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Indira to Gowda It was Bomb All the Way

Indira to Gowda It was Bomb All the Way

K Subrahmanyam
The Times of India
April 17, 2000
Title: Indira to Gowda It was Bomb All the Way
Author: K Subrahmanyam
Publication: The Times of India
Date: April 17, 2000

THREE recent publications have unravelled the mystery surrounding the Indian nuclear weapons programme. Taken together they help to build a national consensus on the Indian nuclear policy both in respect of nuclear arsenal and the international arms control arrangements acceptable to the country. These are: George Perkovich's India's nuclear bomb (California University Press, 1999) Raj Chengappa's Weapons of Peace (Harper Collins, 2000) and From Surprise to Reckoning, the Kargil Review panel's report (Sage Publications, 2000). These three publications make it clear that beyond conducting successfully the twice-postponed nuclear tests, the BJP contributed little to Indian nuclear weapon development or policy, the policy was mostly formulated by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao with contributions from V P Singh, Chandrashekar, Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral.

In fact, there has been no difference between the Congress and the BJP in respect of nuclear strategy. Chengappa's book reveals that weaponisation of Indian nuclear programme was completed in May, 1994 when the Indian Air Force carried out the tests of toss bombing of a fully assembled nuclear bomb (minus its nuclear core) and checked its functioning with all its safety locks unlocking on a preprogrammed basis. Similarly, tests of missile warheads have also been carried out. Former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Scientific Adviser Abdul Kalam confirmed to the Kargil Review panel that weaponisation was completed in 1992-94.

Chengappa's book traces both the nuclear weapon and the various missile carrier programmes to the second term of office of Mrs Gandhi (1971-76) and the recommencement of these efforts after she returned to prime ministership in 1980. Keeping the nuclear option open was merely for public consumption: All along, the programme was intended to be a weapons programme. The Kargil panel has recorded the statements of President R Venkataraman, V S Arunachalam, former scientific adviser, B G Deshmukh, former cabinet secretary and principal secretary to the PM, Naresh Chandra, former cabinet secretary, former Prime Ministers V P Singh, Narasimha Rao and Inder Gujral, former scientific adviser APJ Kalam to establish that it was a weapons programme all along.

Chinese Bomb Design

The Kargil report brings out that Pakistan-China nuclear technology collaboration went ahead even as Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai publicly abjured nuclear weapons and ran down the department of atomic energy. By early '80s intelligence was available that Pakistan was in a position to have two or three enriched uranium cores for bomb making, they had obtained the Chinese bomb design and had dug-up shafts in the Chagai mountains for nuclear testing. These developments are corroborated in the recently published Pakistani book Long Road to Chagai by Shabidur Rehman (Print-wise Publications, Islamabad, 1999), though he does not refer to the Chinese connection.

Further, in a joint article, Securing Nuclear Peace in News International (Oct 5, 1999) Agha Shahi, Abdul Sattar and Air Chief Marshal Zulfikar Ali Khan inform that the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme was initiated in January, 1972 when President Bhutto took that decision in the conference of nuclear scientists in Multan. It was not intended to deter an Indian nuclear capability which did not exist at that time but was meant to deter an Indian conventional superiority. That was why Pakistan continued the programme vigorously even when Morarji Desai publicly renounced Indian nuclear ambitions in 1978. In 1980, the Pakistanis linked their quest for nuclear weapons with their designs on Kashmir. Professor Stephen Cohen recorded in a paper presented to the Asian Studies Conference in March 1980, the Pakistanis were of the view that their nuclear capability would ``neutralise an assumed Indian nuclear force''. Others point out, however, that it was meant to provide the umbrella under which Pakistan could reopen the Kashmir issue; a Pakistani nuclear capability paralyses not only the Indian nuclear decision, but also Indian conventional forces   and a bold Pakistani strike to liberate Kashmir might go unchallenged if the Indian leadership was ``weak or indecisive''. Presumably this assessment formulated twenty years ago motivated Nawaz Sharif and General Musharraf to try out the Kargil adventure in 1999.

Unacceptable Damage

In their article of October 5, 1999, Abdul Sattar and others argue that the value of the Pakistani nuclear capability was illustrated at least on three occasions, mid-1980s (1984), 1987 and 1990. They disclose that the Pakistan government threatened to retaliate in 1984 with ``all the means at their disposal'', though the use of nuclear weapons was neither specifically mentioned nor excluded. According to the Kargil report, in 1987, Pakistani minister Zain Noorani asked the Indian ambassador S K Singh to convey a message to his government that if it took any action not conducive to Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity then Pakistan was ``capable of inflicting unacceptable damage on it (India)''. The 1990 crisis followed the launch of the Pakistani proxy war in Kashmir and led to the Gates Mission. Though Gates never mentioned the nuclear factor to any Indian political leader or official, Sattar regards that as a nuclear preventive diplomacy. Literature in the US contain references to warnings issued by the US to Pakistan at that time.

Chengappa argues in his book that Indian weapons development lagged behind Pakistan by a few years. According to this view it would appear that contrary to popular folklore, the Indian nuclear weapons programme trailed behind Pakistan in the 1980s and that during this period the Pakistanis conveyed nuclear threats to India. This country caught up with and overtook Pakistan only during the period Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister.

Consensus among PMs

All these disclosures explode the myths about Pakistan responding to the Indian programme and about Indian leaders keeping the option open. The Kargil report has suggested that the government should bring out a white paper on the nuclear issue to promote better understanding of the issue. The Kargil report traces the China-Pakistan nuclear proliferation relationship and the US connivance in that to the eighties; the US needed Pakistan's help to sustain the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union. Indian Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were fully aware of this and, therefore, pursued a nuclear weapon and missile programme to deter Pakistan which was armed by China. The other Prime Ministers followed suit. Therefore, the Indian nuclear weapons programme had an overwhelming consensus among all Prime Ministers, irrespective of party affiliations. The conduct of the Shakti tests was the culmination of the efforts of as many as seven Prime Ministers, though the credit for the tests and withstanding successfully the international pressure over the last two years goes to the BJP.
 



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