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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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Mertze Dahlin   

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November 1, 2015

India planned covert military attack on Pakistani nuclear reactor

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Indian Express reported on Oct 26, 2015 that the United States warned Pakistan in 1984 about an Indian military attack on the Pakistani nuclear reactor at Kahuta. The paper said that the US warning came in US President Ronald Reagan’s letter to General Zia-ul Haq, President of Pakistan.

Last week, the US State department declassified its top-secret documents from 1984-85 which focus on the Pakistani nuclear program.

The Indian Express report said that the Americans were not alone in anticipating an Indian attack. It quoted several books on Indian plans to attack Pakistani nuclear reactor at Kahuta near the capital Islamabad.

Prof Rajesh Rajagopalan of JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) recently pointed to a book by Sergey Radchenko and Artemy M. Kalinovsky  as saying that documents in the Hungarian archives show that the Soviets had shared with the Hungarians India’s plans to attack Kahuta. Radchenko- Kalinovsky book - The End of the Cold War and the Third World: New Perspectives on Regional Conflict - is based on the declassified documents of the Eastern Block.

In his book, India’s Nuclear Policy —1964-98: A Personal Recollection, K Subrahmanyam (former Director of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses) recollected that the Indian proposal to Pakistan for non-attack on each other’s nuclear facilities, which he suggested to Rajiv Gandhi, was an outcome of such rumors in the Western media.

India and Pakistan sighed an ‘Agreement on the Non-Attack of Nuclear Facilities' in 1988 and ratified in 1991. Since 1992, India and Pakistan have been exchanging the list of their nuclear facilities on January 1 every year.

Israeli attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor

Sushant Singh of India Times says that the first time India is believed to have considered such an attack is in June 1981 when daring Israel destroyed the under-construction Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. Eight F-16s of the Israeli Air Force flew more than 600 miles in the skies of three enemy nations to destroy the target and returned unscathed.

In 1996, WPS Sidhu, senior fellow for foreign policy at Brookings India, was the first to state that after the induction of Jaguars, Indian Air Force (IAF) had conducted a brief study in June 1981 on the feasibility of attacking Kahuta. The study concluded that India could “attack and neutralize” Kahuta but feared that such an attack would result in a full-blown war between India and Pakistan.

This was besides the concerns that an Indian attack will beget an immediate retaliatory — some say, even pre-emptive — Pakistani air strike on Indian nuclear facilities.

The Indian Express referred to a book by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark - Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Conspiracy - which claimed that Indian military officials secretly travelled to Israel in February 1983 to buy electronic warfare equipment to neutralize Kahuta’s air defenses. Israel reportedly also provided India with technical details of the F-16 aircraft in exchange for Indians providing them some details about the MiG-23 aircraft.

The Indian Express also enumerated several instances when India considered air strike on Kahuta:

 1. In mid- to late-1983, strategic affairs expert Bharat Karnad, Indira Gandhi asked the Indian Air Force once again to plan for an air strike on Kahuta. The mission was cancelled after Pakistani nuclear scientist Munir Ahmed Khan met Indian Atomic Energy Commission chief-designate Raja Ramanna at an international meet in Vienna and threatened a retaliatory strike on Bhabha Atomic Research Centre at Trombay.

 2. The next time India is believed to have seriously considered attacking Kahuta was in September-October 1984. Details of the Pakistani nuclear program crossing the weaponization enrichment threshold had then begun to emerge. As seen from US documents declassified last week, on September 16, 1984, US Ambassador Dean Hinton told General Zia that if the US were to see signs that India was preparing for an attack, they would notify Pakistan immediately.

 On September 22, 1984, a reliable source from a foreign country — later assumed to be the CIA Deputy Director — reported to the Pakistani top brass that there was the possibility of an Indian air strike. The same day, ABC television also reported that a preemptive Indian attack on Pakistani nuclear facilities was imminent, which was based on a briefing made by the CIA to a US Senate intelligence subcommittee.  But India did not go ahead with its plans to attack Kahuta.

The Israeli Connection

According to the Indian Express that there were rumors in 1984 that Israeli air force was part of the plans to attack Kahuta because it did not want to see an “Islamic Bomb” developed by Pakistan. Israel was supposed to lead this attack and not merely play the role of advising the Indian Air Force.

Bharat Karnad, a Research Professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, was quoted as saying that Israeli aircraft were to be staged from Jamnagar airfield in Gujarat, refuel at a satellite airfield in North India and track the Himalayas to avoid early radar detection, but Indira Gandhi eventually vetoed the idea.

The Indian Express pointed out that in March 1984 Indira Gandhi backed off on the Israeli-led operation after the US state department warned India “the US will be responsive if India persists”.

It may be pointed out that India and Israel have close military cooperation.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, India has become the largest customer of Israeli defense exports over the past two years. The annual value of arms deals between the two countries has topped $1 billion and makes up nearly 15 percent of all Israeli defense exports.

India is among Israel’s biggest customers for unarmed drones, and analysts say Israel is keen to use its head start over rival makers such as the United States to increase sales to Delhi.

Under Indian Prime Minister Modi, Israel and India have pushed ahead with the joint development of an aerial defense system, which passed its first trial simulating combat conditions in November 2014. In October 2014, India opted to buy Rafael’s Spike anti-tank guided missile in a deal worth $525 million, choosing the Israeli product over a U.S. offer of its Javelin missiles, Haaretz reported.

It may also be pointed out that Indian President President Pranab Mukjerjee made a historic trip to Israel earlier this month, becoming the first Indian Head of State to visit Israel. 

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the chief editor of the Journal of America.