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The spy files: CIA discussed possibility of Indian attack on Kahuta in 1980s

Updated Jan 26, 2017 11:20am

CIA published roughly 930,000 documents that make up the CIA Records Search Tool (Crest) on Jan 17, 2017

Files in Crest were part of public record before this date, but could only be inspected by visiting the National Archives in Maryland in person during business hours

CIA initiated the project following a Freedom of Information Act injunction launched in 2014 by Muckrock, a non-profit news organisation

CIA had planned to publish the documents at the end of 2017, but finished the work ahead of schedule

Trove includes several hundred thousand pages of intelligence analysis and science research and development

WASHINGTON: Among many other fascinating revelations made by the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) declassified documents recently, it has been disclosed that a CIA official warned US lawmakers that India could attack Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in Kahuta to prevent it from making nuclear weapons in 1981.

According to a CIA memo dated April 17, 1981, an agency official briefed US senators on the possibility of such an attack — although the CIA officially denied the claim.

The memo, sent to the chairman, US National Intelligence Council Special Assistant for Nuclear Proliferation, noted that a few senior American officials also confirmed to ABC news that there had been “serious discussions” within the US government on a possibility of Indian attack on Kahuta.

Another CIA memo to the chairman of the NIC — also sent on April 17, 1981 — illustrated that the agency took the possibility of an attack seriously as it agreed to compile an intelligence assessment report on India’s reactions to nuclear developments in Pakistan.

A memo issued on April 1, 1982, disclosed that after reviewing the situation, CIA officials concluded that two key areas deserved “continuing close scrutiny”.

These were: “(a) Indian perceptions of Pakistani acquisitions of missile materials and (b) nuclear weapons development and fissile material availability in India for weapons production.”

Other memos from the 1980s showed that the United States was so alarmed by the developing tensions with regard to Indian and Pakistani nuclear programmes that it considered appointing a “nuclear emissary” to the two countries.

Another top secret memorandum, dated September 6, 1985, showed that the proposal was discussed in depth. The details were omitted from the released version.

A year before the CIA’s Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis drafted the memo, then US president Ronald Reagan warned Gen Ziaul Haq that India could take “military action to pre-empt your nuclear programme”, according to state department documents declassified in 2015.

The memo noted that while Pakistanis will “welcome an emissary”, they “will want assurances that the US can deliver India on any specific measures”.

Explaining why the Pakistanis could respond positively to the proposal, the CIA said “Pakistan has little to lose”. Yet, a “specific Pakistani reaction to the emissary will hinge on the Indian response”.

The CIA, however, acknowledged that Pakistan would not give up its quest for a nuclear weapon because India had already tested one.

The memo also analysed how India might have responded to the proposal to appoint a US nuclear emissary and concluded that then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi “will avoid anything approaching agreement to serious US involvement in the problem”.

The CIA analysts said that they were “not sanguine that even a meeting with Mr Gandhi will produce positive results”. The CIA noted that Mr Gandhi doubted the US desire to “deal even-handedly” with India and Pakistan.

The memo stated that Mr Gandhi was looking at “alternative appr­oaches” to the India-Pakistan nuclear issue, including possibly arms control rather than non-proliferation.

The CIA believed that Mr Gandhi would be more willing to consider US efforts aimed at non-proliferation if Washington “acknowledged the right of non-aligned nations to increased participation in arms control regimes”.

To view Dawn.com's compilation of extracts from the declassified CIA documents, click here.

Published in Dawn January 26th, 2017