India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Need for Change, and take on the 1982-83 Indo-Israeli op (Indira Gandhi called off at the 11th hour) to bomb Kahuta

[PLA Strategic Rocket Force]

Council for Strategic Affairs Distinguished Lecture: India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Need for Change Sat, Apr 22, 2023, 10:00 AM available at

Something of interest: In the interactive part of my above virtual talk, you’ll find Ambassador William Burns partaking of the discussion and suggesting as an aside that he hadn’t heard about the planned joint Indo-Israeli aerial attack on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons complex at Kahuta (outside Islamabad) in the 1982-1983 period — with Israel providing all the hard power and India the use of its air force bases and other military infrastructure in support of this operation. Israel the year before on 7 June, 1981, had taken out the Iraqi reactor complex, it may be recalled, with precisely this mix of F-16s to strike and F-15s flying combat air patrols to neutralise any resistance by Iraqi interceptors.

Coming from the current Director, US Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, his professed ignorance of any such Kahuta strike operation is unbelievable. Then again, the fact that CIA was deliberately kept in the dark by the Israelis is, well, believable. The Israelis may have calculated, or had an inkling, that any forewarning would lead to Washington pressuring Tel Aviv to cease and desist from such preemptive action that would have killed off a potential nuclear threat in the bud. Israel’s doubts about US intentions may have found echoes on the Indian side considering Indian intel agencies began tracking 1979 onwards Chinese moves to transfer fully worked nuclear weapon and missile designs, materials and manufacturing expertise to Pakistan.

Dengxiaoping on his January 29, 1979, state visit to the US had intimated — in a sense, sought permission from, President Jimmy Carter, to carry out such transfer. He got an OK, whence US’s complicity in China’s nuclear missile arming of Pakistan. By 1978, the Soviet-leaning and India-friendly People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan regime of Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin was well ensconced in Kabul, and was seen by Carter’s NSA Zbigniew Brzenzinski as both tilting the power balance in South Asia against the US and posing a threat to Pakistan. its pliable ally in the region. With a Soviet-friendly government of Indira Gandhi in India as well, it may have convinced the Carter Administration to let China onpass nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan. Indeed, General Zia ul-Haq building on Washington’s antipathy towards India dating from the Kissinger era used precisely the emerging great power situation post-1987 Saur Revolution in Afghanistan to justify Washington’s turning a blind eye to, and therefore, encouraging China’s nuclear assistance.

In my talk I erred twice (because I misremembered dates). I said the Kahuta strike operation was slated for “1986”, when it was actually 1982-83. And, I said Deng sought permission for nuclear weapons aid to Pakistan from George W Bush when, clearly, it was from President Jimmy Carter. This is to set the record straight.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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19 Responses to India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Need for Change, and take on the 1982-83 Indo-Israeli op (Indira Gandhi called off at the 11th hour) to bomb Kahuta

  1. Dhairya Upadhyay says:

    Was that seriously William Burns the current CIA director like chief of the world’s most powerfull spy agency. Just sitting there all that time in an online meeting for listening to you. And the fact that he didn’t knew how to turn on his camera.

    I am 19 and naive so please pardon my naivety. I do read your blogs regularly.

    • That, believe me. was exactly what, in the absence of visual, I felt when the host introduced the person on-line as “Ambassador” William Burns. Then, I went and listened to Ambassador Burns interviewed on NPR TV, etc., and to my untrained ear the two audios seemed alike! So make of it what you want.

  2. Email from Dr Adityanjee, host of the Council for Strategic Affairs ‘Distinguished Lecture’

    A Adityanjee

    Mon, 24 Apr at 7:50 pm

    Dear Dr. Karnad,
    I am delighted that you spoke on the CSA platform. I enjoyed your lecture. I have read your comments on your Blog Security Wise and noted the two corrections also. Sometimes, denials are non-denials for public consumption.
    Best Regards,

  3. Ayush says:

    You almost certainly fell victim to a deep fake.

    Although US complicity in Pak’s acquiring of nuclear weapons is a well-known fact in Indian intelligence.Not even the most obvious, sold-out, firing-squad worthy traitors deny this fact. This is nothing new to be honest.This comes from a three-generation old yankee all started off with using the few surviving Wehrmacht generals(who were not fanatic nazis) to build and man the west German Bundeswehr. The cynically ludicrous cover story of the “clean Wehrmacht” was built up.Then came the usage of The infamous SS cutthroat Stepan Bandera who was mercilessly and brilliantly eliminated by the KGB.Then came the Vietnam war and bombing of Cambodia to install the Khmer rouge regime.Despite the deaths of millions civilians in that regime’a genocidal campaign the US and the its sworn , yellow, blood brother(china) continued to shamelessly back it in the UNSC until it was finally eliminated by USSR-backed vietnam.The Vietnamese people were awarded for ending the “Asian holocaust” by the infamous US approved Chinese invasion of 1979 which resulted in a such spectacular trashing for the Chinese PLA that they have till date not dated to fire a single shot across any foreign border.I can describe numerous more such stories

  4. Vidyapati Gautam says:

    How may I reach you by email, sir? Thank you.

  5. Gab Singh says:

    What are the chances of success of Ukrainian Counter-offensive ?
    If Ukrainian Counter-offensive really succeeds then it will be huge embarassment for Russian Army. I think Russian regime will not be able to survive such a defeat.
    Russian regime or Putin will not be able to survive even a draw.

    Bharatji, what do you think who will replace Putin after 2-3 years, when this war is over ?
    This war is over for Russia. Either it will be a draw or a Ukrainian victory. Putin cannot survive neither of these two outcomes.

    • UKR can’t sustain a counter-offensive, maompower-wise. Putin is unlikely to be ousted anytime soon short of a conspicuous defeat against NATO-supported Zelenskyy’s forces

  6. An Indian IT guy says:

    Sir…do you think India and China will go to a serious war in near future, i mean before 2033?? Will India lose Arunachal Pradesh or most of it?? In case of a Nuclear War what will happen to India’s Economy? How will we recover? and most Importantly will America or UK or Israel will support us on Ground??

    • Many Intel types expect China to mount serious hostilities to show India down by 2027.

      • An Indian IT guy says:

        Sir, in case of a Nuclear War what will happen to India’s Economy? How will we recover? and most Importantly will America or UK or Israel will support us on Ground during the War??
        and I m adding one more question- in case of a 2 front Nuclear war…will India hit Pakistani population centers or only Nuclear weapons facilities??

        But I m always on the side of Peace n Dialogues…not Wars. But still has to ask those questions.

      • The point is there is no probability of conventional hostilities, even less N-war, with China if India does the things I have been advocating — change the doctrine to First Use versus China, deploy atomic demolition munitions as tripwire backed by forwardly placed medium-range nuclear warheaded Agni-1s, short-range Prithvi’s and tactical-theatree use Prahar and other nuclear area-weapons supported by hinterland intermediate range Agni-5s, meaning focus strategically solely on China. (Because Pakistan is a nusisance, not a threat).

        How are nuclear weapons supposed to deter anybody if there’s no threat of first use? [Because use only in retaliation is a joke, as I long ago pointed out and have repeated endlessly since, considering our government cannot manage the annual monsoon strikes on cities even with advance metereological notice — what to speak of absorbing a nuclear attack!]


    Dear Dr Karnad

    There is a very interesting piece of news that has been circulating in both the Pakistani as well as Indian media outlets of late. This piece of news talks about then Pakistani COAS General Bajwa actually cut a ceasefire deal in 2021 with Mr Doval and Modiji for a ceasefire in Kashmir in the post-2019 article 370 scenario over there. Moreover according to this piece of news, General Bajwa further wanted to freeze the conflict in Kashmir for next 20 years. In the meantime both India and Pakistan were supposed to move on with boosting trade ties.

    What is most intriguing here is that General Bajwa kept the civilian government of Imran Khan completely out of the loop when this happened. The Pakistani foreign office that generally deals with foreign engagements was also kept in dark by the general here.

    In fact when Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the foreign minister of Pakistan under the Imran Khan government at the time, came to know about this, he did his utmost to torpedo the deal. He even went on to invite General Bajwa in the Pakistani foreign office at the time and tried to talk him out of it. Mostly because of his efforts, the then Imran Khan government had decided to torpedo the trade normalization deal with India at the time although the ceasefire deal with India was kept in place. Clearly the Imran Khan government was mostly concerned about the electoral prospects in the Pakistan electoral situation considering that it was a coalition government brought together under various minor parties.

    This particular situation actually flies in the face of the conventional theory popular amongst the Pakistani watchers in New Delhi that it is the Punjabi Generals who are opposed to any normalization with India whereas the civilian politicians are eager to do business with India. As this incident shows sometimes it can be even the same civilian politicians whose political interests may not be served well if some sorts of peace comes between India and Pakistan. It is ironical that Modiji finds himself in the similar political position since his macho image would be hit hard if some sort of peace comes between India and Pakistan whereby India has to bury the talk of retaking PoK.

    To conclude, some of the political parties in both India and Pakistan have similar political interests to see both countries be hostile to each other. The Pakistani military establishment should not always be blamed for the same.

    I would love your viewpoint over the above analysis of mine.

  8. Gab Singh says:

    Dear Bharatji,
    Has the Russian spring offensive fizzled out ?
    I think the Russian spring offensive never really even began. Russia maybe preserving its forces for the coming Ukrainian counter-offensive. Russia may launch a new offensive after Ukrainian Counter-offensive.

    How do you think this war will end ? I think this war will continue on for 2-3 more years and then it will be a draw. America will still impose sanctions until Russia gives up all the territory apart from Crimea.

    At the beginning nobody really thought Ukraine will last more than a month. Now also people think that the so called Ukrainian counter-offensive will not achieve anything significant or decisive. But if Ukrainian counter offensive is a success it will be a major embarassment for Putin and all the self-claimed experts on internet.

  9. Amit says:


    Here is an article which argues for a different view of today’s world – partial unipolarity rather than multipolarity.

    It’s actually quite a well thought out article which outlines why no global power comes close to the U.S. in terms of military and economic might. Reading such articles further strengthens the more and more pervasive assessment that China is not as big and powerful as it claims it is. It’s military power maybe 20% of the US in as many as 13 major areas. And its economy might be overstated by nearly 50% according to Indian Generals and 20-30% according to some American sources.

    I would still consider China and Russia as great powers, but maybe they are both a distant second and third.

    The implications can actually be more stability for the world. If the U.S. believes a China is a smaller power than projected, it will actually be less threatened and more successful in its containment of China. It also means that India will catch up with China faster than expected. Additionally, it implies that China is spending 3-4% of GDP on its military rather than 2%, while trying to project a benign image. A very Chinese thing to do!

    Then one comes to the nuclear threat from China to India. If it is a much smaller economy the threat is lower. Of course India should have an upgraded nuclear arsenal including fully tested TN weapons. But I don’t think this will be a priority currently given that India and China do not have an interest in war with each other, and should keep it that way.

    It also means that China won’t be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027. What could happen is a desperate attack knowing full well that China has peaked and time for military action might be running out.

    But none of this should make India complacent as China is still a formidable power and India has to improve its economy and military to match it well.

    This shows how important it is to have the correct view of reality, as it has serious implications for geopolitics.

  10. Ayush says:

    Dr karnad,
    CSIS war games predict that US will require and use around 5,000 missiles of different types including 4,000 long-range cruise missile(JASSM-ER &Tomahawks) to pulverize the PLA Air Force and navy in the event of an invasion of Taiwan by 2026 or so.Ironically, trillion dollar toys like the F-35/F-22 are going to be of little to no utility.USAF will lose 500-600 aircraft, including vast majority of its stealth fleet by Chinese rocket attacks.Essentially, the outcome of a US-China war will hinge completely upon who has more missiles.Do you think we can produce 4,000 Pralay and LRLACM’s by that time?We are apparently procuring 375 pralay missiles this year.LRLACM is supposed to be tested later this year.Testing of critical MIRVed K5 SLBM has been delayed due to apparent US pressure.Also,militarily speaking the timeline of Chinese assault is much more compressed than what you will take place in the coming months or in 2024 April or it will never happen.By 2027 india will at least a thousand parlay missiles to fire at the PLA along with a secure,hardened C2 system.The PLA has to hit us now or never.That is all there is to it.Besides,this way they politically kill modi for good and get pliant regime in place.Modi,at least for the sake of his political career, has to show the US and it’s sanctions the proverbial middle finger and proceed forward with full-yield ATMOSPHERIC megaton tests before or immediately after the G20 summit this September.That should silence the Chinese and the Americans for eternity.

  11. Amit says:


    A nice podcast in FA with General Milley, the highest ranking US military officer.

    Based on his comments, the US military thinks we are in a tripolar world – US, China and Russia, although the U.S. lead is significant. That jives well with what many realists think as well.

    Another interesting point is the way the U.S. military is changing to adapt to the character of modern warfare. About a third will change to adopt the latest tech and be agile, small, invisible and fast moving. And how the theatre of warfare will change from rural fighting to mega city urban fighting (this has its own interesting implications since urban war fighting is hard to win for both sides).

    His point about the difficulty of an amphibious assault to take territory is also salient. The Normandy beach assault in WW2, was done by forces who had already done many amphibious assaults in Africa and East Asia. The Chinese military has no experience of this, and has frankly not even conducted any military exercises to train for this scenario. So while they talk big, actual capability is lacking.

    Additionally, the U.S. military is rapidly advancing in its capabilities too. They have decided not just to enhance capabilities, but to create a great distance with China. Frankly, I do not see China catching up to the U.S. anytime soon.

    Yet, the Chinese may make a stupid move like they did with India in Galwan. Someone needs to remind them that the momos they are eating with Chinese tarkari, is not producing much combustible gas! On the contrary, it stinks!

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