A declassified Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) document reveals that former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had considered a military strike on Pakistan’s nuclear installations to prevent it from acquiring weapons capabilities.
The document dated September 8, 1981 says that India considered this option when it became clear that Pakistan will be receiving F-16 fighters from the US.
The CIA posted the redacted 12-page document titled ‘India’s Reaction to Nuclear Developments in Pakistan’ on its website in June this year.
It analytically details how India grew concerned over Pakistan’s expanding nuclear weapons programme.
“The Indian Government has been considering ways to prevent Pakistan from becoming a nuclear weapons state,” the document stated.
“In the extreme case, if Indian concerns increase over the next two or three months, we believe the conditions could be ripe for a decision by Prime Minister Gandhi to instigate a military confrontation with Pakistan, primarily to provide a framework for destroying Pakistan’s nuclear facilities,” the then highly sensitive CIA report claimed.
The CIA had then observed that Gandhi, who came back to power in 1980, had not taken any such decision in that regard.
According to the report, as Pakistan was in an advanced stage of producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons, Gandhi evidently responded to the threat by authorising Indian nuclear test preparations.
“In February (1981), excavation was begun in the Thar Desert to permit the underground explosion of an Indian test device on short notice,” the CIA said.
The CIA said India reportedly was to explode the device about one week after the expected Pakistani test.
CIA was quite meticulous in its observation. It predicted that India will follow a wait-and-see strategy.
“Prime Minister Gandhi probably has not made a decision to exercise a military option against Pakistan. In the extreme case, if India’s concern about deliveries of F-16s to Pakistan increases before the optimum time for exercising the military option (in October or November according to one report), the conditions could be ripe for Prime Minister Gandhi to carry out the contingency strike plan,” it said. “Our best estimate, however, is that India will follow a wait and see strategy,” the report added.
It also hinted at why India might not go ahead with such a plan,
“The Indian Government probably is concerned that its options are narrowing – that its contingency plans for stopping Pakistani nuclear program by force could not be implemented without inviting reciprocal attacks, which, if conducted with F-16s, could not be adequately thwarted by existing Indian air defences.”
The Indian Express reports that then US President Ronald Reagan had written to then Pakistani leader General Zia-ul-Haq expressing concern over India’s plans.
He asked Pakistan for a commitment to limiting the nuclear enrichment to five per cent breaching which should trigger sanctions.
In December 1982, President Reagan had warned General Zia that the US would cut all aid to Pakistan if it took certain definitive steps toward a nuclear capability, for example by assembling or testing a nuclear device.
More warnings were given by the US in 1984.
India had conducted its first nuclear test at Pokharan on May 18, 1974. Pakistan would go on to conduct two back-to-back nuclear tests on May 11 and 13, 1998.