After returning to power in 1980, former prime minister Indira Gandhi had considered military strikes on Pakistan's nuclear installations to prevent it from acquiring weapons capabilities, a declassified CIA document has claimed.
Such a move was being considered by Gandhi at a time when the US was in an advanced stage of providing F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, says the document titled “India's Reaction to Nuclear Developments in Pakistan” and dated the September 8, 1981.
A redacted version of the 12-page document was posted on the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) website in June, according to which the government led by Gandhi in 1981 was concerned about progress made by Pakistan in its nuclear weapons programme. India believed Pakistan was steps away from acquiring a nuclear weapon and the US had the same assessment.
“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 highly sensitive CIA report said.
At the time of writing of the report, the CIA said Gandhi had not taken any such decision in that regard.
"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.
According to the report, Gandhi evidently responded to the threat of Pakistan being in an advanced stage of producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons by authorising preparations for an Indian nuclear test.
“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. In May, preparations were completed by India for a 40-kiloton nuclear test.
The CIA said India was to reportedly explode the device about one week after the expected Pakistani 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 CIA said.