TIMES NEWS NETWORK [ WEDNESDAY, MAY 15, 2002 1:26:29 PM ]
WASHINGTON: Amid renewed tension in the subcontinent,
aggravated by yet another terrorist massacre in Jammu and
Kashmir, a gripping account of the 1999 Kargil episode by a key
Clinton aide shows the Pakistan military to be a trigger-happy
rogue outfit that deployed nuclear weapons for possible use
A reckless Pervez Musharraf, a feckless Nawaz Sharif, a
resolute Vajpayee and a principled Bill Clinton are central
characters in an unusual policy paper titled "American Diplomacy
and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House," by former White
House official Bruce Riedel. The paper, presented at the
University of Pennsylvania's Center for Advanced Studies of India,
reads more like a fast paced film script than a foreign policy
Riedel's account of the Kargil episode portrays Pakistan as an
extremely unstable country where the military was at odds with
the political and civilian leadership and it was not clear who was
calling the shots. But the narrative suggests that the architect of
Pakistan's reckless adventurism at that time was none other than
its current ruler Pervez Musharraf, who comes across as a
war-mongering general who brought the region to the brink of a
"Prime Minister Sharif had seemed genuinely interested in
pursuing the Lahore process when he met with Vajpayee and he
had argued eloquently with a series of American guests... that he
wanted an end to the fifty year old quarrel with India. His military
chief, General Pervez Musharraf, seemed to be in a different
mold. He was said to be a hardliner on Kashmir, a man some
feared was determined to humble India once and for all," writes
According to Riedel, US intelligence had information that the
Pakistani military, then led by Musharraf, was preparing its
nuclear arsenal for possible use in a wider war arising from the
Kargil clash, most likely without the knowledge of Sharif.
When Sharif pleaded with Washington to save Pakistan from rout
following a determined Indian response to the Kargil incursion,
Riedel says he recommended to President Clinton that he use
the information about Pakistani nuclear readiness only when
Sharif was without his aides, especially Foreign Secretary
Shamshad Ahmad, who was known to be very close to the ISI.
When Clinton later reveals the extent of Islamabad's nuclear
preparedness, Sharif "seemed taken aback and said only that
India was probably doing the same," says Riedel, who was
asked to stay behind as a notes-taker by the US President
despite Sharif's plea that they have a one-on one. Clinton then
berates Sharif, asking "did he know how crazy that (getting
nuclear missiles ready) was?"
An angry Clinton goes on to hector Sharif, reminding him that
Pakistan is playing fast and loose with terrorism. He (Clinton)
had asked repeatedly for Pakistani help to bring Osama Bin
Laden to justice from Afghanistan. Sharif had promised often to
do so but had done nothing. Instead the ISI worked with Bin
Laden and the Taliban to foment terrorism, Riedel discloses
Clinton as telling Sharif. (More recent reports say Musharraf
sabotaged a CIA project to train Pakistanis commandos to catch
Clinton finally gets Sharif to sign the Kargil withdrawal agreement
by threatening to release a draft statement that would pin all the
blame for the Kargil crisis on Pakistan the same night if he did
not back down. The US would also release statement that would
mention Pakistan's role in supporting terrorists in Afghanistan
Reidel reveals that a statement to that effect had been readied by
the administration, confirming the widespread belief that the US
is fully cognisant of Pakistan's role in sponsoring terrorism but for
a variety of reasons keeps protecting its client state.
In relating the build-up that led to the Kargil war, Riedel also
exposes the lies that Musharraf has consistently peddled – that
no Pakistani troops were involved in the incursions and it was the
mujaheedin who infiltrated Kargil.
In fact, Riedel writes, Pakistan's regular army and the Kashmir
militants it backs were involved in "cheating" on a tradition under
which the two countries -- India and Pakistan -- left forward posts
unmanned in winter.
"Pakistan denied its troops were involved, claiming that only
Kashmiri militants were doing the fighting -- a claim not taken
seriously anywhere," says Riedel. Musharraf has also been
accused of compulsively lying about other issues such as the
presence of Pakistani troops and advisors in Taliban-time
Afghanistan and the activities of US forces in Pakistan.
In fact, Riedel suggests that Sharif was so scared of the
Musharraf that he came to Washington with his wife and children
fearing that he may not be able to go back. The Pakistani prime
minister tells Clinton that unless the US gives him some
face-saving formula for withdrawing from Kargil, the
fundamentalists back home will gun for him and this might be his
last meeting with the US President.
"It was a possible indication that he was afraid he might not be
able to go home if the summit failed or that the military was
telling him to leave. At a minimum, Sharif seemed to be hedging
his bet on whether this would be a round trip," writes Riedel.
Riedel's narrative reveals such a chilling picture of Pakistani
power dynamic and rampant militarism that Indian officials who
are familiar with the situation rued the Bush administration's
current wisdom in enlisting the military regime as an ally in the
war against terrorism.
"They (the Bush administration) have created this grand fiction of
the Pakistani military being an ally when it has been the source
of so much trouble and terrorism in the region," one official said.
"This will come back to haunt them."
Riedel himself was uniquely placed to record what he describes
as "one of the most sensitive diplomatic high wire acts of any
administration" that averted a possible nuclear war. A career
intelligence analyst with the CIA, he was at that time a Senior
Director at the National Security Council and Special Assistant
to Clinton on South Asia.
Although the CIA is said to be institutionally inimical to India
because of its Cold War-era socialistic orientation, Riedel
consistently pushed for better US ties with New Delhi throughout
the 1990s and was a key player in changing the dynamics
between the two countries during that time.
Riedel's paper also suggests that Washington increasingly
respected India's restraint and consulted New Delhi in real-time
as it turned the screws on Pakistan, a system that the current
administration also appears to follow. Although, US officials
unfailingly speak of phone calls and talks with Indian and
Pakistani leaders in the same breath, the nature and tone of the
exchanges are entirely different as is revealed during the Kargil
Riedel says shortly after Sharif called Clinton pleading for
American intervention, the US President phoned Vajpayee to
apprise him of the developments. The President sought to
reassure Vajpayee that he would not countenance Pakistani
aggression, not reward them for violating the LoC and that he
stood by the US commitment that direct talks between India and
Pakistan were the only solution to Kashmir, not third party
Later, during a break in the talks on July 4, Clinton again puts
through a short call to New Delhi just to tell Vajpayee that he
was holding firm on demanding the withdrawal to the LoC.
"Vajpayee had little to say, even asking the President 'what do
you want me to say?'" recalls Riedel. "There was no give in New
Delhi and none was asked for."
When the talks resume, Clinton presents Sharif with a statement
in which the key sentence reads Pakistan "has agreed to take
concrete and immediate steps for the restoration of the LoC." The
statement also calls for a ceasefire once the withdrawal is
completed and restoration of the Lahore process.
"The President was clear and firm. Sharif had a choice, withdraw
behind the LoC and the moral compass would tilt back toward
Pakistan or stay and fight a wider and dangerous war with India
without American sympathy," writes Riedel.
Sharif reads the statement several times quietly and asks to talk
with his team. After a few minutes, he returns with the good
news. The statement was acceptable with one addition. He
wants a sentence added that would say "the President would
take personal interest to encourage an expeditious resumption
and intensification of the bilateral efforts (i.e. Lahore) once the
sanctity of the LoC had been fully restored."
Clinton has no problem with that as long as it is understood that
the overall language meant a Pakistani withdrawal first and did
not imply a quid pro quo. Attempts by Foreign Secretary
Shamshad Ahmed, the ISI frontman, to reopen the language is
curtly brushed aside by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger
who tells him that Sharif has okayed it. The President then calls
Vajpayee a third time to preview the statement.
When Sharif goes to the White House early the next morning for
a photo op with his family and the President, Riedel says his
mood was glum and he was not looking forward to the trip home.
"The Prime Minister knew he had done the right thing for
Pakistan and the world, but he was not sure his army would see
it that way," he writes.
But he lives up to his word and withdraws Pakistani forces from
Kargil. Clinton too lives up to his word, says Riedel. As soon as
the Pakistani forces were back across the LoC he pressed India
for a cease-fire in the Kargil sector.
After this occurred Clinton privately invites Sharif to send a senior
trusted official to Washington to begin discreet discussions on
how to follow up on his "personal commitment" to the Lahore
process. But Sharif does not get back on that, indicating that all
was not well with the political-military equation in Islamabad.
Finally in September 1999, Sharif sends his brother Shahbaz.
But all that Shahbaz wants to discuss is what the US could do to
help his brother stay in power.
"He all but said that they knew a military coup was coming,"
recalls Riedel. It did, a few weeks later, when Musharraf toppled
According to Riedel, the most important strategic result of Kargil
and the July 4 summit was its impact on Indo-US relations. The
clarity of the American position on Kargil and its refusal to give
Pakistan any reward for its aggression had an immediate and
dynamic impact on the relationship.
"Doors opened in New Delhi to Americans that had been shut for
years. The Indian elite -- including the military -- and the Indian
public began to shed long held negative perceptions of the US,"
writes Riedel, saying the Bush administration has accelerated
and intensified the process of US-India rapprochement