If Pakistan is close to being ready to test a nuclear device just weeks after India conducted its own underground tests, the credit may go to a leader no longer in power: Benazir Bhutto.

U.S. intelligence officials concluded Tuesday that Pakistan has completed most of the preparations for a test in the Chagai Hills of western Pakistan. The level of preparation suggests that the Pakistanis "do indeed plan to conduct a test," said one intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.In an interview this week, Bhutto said when an Indian test appeared imminent in 1995, she discovered then that it would take Pakistan 30 days to respond with a test of its own. The then-prime minister ordered an overhaul, but she refused to specify by how much the preparation time was cut except to say it was decreased to "significantly" less than a month.

"We wanted the option of going ahead much quicker, because we said a lot of pressure can be brought to bear if you wait 30 days - internal or external," Bhutto said.

"Our main aim was . . . to signal India that you will be matched, so you better not do it," she said. "But also to signal to the West, which we knew was watching us with satellites, that `Look, you better stop India - otherwise this is something that can occur.' "

Washington was taken by surprise when India tested three devices May 11 and two May 13.