Amit Baruah

Party would tread carefully on issues governing relations with West, says declassified report

BJP's efforts to escalate missile programmes would not materialise, says declassified report In conversations with U.S. officials, BJP leaders stressed `continuity' on important issues

NEW DELHI: A month before the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance Government conducted nuclear tests in May 1998, the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) believed the party was unlikely to endanger its relations with the West.

A declassified CIA document, posted on the National Security Archive (NSA), quoted "press reports" at the time as saying that the BJP was planning to set up a National Security Council. "The administration [in New Delhi] is likely to use the Council to `buy time' before making major decisions on issues that will affect India's relations with the West, such as nuclear policy."

The document, entitled "India: Problems and prospects for the BJP Government," said: "The BJP may spout strong rhetoric about bolstering India's national security posture particularly toward Pakistan but it cannot follow through many of its defence-related threats in the near term."

Bureaucratic bottlenecks

"Technological and bureaucratic bottlenecks will impede any BJP effort to escalate the country's missile programmes in the near term, for example," the April 13, 1998, document stated.

Pressure in global fora

According to the CIA assessment, prepared by its Office of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Analysis, the BJP faced pressure in international forums, such as the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament, to make Indian policy conform to international conventions on nuclear proliferation issues.

"At a time when India strives to be taken seriously in its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, such pressure has led BJP leaders, in private conversations with U.S. officials, to stress `continuity' on issues of importance to the West," the report said.

The Pakistan link

Pakistani behaviour, the CIA felt, would play a role in determining whether the BJP turned hardline rhetoric into action. If Islamabad refrained from what India would view as "provocative behaviour," the BJP was likely to respond in kind.

"The BJP's strong nationalist and security credentials might allow it to make concessions that other Indian [political] parties fearing accusations of being `soft' on Pakistan have been unwilling to consider ... "

Behind-the-scene parleys

The document, which has some bits excised from the original, also makes a reference to New Delhi's willingness to work, behind the scenes, with U.S. officials. However, it does not specify specific areas.

"New Delhi may be willing to work with U.S. officials behind the scenes on issues of mutual concern, particularly where the give-and-take of coalition politics threatens progress," it said.