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New Book Explores Pakistan’s Pursuit of Nuclear Bomb

Article by Kate Oliver, Photo by Javier Chagoya

Feroz KhanFor such a young nation Pakistan has captured international interest, but often for quite controversial reasons. U.S. and international media headlines highlight Pakistani militants harboring international terrorists, attacking women and girls, and crossing into neighboring countries to evade capture by authorities.

And these headlines are not new to Pakistan.  In Pakistan’s early years territorial disputes with neighboring India erupted into full-scale war. These conflicts solidified Pakistan’s hardline pursuit of its national security interests, and thus the ongoing international attention Pakistan receives.

Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb, written by retired Brig. Gen. Feroz Khan, a faculty member at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) department of National Security Affairs and former general in the Pakistani Army, explores one of Pakistan’s most dogged and notorious national security pursuits – that of nuclear armament.

Pakistan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, which capitalized on the science and engineering expertise from Pakistan’s established nuclear energy program, didn’t begin until the early 1970s. It arose out of a growing fear of nuclear-armed India, Pakistan’s neighbor and a nation that had engaged in several wars and border disputes with Pakistan.

Khan’s book draws its title from a famous quote by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, former president of Pakistan, which illustrates Pakistan’s nearly obsessive drive to acquire nuclear arms “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves or even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. We have no other choice.”

Pakistan’s quest to obtain nuclear weapons, which was viewed by Pakistan as critical to countering the threat of nuclear annihilation by nuclear-armed India, led to widespread international outcry.

“There was a lot of demonizing but not a lot of accurate information about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program,” said Khan. “I tried to clear away the controversies as best as I could. All nuclear programs are shrouded in secrecy and providing the whole truth is always challenging. Thus I have tried to put together a holistic account of nuclear decisions that explains Pakistan’s motivation and the history of the bomb’s development.

I had to wade through a lot of competing claims and counter claims  while researching this book, from Pakistan itself and from the international community. I not only interviewed the key people in Pakistan who were involved in the nuclear program, but I combed through hundreds of declassified U.S. documents relating to Pakistan’s nuclear program,” said Khan.

Khan was in a unique position to write the book, having served in the Pakistan military and worked in the nuclear program during his time in the military. Khan claims his trusted status as a former high-level military officer helped the Pakistani government feel comfortable granting him access to the former scientists, government officials and military leaders Khan interviewed for Eating Grass.

“My past association with Pakistani scientists and former government officials made it easy for them to trust me trust me with their knowledge, especially when there existed no precedence of declassification of documents in Pakistan,” said Khan. “But now being part of the American academic community, I had to adhere to rigorous academic standards and review to ensure my past did not shape the story or diminish the objectively of the book.”

Khan said he tried to reach a delicate balance of providing a story sympathetic to Pakistan’s internal driving forces while also providing keen insight for the international community. Khan hopes his book leads to a paradigm change in thinking about Pakistan’s nuclear program and Pakistani motivations.

“There are two takeaways I hope policy makers will garner from my book: a better understanding of some of the reasons nations pursue the acquisition of nuclear weapons with such ferocity and the importance of socializing nuclear armed countries into the international system of nuclear order,” said Khan. 

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