In 1980, former PM Indira Gandhi had reckoned a military strike on nuclear installations in Pakistan to make it incapable of acquiring weapons capabilities, claimed a declassified CIA document.
The move was being made when the US was in an advanced stage of providing F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, says the Central Intelligence Agency document. The document was titled ‘India’s Reaction to Nuclear Developments in Pakistan’. ‘
A revised version of the 12-page document was posted on the CIA website in June 2015. As per the document, India, in 1981, was concerned about the progress made by Pakistan on its nuclear weapons programme, and believed that it was steps away from acquiring nuclear capability. The US had made a similar assessment.
“If Indian concerns increase over the next few months, we believe the conditions could ripen for a military confrontation between India and Pakistan thereby providing a framework for destroying the latter’s nuclear facilities. But India had not taken such a decision so far. Since Pakistan was in an advanced stage of producing plutonium and uranium, Indira Gandhi responded to the threat by authorising Indian nuclear test preparations,” added the report.
“In February 1981, excavations began in the Thar desert to permit an underground explosion of an Indian test device,” the CIA said. In May, preparations were completed by India for a 40-kiloton nuclear test.
“Our best estimate, however, is that India will follow a wait and see strategy,” said the CIA report. According to it, a vital factor in estimating what Indira Gandhi would do was her attitude toward exercising India’s own nuclear weapons option.
“If the Indians were opposed to developing their own nuclear weapons, they probably would try to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear facilities before a significant stockpile of nuclear material could be produced,” the report said.
“If the Indians decide to set up their own nuclear capability against China, destroying Pakistan’s nuclear facilities would be not attractive . From the Indian perspective, it would have the serious drawback of inviting Chinese intervention,” felt the CIA.
“We have noted that Indira Gandhi has some interest in this viewpoint. But we don’t know whether she favours that course and haven’t observed any activity by the Indian military that would suggest authorisation for a nuclear weapons programme,” said the CIA document.