NEW DELHI: The Indira Gandhi Government had mulled over launching a military strike to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in 1981, according to a CIA document declassified in June.
The September 8, 1981 document titled ‘India’s reactions to Nuclear Developments in Pakistan’ mentioned the concerns raised by New Delhi over Washington’s decision to supply Islamabad with F-16 fighter jets. It suggested that New Delhi was planning to launch an attack before the F-16s, which could launch counter-attacks on some Indian nuclear facilities, were delivered to Islamabad. The immediate trigger for India’s concerns was Israel’s use of F-16s to destroy the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq.
“If Indian concerns increase over the next two or three months, we believe the condition could be ripe for a decision by Prime Minister (Indira) Gandhi to instigate a military confrontation with Pakistan, primarily to provide a framework for destroying Pakistan’s nuclear facilities,” read the 12-page document of the US intelligence agency.
“Earlier in July, a senior defence official stated that though no decision had been made to attack Pakistan, contingency plans calling for a late-1981 surprise attack did exist,” the CIA document said. Since June 1981, high-level strategists in the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs had been preparing various plans for a military action against Pakistan.
Stating that uranium enrichment plants would be soft targets in the event of an attack, particularly if they were in operation during the attack, the document said the difficulty of acquiring necessary components and rebuilding the plants would probably rule out the production of highly enriched uranium in the years to come.
The CIA document noted that the international reaction to an Indian attack on Pakistan would be probably severe such as an oil embargo by Arab countries against India. It also noted the dilemma the US would have faced had India attacked its neighbour.
“Pakistan would need outside help to avoid a defeat, presenting the United States with the dilemma of direct involvement or seeing the defeat of a security partner,” the document said, adding, “The Soviet Union might attempt to exploit the hostilities, by launching limited strikes under Afghan colours against insurgent camps across the Pak border”.