The end of the Cold War left a power vacuum from central Asia into Africa that India could not ignore, a senior Indian official said last week in New York. It was that change in the global security environment, he said, that ultimately prompted the Indian decision to test nuclear weapons.

The official, Jaswant Singh, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vaj-payee's senior adviser on defense and foreign affairs who is widely expected to become foreign minister when Vajpayee relinquishes that portfolio, was at the United Nations to address a special General Assembly session on narcotics.In meetings with influential U.S. audiences, he took the opportunity to present a broader picture of India's international position, leaving the impression that the country has reasserted its ambition to be the unquestioned power in a region that sweeps from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.

Singh described the post-1989 world, in which India had lost the automatic support of Russia, its former ally and arms supplier, while the nuclear powers continued to protect themselves and their closest friends.

"From Vancouver to Vladivostok, there came into existence a new club," he said. "This club extended its reach to the eastern rim of Asia and the Pacific. This left a huge gap, a vacuum, and that vacuum lies in southern Asia and Africa."

He said India was stunned by the Clinton administration's denunciation of the nuclear tests that New Delhi conducted on May 11 and May 13.