If Pakistan has N-bomb, we will smash it: Morarji told US

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON - The US efforts to discourage a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan in the 1970s met with stiff resistance from New Delhi and Islamabad, with then Indian premier Morarji Desai telling Americans that he will “smash” any Pakistani nuclear efforts.

Recently declassified US government documents from the Jimmy Carter era published Tuesday by the National Security Archive shed light on the critical period when Washington found out that Pakistan had acquired key elements of a nuclear weapons capability.

Once in power in 1977, the Carter administration tried to discourage the Pakistani nuclear programme.

But the CIA and State Department discovered belatedly in 1978 that Islamabad was moving quickly to build a gas centrifuge plant, thanks to “dual use” technology acquired by Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan and his network.

The declassified documents show that Carter tried combinations of diplomatic pressure and blandishments to dissuade the Pakistanis and to induce them to reach an understanding with India, a George Washington University report says.

Washington’s efforts met with strong resistance from top Pakistani officials. Seeing a nuclear capability as a matter of national survival, they argued that Pakistan had an “unfettered right” to develop nuclear technology. The Indians were also not interested in a deal.

In 1979, when Washington made unsuccessful attempts to frame a regional solution involving “mutual restraint” by India and Pakistan of their nuclear activities, Morarji Desai declared that “if he discovered that Pakistan was ready to test a bomb or if it exploded one, he would act at (once) ‘to smash it’.”

The documents disclose the US government’s complex but unsuccessful efforts to convince Pakistan to turn off the gas centrifuge project in 1970s, the assessment says.

Besides exerting direct pressure first on president Zulkifar Ali Bhutto and then on military dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Washington lobbied key allies and China to induce them to pressure Islamabad, but also to cooperate by halting the sale of sensitive technology to Pakistan.

Senior US officials recognised that the prospects of stopping the Indian or Pakistani nuclear programmes were “poor”; within months arms controller were “scratching their heads” over how to tackle the problem.

India tested its first nuclear device in 1974 and the second series of testing was in 1998.

Pakistan followed suit in 1998, just days after India detonated its second nuclear bomb at Pokhran in Rajasthan.

In the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1978, when improving relations with Pakistan became a top priority for Washington, according to CIA analysts, Pakistani officials believed that the US was “reconciled to a Pakistani nuclear weapons capability”.

Believing that Bhutto might have been willing to trade away Pakistan’s nuclear programme in return for “significant benefits”, then acting secretary of state Warren Christopher proposed a deal to president Jimmy Carter.

The idea was to offer Bhutto cash sales of advanced weapons systems, such as F-5E fighters, along with economic assistance, assured fuel supply for nuclear reactors, and financing of a French nuclear reactor.

The package would have to “stand on its own feet”, thus arms sales would not be so excessive as to “start an arms race with India”.

Whether Bhutto, who had said “we will eat grass” to get nuclear weapons, would have accepted such a deal is debatable.

In any event, talks with him became irrelevant when the military seized power and placed Bhutto under arrest and General Zia became Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA).

Like the Israeli bomb, the Pakistan case illustrates how difficult it is to prevent a determined country, especially an ally, from acquiring and using nuclear weapons technology.

The documents also shed light on a familiar problem: a US-Pakistan relationship that has been rife with suspicions and tensions, largely because of Washington’s uneasy balancing act between India and Pakistan.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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