India warned would 'smash' Pakistan nukes: US files

23rd December 2010, Comments 0 comments

India said in the late 1970s it would "smash" any attempt by Pakistan to develop atomic weapons amid a failed US bid to broker a nuclear-free South Asia, declassified documents said.

Previously secret US files shed light on initiatives by President Jimmy Carter's 1977-1981 administration to persuade Pakistan not to pursue nuclear weapons -- which, three decades later, are a major concern for many US experts.

The Carter team eventually came to doubt it could do much to dissuade Pakistan, which was determined to counter historic rival India. Pakistan eventually tested an atom bomb in 1998, days after India.

The declassified documents, obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said the Carter administration sounded out India on declaring South Asia to be a zone without nuclear weapons.

India's prime minister at the time, Morarji Desai, rejected the idea in a meeting with the US ambassador, saying it made no sense so long as major powers -- a likely reference to neighboring China -- had nuclear weapons, a memo said.

Desai, who was working to mend relations with Pakistan, made clear that he did not want public confrontation but said he doubted Islamabad's sincerity in backing a nuclear-free zone.

He also told a Pakistani envoy "that India had only good intentions toward Pakistan and wished to do nothing to cause it difficulties, but also that, 'If Pakistan tries any tricks, we will smash you,'" according to the 1979 memo by the US ambassador, Robert Goheen.

The Indians were not alone in their suspicions. The same year, the US ambassador in Islamabad, Arthur Hummel, confronted dictator Zia ul Haq with satellite images showing activity at the Kahuta nuclear laboratory.

Zia called the allegations "absolutely ridiculous" and proposed to let in US inspectors, but lower-ranking Pakistani officials reneged on his offer, Hummel wrote.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan changed dramatically after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and US intelligence teamed up with Islamabad to arm anti-communist Islamic guerrillas.

The Carter administration offered its newfound ally some 400 million dollars in aid, which Zia famously rejected as "peanuts." US aid to Pakistan soared after Ronald Reagan defeated Carter and entered the White House in 1981.

A newly released memo showed the Carter administration considered a package to Pakistan even before the Soviet invasion that would have included more than 300 million dollars in aid and debt relief.

The package would have included F-16 fighter jets coveted by Pakistan -- with an understanding that conventional weapons would "take priority" over nuclear weapons.

It was unclear how far the idea went, with signs it was controversial from its inception.

The memo's authors said the Carter administration would have to prevent the US Congress from thinking "we are buying off Zia's weapons program." An anonymous handwritten note in the margin reads, "Dreaming?"

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, Pakistan has again became a pivotal partner of the United States in military operations in Afghanistan. Congress in 2009 approved a 7.5 billion-dollar civilian aid package aimed at bringing stability to Pakistan and reducing the appeal of Islamic extremists.

The declassified documents also offered details on how France ended support in 1978 for a reprocessing plant in Pakistan. France had initially defied US complaints but eventually came to share fears the facility could be used to produce weapons.

To relay the decision, France's then president Valery Giscard d'Estaing sent a lengthy letter to a Pakistani official full of "pious sentiments of friendship" that did not mention the contract directly, a US memo said.

France's ambassador in Islamabad, Pol Le Gourrierec, called it "the most extraordinarily obscure diplomatic communications he has ever encountered," the US ambassador said in an account of their conversation.

© 2010 AFP

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