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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