Eating Grass: An Insider’s Account of the Pakistani Nuclear Program
A few English speakers will definitely be surprised to know that the first part of the title of Feroz Hassan Khan’s book “Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani bomb” has no relation to the phrase ‘smoking grass.’ ‘Eating grass’ is a literal translation of an Urdu saying; an idiomatic translation of that phrase will be ‘Going hungry.’ The ‘Eating grass’ phrase used in this context comes from a 1965 statement made by the then Pakistani Foreign Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto, responding to news of India’s plans to make an atomic bomb said if India made a bomb, the Pakistanis would go through any hardship to attain matching nuclear capability.
What makes Brigadier (Retired) Feroz Hassan Khan qualified to write a book on Pakistan’s nuclear program, taking the reader through its various historical phases? First, Feroz Khan is a scholar and a defense analyst, currently teaching at Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, and second, more importantly, serving in the Strategic Plans Division, Joint Services Headquarters of the army, Feroz Khan was involved with Pakistan Army’s supervision of the nuclear program till his retirement in 2003. ‘Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani bomb’ is very much an insider’s account of the Pakistani nuclear program.
Feroz Hassan Khan’s book, published by the Stanford University Press, is being promoted in Pakistan and the US through book review meetings. On Sunday, February 10, over 150 people attended a discussion on ‘Eating Grass’ held at Fremont Marriott. The program was arranged by Sabahat Rafiq, a Democratic Party delegate for the 2012 Democratic Convention, and Naveed Sherwani, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
The program began with an introduction of the book and the writer by Sabahat Rafiq. Rafiq said, “Interwoven in this story [Brigadier Feroz Khan’s account of the making of the bomb] are some fundamental strategic policies of the First World narrative for non-proliferation wherein the former seeks to badger the later into non-proliferation and yet fails to provide guarantee for their security and territorial integrity. To add insult to injury there is an ever pervasive suggestion of First World’s hegemony over common sense, innovation, and sensible responsibility…and sometimes outright contempt.
“The former also continues to swap alliances and partnerships based on their own shifting strategic interests, to maintain global hegemony without due regard to the security interest of a former ally.”
Rafiq narrated to the audience Pakistan’s various phases of alliance [with the US] Feroz Khan had identified in his book. These phases were: most allied of the allies in the 60s, the most sanctioned ally in the 90s, and the most bullied ally in the 2000s.
Sabahat Rafiq briefly described the five stages —delineated in the book—Pakistani nuclear program passed through. The five phases being: i) Reluctant Phase, from 60s to 1971; ii) Secret Nuclear R&D Program phase, a corollary of the ‘Never Again’ conviction [after Pakistan’s humiliating defeat by the Indian Army in 1971], iii) the 80s and 90s phase, pertaining to the weaponization of the nuclear capability, and demonstration of that strength, iv) Post-98 era wherein Pakistan’s nascent nuclear program was to be tuned into an operation deterrent , and v) Present Stage (Post 911)—when Pakistan’s nuclear capability is watched with interest, by the world.
In his speech Feroz Hassan Khan said it took him more than a decade to write the book. He said shortly after joining the Naval Postgraduate School in 2003, the news of AQ Khan’s revealed network stunned Pakistan. A ship named BBC China was caught in the Mediterranean-- allegedly, the German ship bound for Libya from Dubai was carrying centrifuge parts made in Malaysia, to AQ Khan’s design.
Feroz Khan said a year after that incident he was interviewing Musharraf in Pakistan. Khan asked Musharraf what was the most difficult of the five crises Musharraf went through during his tenure as the head of the army—the five crises being the Kargil war, the 1998 coup, 911, 2002 standoff with India, and the AQ Khan scandal. Musharraf told Khan it was the AQ Khan ordeal. Khan was curious to know why the AQ Khan case was so debilitating for Musharraf. According to Feroz Khan, Musharraf said, “In all previous crises, as a military man, my gut would tell me what to do.” But this was one crisis, whose extent he (Musharraf) did not know, whose implication he did not understand…this was like a train hitting him straight. Feroz Khan told Musharraf of his apprehension that from then on (after the revelation of AQ Khan’s network selling nuclear technology to all willing to pay) Pakistan’s nuclear program would be reviewed through only one lens. Musharraf asked Khan what could be done about that [so that Pakistan’s nuclear program would not be reviewed so unfavorably by the international community]. Feroz Khan suggested to Musharraf the best way was to get to the world a holistic picture of the program (through a book). Musharraf agreed with Khan. A year later Khan and Peter Lavoy (presently Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs)—both Khan and Lavoy were going to write the book together—presented a comprehensive outline of how they intended to proceed, and requested access to Pakistani nuclear professionals and to declassified documents. According to Khan, after a very careful scrutiny Khan and Lavoy were allowed to interview retired scientists, military and civilian officials, and academics. After Lavoy left the book writing project in 2007 to accept a government job, Khan took it upon himself to complete the work.
Feroz Khan said critics of his book accuse him of playing down the AQ Khan scandal. He said his book does not go too much into the detail of the scandal as three to four books on that subject already exist.
Feroz Khan considers his book “a human story, a book about a country’s life history. It is just not about proliferation (alone).” He described to the audience the “seven factors” he had weaved in the book: 1) the ‘strategic culture’, Pakistan’s historical experience and how it feels about its existence in the world, ii) domestic politics, iii) regional security crises and wars, iv) cold war, the alliance politics, the disillusionment with the alliance, while cleverly benefiting from the alliance politics, v) the international non-proliferation regime and the challenges, a section in the book is called ‘the Toms and Jerrys of the World’, vi) idiosyncrasies of the personalities, and vii) the technical determinism.
Feroz Khan’s speech was followed by a Q&A session moderated by Sabahat Rafiq.
Dr. Syed Rifaat Hussain, a professor of security studies from Pakistan, currently visiting the Stanford University was also invited to give his views on the book and on Pakistan’s nuclear program.
Listen to the audio of the program here:
This report is also here:
An Urdu version of this report is here: