Sunday, May 11, 2008

Remembering Pokharan-II: India's N-dream

On May 11, 10 years ago, India declared itself as a nuclear nation state. Five nuclear explosions were carried out on May 11 and 13 in 1998 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Sunday is the 10th anniversary of Pokhran II but it will be a quiet affair, as no official celebrations have been planned to commemorate the event.

The tests at Pokhran stunned the world but gave India's nuclear scientists the data they needed to validate the designs of India's nuclear weapons and warheads, which would be mated to missiles like the Agni and the Prithvi or bombs which could be carried on fighter jets such as the Mirage 2000.

There were five nuclear devices that were tested deep inside the sands of Pokharan - a hydrogen bomb, an advanced atom bomb and three small tactical nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who ordered the tests within days of his government coming to power, did not hesitate to declare India as a 'nuclear weapons state'.

The international reaction was swift. America slapped sanctions on India but in the long run, they would have only a minor impact on the economy.

Over the years, the reality of India having reached a new nuclear threshold was a fact America chose to embrace. And a country, which was seen by some as an adversary in the past ultimately, became a close strategic ally - an ally close enough to consider sharing the state of the art in civilian nuclear technology.

From Pokhran to the possibility of the Indo-US nuclear deal, India has clearly made the leap from being a fledgling nuclear power to a mature nuclear state looking to balance its strategic needs with the enormous energy requirements of a billion people.

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