Let Them Eat Nukes

Let Them Eat Nukes
‘If you want to catch a glimpse of how miserable life is, come and visit us. We do not have a home to live in, or food to eat, clothes to wear, or medicines to heal our ailments.’

These are the painful words that were uttered by a woman living in a nuclear state, in a province that has for decades been the political stronghold of one man’s legacy. The man once remarked, “I will pursue the acquisition of nuclear weapons even if I have to eat grass."

He never had to eat grass. His kin live in palatial mansions and have everything there is to eat. His countrymen however, cannot afford grass to eat today.

Zulfiqar A. Bhutto chaired a meeting with senior scientists and engineers in Multan in 1972, where they discussed the finer points of a strategy to transform Pakistan into a nuclear state. After two decades of incessant work on the plan, Pakistan eventually became a state equipped with nuclear weapons in 1998, after a device was detonated successfully. It was a rejoinder to India, which had acquired nuclear weapons of their own in the early 1970s. Nuclear deterrence was achieved by Pakistan.

The US administration levied sanctions on Pakistan and India for testing their nuclear weapons. Bill Clinton said that they had offered every assistance to Pakistan for not testing their nuclear weapons. The then-Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, was complacent during the 25-minute phone call, owing to domestic coercion. The IMF and World Bank withdrew assistance worth $2 billion, which crippled the economy. The country was brought to the brink of default, and foreign reserves collapsed to less than $400 million.

In today’s Pakistan, the inflation rate is continually rising, and is now higher than 25%. Food prices are astronomical. There is a substantial rise in the price of staple foods, which renders them unaffordable for two out of three households in Pakistan. A recent flood has left a vast majority unhoused and undernourished, and caused catastrophic destruction to the infrastructure of the country. The floods, by many estimates, have caused as much as $30 billion in damage. Absolute poverty has risen to 5.9%. The flooding has affected nearly 20% of our rice crop and 39% of our cotton crop. Over 20 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and an already food scarce country has been pushed to the brink of widespread hunger.

Anatol Lieven once made the claim that “neither terrorism nor extremism is a threat to Pakistan’s existence, but climate change is.” We have always contemplated natural disasters or climate change as divine punishment, and our state has never taken this concern seriously. Despite being responsible for less than 1% of carbon emissions, we are still the worst nation to be affected by disasters caused by climate change. We should have learned a lesson from the 2010 floods, but we spurned that affliction, and we were hit with a flood again in 2022. If we are going to be even remotely prepared for future climate shocks, then we ought not to spend undisclosed billions on nuclear programs.

Achieving nuclear deterrence at the cost of human development might have been tolerable for a one-time venture, but it ought to stop here. This state of affairs is not sustainable.

Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons, but the program’s sustainability was probably never thought through.

This program chews through billions, in the maintenance and security of our nuclear weapons stockpile.

Nations that possess nuclear weapons have healthy economies; their people can afford food, shelter and clothes, and there is functional infrastructure in the country. India is prospering - it is the world’s fifth-largest economy with a GDP of $3.46 trillion; Pakistan’s GDP is only $348 billion.

It is time we faced the facts. We can afford to pay for one thing: either we continue our nuclear weapons program, or feed our people and give them basic facilities. Our political and military leadership has repeatedly chosen the former.

We have chosen deterrence and competition; why haven’t we been able to compete with India in other domains? India has a much higher literacy rate than us, and we are still stuck in the hard place between 50% and 60%. India today has more dams, a modernized electricity grid, public schools, hospitals, and universities, and we still make do with what the British left us. Bangladesh, which is not a nuclear armed nation, has the same strategic location as us and faces more or less the same threats, but they are doing much better than us. Their per capita income is higher than ours. They have more women in the labor force, which is bolstering the economy of the country.

The kin of the people who proclaimed that they’d rather eat grass than give up the nuclear weapons program are the country’s rulers.

The people of Sindh may not have much to feed or clothe themselves with, but the same people whose ancestors once claimed they’d eat grass instead run the place. They have been running it for a while, so the fact that nearly 100,000 households do not have shelter after the floods left them unhoused or that millions go to bed famished should not matter all that much.

Let them eat nukes!