India Planned military strikes on Pakistan Nuclear Installation-CIA Report

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The first woman prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi, considered a military strike on Pakistan’s nuclear installations to prevent it from acquiring weapons capabilities, a declassified CIA document has claimed.

Indian Express. The consideration to strike Pakistan’s nukes was being made when the US was in an advanced stage of providing its F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, according to a document titled India’s Reaction to Nuclear Developments in Pakistan’ and dated September 8, 1981.

“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 report claimed.

An edited version of the 12-page document which was published on CIA’s website in June this year states that the then Indian government led by Gandhi in 1981 was concerned about the progress made by Pakistan on its nuclear weapons programme and believed that Islamabad was steps away from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

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, adding that in May, preparations had been completed by India for a 40-kiloton nuclear test.

“Evidently, the Indian Government calculated that a Pakistani nuclear explosion per se would not constitute a national security threat, and that the damage to India’s image of pre-eminence in the region could be minimised by a resumption of the peaceful nuclear explosive (PNE) programme,” the report added.

However, at the time the report was published, the CIA said Gandhi had not taken any such decision in that regard. “Our best estimate, however, is that India will follow a wait and see strategy.”

Further, it said, “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.”

 Times of India carried a report quoting a CIA document declassified in June 2015 stating that former PM Indira Gandhi may have considered destroying Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme when she returned to office in 1980. In a strange twist of irony, the person who was responsible for stalling India's plan to bomb Pakistan's nuclear weapons facilities in 1983 was none other than the father of the Indian nuclear bomb, Raja Ramanna. Ramanna himself had confirmed this to TOI on two occasions in private conversations after his retirement as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1987. He passed away in Mumbai on September 24, 2004.

TOI had carried a report on Tuesday, quoting a CIA document declassified in June, stating that former PM Indira Gandhi may have considered destroying Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme when she returned to office in 1980. Though Ramanna had declined to go into specifics, he had recalled to TOI that in 1983, when he was in Vienna to attend an International Atomic Energy Agency meet, he was "warned" by ex-chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Munir Ahmed Khan that if India hit its nuclear facilities, Pakistan would launch a retaliatory strike at BARC, Trombay, in Mumbai, the heart of India's nuclear weapons programme. Ramanna immediately informed Indira about the dangerous consequences of bombing Pakistan's nuclear establishment and the operation was stopped.

The story goes that when Khan was attending the IAEA meet, he received a classified coded message about India's plans through the Pakistani ex-ambassador to Vienna, Abdul Sattar. That night, Khan invited Ramanna for dinner at the Imperial Hotel and the two arch rivals talked for a while. Then the moment arrived when Khan decided to say why he had suddenly called for the dinner meeting: it was not to exchange pleasantries but to deliver a stiff warning about the retaliatory strike on BARC.

Whether Ramanna knew of this plan earlier remains unclear. But the first thing he did on his arrival from Vienna was to rush to Indira. He conveyed to her Khan's warning and succeeded in making her scrap the idea  altogether. In the book 'Nuclear Deception' by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, it is stated that India's plan was code-named 'Osiris Contingency', after the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear weapons plant at Osiris, 18 miles south of Baghdad, in 1981.According to the book, ex-IAF chief Debug Singh was to have commanded the Pakistani operation and had ordered a Jaguar squadron to practice low-level flying with 2,000-pound bombs - a squadron had been kept on standby at the Jamnagar air force base to carry out the attack at a moment's notice.

This article originally appeared on Indian Express.

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