CIA had weighed up South Asia intervention 20 years before Afghanistan

The US was actually in the process of weighing up a direct intervention in South Asia two decades before its invasion of Afghanistan, according to a CIA report.

A September 1981 Special National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) by the Central Investigative Agency titled India's Reaction to Nuclear Developments in Pakistan, details the dilemma of direct involvement in an India-Pakistan conflict or watching Pakistan be defeated.

The NIE published by the CIA in June says:

 CIA had weighed up South Asia intervention 20 years before Afghanistan

Representational image. AFP

If… India chose to attack Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, the hostilities would escalate quickly. (Redacted section) Pakistan would need outside help to avoid a defeat, presenting the United States with a dilemma of direct intervention or seeing the defeat of a security partner. The Soviet Union might attempt to exploit the hostilities

At the heart of this scenario were the CIA’s apprehensions about India’s concerns “about US arms sales to Islamabad, particularly the F-16 aircraft”. The then-state-of-the-art aircraft would greatly limit India’s options for dealing with Pakistan’s nuclear activities, the NIE continued. To highlight the potency of this piece of machinery, the investigative agency drew parallels with Operation Opera in June that year that saw Israeli F-16 aircraft carry out a surprise air strike to level Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. With F-16 aircraft, the report also contended that Pakistan would have the capacity to undertake a similar operation against India — which fed into India’s concerns.

While predicting that India was likely to adopt a ‘wait-and-see’ strategy regarding Pakistan’s nuclear programme, the CIA report stated that “(i)n the extreme case, if India’s concern about deliveries of F-16s to Pakistan increases before the optimum time for exercising the military option, the conditions could be ripe for Prime Minister (Indira) Gandhi to carry out the contingency strike plan.”

The NIE has been widely reported on Indian and Pakistani media alike under the rubric of ‘Indira Gandhi considered military strikes on Pakistani nuclear sites’. But the fact that the report starts with a line stating that “available evidence is insufficient to predict India’s response to this threat (Pakistan’s nuclear programme)” seems to be lost on the media on both sides.

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Updated Date: Sep 01, 2015 14:19:40 IST