Pan-Islamic spirit more prevalent in those days, the initial costs of setting up nuclear facilities were met almost wholly by rich Muslim rulers. And I give due credit to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for starting the process which has provided us an umbrella against our big neighbour, India. And of course there is Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan to thank, and others including Agha Hasan Abedi who helped the project.

    India makes no secret of its ambition to become the regional leader, and even dreams of eclipsing China. As such, it is hardly likely to accept Pakistan right next door, claiming some sort of sovereignty and parity. And while primary cause of separation of East Pakistan was the gross misconduct of West Pakistani leaders towards Bengalese, India did invade East Pakistan, which it had no business doing. And soon after, the then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi proudly announced having avenged a thousand years of Muslim rule, though that was clearly an exaggeration as to duration. Obviously, the Indian leaders would like to complete their revenge mission, for emotional as well as practical reasons – to establish their hegemony over the whole region – but to their great annoyance, Pakistan stands out as a hindrance.

    And various civilian and military leaders of India have been habitually hurling threats against Pakistan, and at a time when Nawaz Sharif seemed determined to improve relations with India, India responded by canceling Secretary-level talks. Going a step ahead, Indian soldiers resorted to unprovoked firing and killing of Pakistan civilians and soldiers near the LOC and working boundary. There have also been threats hurled at us of a ‘cold-start’ and to inflict pain.

    Also, India seems all set to build up a formidable force and is buying weapons on a massive scale. And obviously, Pakistan can not match Indian expenditure on weapons and it is here that our nuclear arsenal has its greatest utility. If India launches a massive invasion, and Pakistan feels cornered, it will definitely launch nuclear attack and it is fear of such an eventuality which deters India from adventurism beyond a certain point.

    And referring to our nuclear bombs, the writer claims, and rightly so, that if launched, these will affect Muslims as well.

    Unfortunately, while discussing various aspects, the writer has missed out the most significant point, which is that the greatest utility of nuclear bombs lies in their deterrent effect which means their non-use. If used, nuclear bombs could cause widespread death and destruction in both India and Pakistan, and this is just the fear of that which keeps Indian animosity of Pakistan in check.

    I would love to see the region nuclear-free and a tension-free, where the poor countries in there spend more on public welfare and less on weapons, nuclear or conventional. Unfortunately, this can not be accomplished by Pakistan alone.

    Obviously, India will also have grievances against Pakistan. However, these matters can be resolved only through meaningful negotiations, in an atmosphere of mutual cooperation, and definitely not by adopting an aggressive posture.

    And while India continues to have and demonstrate hegemonic designs, Pakistan has to keep its guard up, and considering our inability to match Indian expenditure on conventional weapons, our nuclear arsenal provides us the only umbrella.



  • Anticorruption
    Jan 24, 2015 - 10:43AM

    @Butt Head

    You Indians are certainly obsessed with Pakistan enough for you guys to come and troll on these forums in large numbers, so spare us this self-righteousness of yours.


  • Rex Minor
    Jan 24, 2015 - 3:05PM

    In the 1970s, the then prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, famously declared that, “We will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will have our own,” while referring to the attainment of nuclear weapons.
    When you talk and write history then please do not ignore the details which has the devil in it. People of Pakistan were not subjected to eating grass since the Islamic world came to aid and financed the project. Today most muslim countries have the knowho and the first from them who opted to give up lost not only the country but his personal life as well.
    Nuclear weaonry is a deterrance and not meant to be used!!

    Rex Minor


  • Rex Minor
    Jan 24, 2015 - 3:34PM

    @John B:
    I do not mean to be rude but does your long narrative make any sense to you? what exactly do you mean or imply from the following sentences;
    1)The purpose of nuclear weapons between India and PAK are different.
    2)It will be interesting to watch the outcome of US-India meeting next week. specially

    The use of nuclear weaponry is usualy meant to be a last resort to prevent the destruction of the people from very large marauding armies and plays today a key role in maintaining peace in the world because of the balance of power!!
    Those who plan to use nuclear derived energy for civilian use should consider the Japanese experience in this context.

    Rex Minor


  • Zubair Khan
    Jan 24, 2015 - 4:07PM

    Very true analysis. Alas can make dent to minds of those who matter in Sout East Asia.


  • Bewildered
    Jan 24, 2015 - 6:39PM

    (Dear Mod: May I know wihch banned word did I use in my post that you have to trash the whole comment, twice?)

    *”This book is full of sound scientific arguments, which are backed up with further research and academic references.”*

    Excellent, awful, Professor Yaqoob Khan Bangash. As an ordinary Pakistani, I am already convinced by the **”sound scientific arguments”** presented in the book by the most learned, wise, and noble Indian and Pakistani scientists that nukes are hurting instead of protecting us, but I am a nobody and also a bit skeptical of my intellects and wisdom. Please present this book to Modi, Obama, Putin, Cameron, Xi, and Hollande; all the wise men on planet Earth; and if they get convinced by these “sound scientific arguments” and abandon their nukes; OK, not all, but only one; that will go a long way to convince other Pakistanis as well that nuclear arms are in fact bad and must immediately be thrown away, or, better yet, handed over to India so that our enemy could suffer by their presence (so stupid illiterate Pakistanis, can’t understand even this simple thing).Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 24, 2015 - 7:06PM

    Do not be ‘bewidered’ Sir with the polite words of Khan Bangash or any other so called scientists; even Albert Einstein said that his biggest mistake in life was to sign on the petition requesting Roosewelt to make the atomic bomb before Hitler does! This he said after seeing the destruction of Japanese people.

    Rex Minor


  • Shanzeh
    Jan 24, 2015 - 7:32PM

    The very development of nuclear technology by Pakistan was very much compelled by the actions of India in the nuclear domain. Pakistan was actually forced to join the nuclear club by its very historical rival India. The very phenomenon of security dilemma as long as exists between the two rivals Pakistan would never go for disarmament. This is not the way that Pakistan is not in favor of disarmament or arms control, several proposals it had offered to India but the obsessed India with its nuclear technology rejected all of them. Nuclear weapons are for the security of Pakistan in case of any foreign aggression, it would be foolish to mingle the state security with that of social security. State security holds importance. If Pakistan would have not gone for developing nuclear weapon then probably author would not been existed yet to write this column.


  • Tom
    Jan 25, 2015 - 12:52AM

    @S.R.H. Hashmi:
    Do you really believe that there is Indian regional hegemony now?. And for the thousand year rule, yes there were some parts of north India under muslim rule, but south India was never under it. Kerala was never even under British rule. Go relearn history.!!!


  • truthbetold
    Jan 25, 2015 - 2:27AM

    There is another problem that is unique to Pakistan that other nuclear power don’t have.

    That is the fact that all global Jihadis including Al Qaeda, ISIS etc. look up on Pakistan, due to its possession of the Islamic bomb, as the ultimate prize to capture. They reason that capture of Pakistan with its nukes and making it the Islamic Caliphate will give them true power against the infidel.

    Ironically, thus, Pakistan’s nukes act as honey to attract the bees that are the global Islamic terrorists.


  • S.R.H. Hashmi
    Jan 25, 2015 - 12:38PM

    Instead of advising me to re-read history, you better re-read my comment. This was Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi who made the remark of avenging 1000-year Muslim rule, and I merely reproduced it, stating it was exaggerated.

    And Indira Gandhi’s remark is available on the internet.



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