10 years since Pokhran-2

Popular tales suggest that when Bill Clinton (the then President of US) was informed of the nuclear weapons testing by India in 1998, he banged his fist on the table and lamented that he would never be able to visit the Taj Mahal. The USA had to impose sanctions on India for the testing and there was no way the US President could travel to a country on which it had imposed sanctions. This is what i read in one of the articles, but cant seem to find any written documents to back it up, so lets leave it as an ‘urban legend’. Of course, everyone knows that Bill Clinton later on turned out to be a self confessed Indophile; a hard core supporter of India.

Everyone knows the aftermath of the testing, sanctions were imposed on India by the US, Japan and a host of countries. All form of technological assistance was frozen. And all forms of aid was cut.

10 years hence, the US accepts that India is indeed a nuclear power and offers an exclusive nuclear deal; the first such effort for a country that has refused to sign the discriminatory Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). We are still bickering over the fine print of the deal. With elections around, i don’t see any party in power having the guts to go ahead with the deal. But one thing is for sure. Whichever party comes to power (either BJP or Congress) after the elections, is going to sign the treaty.

And for all those who worry that the timeline for the deal is expiring, can relax. India is too big a market for the US to ignore. The nuclear deal is just the beginning. India is planning to spend close to US$100 billion over the next 15-20 years to upgrade its military. And the US is not so stupid to antagonise any of the Indian political class and miss out on the cherry.

Ten years ago, on May 11, 1998, the Buddha smiled once again in the deserts of Rajasthan as the country undertook a series of nuclear tests in the Pokhran field range. The first-ever nuclear test by the country, code named ‘Smiling Buddha’, was also conducted in the same place on May 19, 1974.

The area of the tests is still kept under tight security. There are four gates spread over a 3.5 sq km area. The first is known as Kohinoor Gate and the last, Bhoochal Gate. But soon, footfalls in the sands which saw India’s strategic coming of age could increase as the government goes ahead with plans to set up a war museum in the Pokhran range.

“We are trying to set up a model of the Khetolai village in Pokhran where the blasts took place. A war museum would be set up here and the help of the Army and BSF has been sought to set up the museum,” said Ambarish Kumar, district collector, Jaisalmer.

Interestingly, then CIA director, George Tenet, in his book ‘At The Centre of Storm: My Years At The CIA’ admitted that India’s second nuclear explosion surprised the US. “In 1995, when the US got the hint that India was preparing for its second nuclear test, we managed to put pressure on India to stop it, but the US had no clue about the preparation of India in 1998 as our satellites failed to detect the preparations that were on in Pokhran.

Admittedly, it was our greatest failure and that gave us sleepless nights,” wrote Tenet.

Three laboratories had been set up for the purpose and the exact location where explosions took place later were being used for playing football and hockey. In all, 3,000 to 4,000 army personnel were involved, but hardly 100 knew the exact task they were involved in.

Full article here.

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  • Sachin

    yup !! indeed we are a big and growing market…… uncle sam knows how to make money……..they will try their best to get the cheery…….

  • sagarika

    It was great that we managed to hoodwink the US in 98, but that doesn’t mean we can get away with anything. The clock IS ticking. The US may need us, but we need them more than they need us.

  • Amit

    I have heard that there were villages around the blast site which were affected by the radiation. Is this true? Any idea?

  • JB

    Why doesn’t India sign up to the Non Proliferation Treaty?

    Honestly, I think it’s pretty concerning that both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. Frankly, in that situation I really don’t feel that sanity would prevail at the end of the day.

    It would be even worse if Iran fulfills it’s desire as well.

  • Poonam Sharma

    I agree with that prediction that deal will be signed post-election. We elect idiots to office who can’t afford to be honest even when in power.

  • Liju Philip

    @Sachin, the US policy revolves around economics. They are practical and are not fooled by ideologies and stuff unlike our commies and rest.

    @Sagarika, the days when we needed the US is over. Its the other way around now. The economic or other clouts that the US held over the world is fast diminishing. We cant wish them away, its good to have a meaningful and deep relationship with them both economically and otherwise. Read this link about the growing military ties between the 2 countries.

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/N-deal_in_limbo_defence_deals_on_fast_track/articleshow/3030545.cms

    @Amit, the first blasts in 1974 did have some radiation effects. The ones in 1998 didnt. It seems BARC did 2 years of testing at the location and has confirmed that.

    @JB, India doesnt sign the NPT because it feels that its discriminatory. It believes that the US and the remaining 4 security council members have no business telling India to disarm when they themselves are sitting on a stockpile of nuclear arms that can destroy the world 1000 times over. India believes in a world free of nuclear arms and has promised to get rid of its weapons provided every country in the world starts to do it.

    India is a responsible nuclear nation. China is a worse country. Everyone knows the proliferation it has done to build up the capacities of Pakistan, North Korea, Libya, Iraq, Iran etc.

    @Akhil, true. In fact the world should be more wary of China, the worst smuggler of nuclear weapons across the world.

    @Poonam, BJP was the one who set things into motion the initial contours of the nuclear deal. In fact they even went to the extent of agreeing to sign the NPT without any counter offer. Today it doesnt support the Congress when it wants to sign.

    Congress liberalized the economy and BJP sang the swadeshi blues. When BJP was in power, it liberalized the economy even more furiously than the Congress and Congress accused the BJP of becoming America’s sleeping partner.

    Politics is a strange animal, it makes people behave funnily. Our political parties are no different.

  • JB

    Honest thoughts here, not trying to start controversy.

    I am very worried about Iran, North Korea and China when it comes to nuclear weapons. Moreso than India. But if a country isn’t going to use them, then why not sign up to the NPT? Everyone else who imports Uranium (from Australia anyway) has signed up to it. At the end of the day I realise it’s a piece of paper, but I would rather it be signed than not. By not signing it, it sends a signal that India is prepared to use nuclear weapons.

    I understand how the “balance of power” works, but I don’t trust Pakistan (policically unstable)and I don’t trust India if Pakistan uses them. And if that happens, it’s game over for everyone.

  • Liju Philip

    @JB, India has specified clearly that it will never do a first use of a nuclear weapon and that it will never use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear country. If attacked by nuclear weapons, the Indian doctrine is to unleash hell.

    Couple with it is India’s past performance in the nuclear field. It has an impeccable record. Unlike countries like China who have signed yet keep proliferating like hell. So, what’s the point of signing the deal when you have 5-6 countries having more than 1000 warheads each and they show no commitment towards destroying them?

  • Liju Philip

    JB, true, its nothing to be proud of. No one wants to see a world decimated by nuclear weapons. But when you have neighbours who have publicly (Pakistan) or covertly (China) supported terrorism in India and have declared that they will eat grass but will find money to make nuclear bombs to destroy India, you need to be on the guard. We’ve had 3 wars with Pakistan and one with China.

    Not everyone is lucky enough to have some good neighbours like you have 😉

  • JB

    I know, we are pretty lucky here and as such don’t need to worry about nuclear weapons and of course we also have a strong relationshiop with the US, so we have some protection there.

    Its a shame that as we move into the future it is more likely that we have more weapons, not less. This is mainly the fault of the US of course, but one day I fear this is going to hurt us all.