WASHINGTON — The generals called it Operation Smiling Buddha.
While the name suggests a peaceful initiative, the reality was exactly the opposite: Smiling Buddha was the code name for India’s first nuclear test. Supervised by top Indian military officials at a remote desert site in May 1974, the test was a huge national leap for India. It dramatically revived Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s popularity at home and forever changed the strategic environment of South Asia.
That India and Pakistan are fierce rivals is no secret. But the nuclear weapons programs that the two countries developed since Smiling Buddha have made their tensions more likely to become devastating confrontations. It’s a situation that completely defies common sense — especially since Pakistan, with a much smaller population than India and lesser missile capabilities,would be signing its own death warrant if it launched a nuclear weapon and invited India’s massive retaliation.