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The long shadows the bomb cast on India
M Rasgotra
11 September 2012

AS the Foreign Secretary in 1984, I was engaged in talks with Pakistan to negotiate a peace treaty. The Indo-Israeli plan to attack Kahuta is one of those implausible canards Pakistan's strategists keep inventing now and then to brag about their country's nuclear valour. There were no tensions and no occasion for Pakistan to threaten India with a nuclear attack. Friendly visits were taking place between the two countries, though Pakistanis were enjoying India's discomfiture in Punjab.

In October 1984, President Zia-ul-Haq came to Delhi to attend Indira Gandhi's funeral and to extend friendship to Rajiv Gandhi. We knew that Pakistan was at it, but did not yet have all the wherewithal of the Bomb in 1984. It had it in 1986.

In 1987, there was concern in Pakistan about India's Brasstacks exercise involving the movement of a large body of Indian armour close to the Pakistan frontier. But Rajiv Gandhi had personally allayed Zia-ul-Haq's fears. And while the General had alerted his army as a cautionary measure, there was no threat from him of a nuclear response in the event of Brasstacks ending in an attack on Pakistan.

Souring relations: In 1990, relations with Pakistan were beginning to sour because of the Kashmir insurgency planned and supported by the ISI. The Indian Army had gone into Kashmir in strength. Pakistan had also moved some additional forces to the PoK. In such situations, Americans are always fearful of an outbreak of a major war between India and Pakistan. Hence, the Gates Mission. I do not believe India had contemplated an attack on Pakistan. Pakistan might have bragged about its nuclear weapons and missiles, but I recall no threat that was taken seriously by Delhi.

Nixon's Pak tilt: In 1971, I was Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington DC. President Nixon had ordered the nuclear armed 7th Fleet to the Bay of Bengal, much against the advice of his Naval chief. Nixon's orders to him were to do "something" in support of Pakistan and deter India, interdict Indian Navy's movements, or even interfere in the IAF operations. The US fleet reached the Bay of Bengal three or four days after the war was over. It was meant to intimidate India. Nixon's action had attracted severe and widespread criticism from the Congress, the US media and the public. There was no question of a nuclear attack on India, but the US action helped make up Indira Gandhi's mind to go in for a nuclear deterrent.

An additional factor in the timing of the Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) was Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto's decision in 1972 to develop his "Islamic Bomb". But the basic motivation behind the 1974 explosion was to counter China's acquisition of the Bomb in 1964, two years after its invasion of India.

In 1974, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted a series of tests and our scientists, I believe, were ready to conduct the explosions. But the Prime Minister's advisers dissuaded her because of the US threat to cut aid worth about $2 billion a year. And in panic, the advantage of the explosion was squandered by nicknaming the Bomb as a PNE!

Homi Bhabha snubbed: Homi Bhabha was keen on doing a test, or initiating preparatory work for it in the late 1950s or early '60s. In the course of an evening at a friend's house after the Chinese invasion in October 1962, Bhabha had mentioned to me that on several occasions he had sought Prime Minister Nehru's permission to bore a hole in Ladakh and conduct an underground explosion, but on a recent suggestion, Nehru had virtually thrown him out of his office.

The solo PNE failed to confer on India the credibility and stature of a nuclear weapon power. The period of seven or eight years, following the Congress' defeat in the 1989 elections, was marked by much indecision in this regard.

The Vajpayee factor: Vajpayee and his principal adviser Brajesh Mishra had long been in favour of India going nuclear. A couple of years before he became Prime Minister, Vajpayee had said to me that to be recognised as a power, India would have to go demonstrably nuclear and face the consequences. The intention to go for the tests had been mentioned in the BJP manifesto, which foreign diplomatic missions in Delhi, including the US and Chinese Embassies, either did not read or chose to ignore as empty bravado.

The Bomb had been in India's possession since 1974. The tests of 1998 were not a response to any threat, but a well-considered policy to claim India's rightful place in the front ranks of world powers. It had the desired effect. And it reinforced the country's security.

(The writer is a former Foreign Secretary of India. He is now the President of Centre for International Relations, Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Tribune, September 10, 2012