By Nayyar Zaidi
WASHINGTON: “(President Bill) Clinton asked (Prime Minister Mian Nawaz) Sharif if he knew how advanced the threat of nuclear war really was. Did Sharif know his military was preparing their nuclear tipped missiles?”
This is an account of the July 4, 1999, meeting between Clinton and Sharif at the White House by Bruce Riedel, then a Clinton adviser, who was the note-taker during the exclusive Clinton-Sharif meeting.
In an October 13 interview on an Urdu TV channel, Gen Pervez Musharraf claimed that his version of Kargil is “the truth and the whole truth”.
Riedel has written an account of that historic meeting titled “American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House”, published by the Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania.
“Sharif then asked that the meeting continue just with the two leaders. Everyone left the room except Sharif, Clinton and myself,” Riedel says. “The President insisted he wanted a record of the event. Sharif asked again to be left alone, Clinton refused.”
This categorically contradicts General Musharraf’s claim: “I can also say with authority that in 1999 our nuclear capability was not yet operational.” On page 97 of his book “In the Line of Fire”, Gen Musharraf says this while rebutting what he called the “fourth myth”, i.e. “we came to the brink of nuclear war”.
It is highly unlikely that the president of the United States was bluffing on the real probability of nuclear war.
Actually, in terms of a potential nuclear clash, Clinton compared the Kargil situation to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis where the Americans and the Soviets were on the brink of a nuclear war.
Gen Musharraf claims (page 96) that on July 2, 1999, he personally briefed the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) and “actually laid out the entire military picture. I covered all possible hypotheses of enemy actions in the air, the sea, and on land”. He claims to have said in the DCC meeting “that the Indian forces despite their massive strength would never be able to dislodge the freedom fighters and NLI (Northern Light Infantry) from their ingress and positions held by them”.
The head of US Central Command, General Anthony Zinni, arrived in Islamabad on June 24, 1999. The same day Associated Press quoted Indian military officials saying, “In Kashmir today, Indian jets fired laser-guided bombs at Islamic guerrilla strongholds, preparing to capture strategic peak, Tiger Hill….At dawn, Indian jet fighters carried out four bombing runs….All four strikes were successful….Ground troops had ringed the peak and were preparing to evict 30-40 guerrillas from the stronghold above India’s National Highway 1. In two weeks of battles, India has cleared two other peaks.”
Indians did not have “laser-guided bombs”, also called “smart bombs”. They had asked the United States to provide laser-guided bombs. Earlier, and for the record, the US had declined. But obviously, Indians did use laser-guided bombs which had turned the tide of the war by June 24, 1999, when Zinni landed in Islamabad with a tough message from Clinton. Laser-guided bombs could smash high-altitude positions with accuracy.
By mid-June Indians were boasting of the acquisition of $50,000 a piece bomb to strike those positions, according to a source. Interestingly, Indians did not deploy troops along the international border sitting quietly as if they knew the eventual outcome would be in their favour.
In his October 13, 2006, TV interview, Gen Musharraf reportedly said: “I call Raja Zafarul Haq a liar if he doesn’t speak the truth now” because, according to Musharraf, Haq had attended the July 2 meeting. But Haq doesn’t have to speak because, according to Riedel, Sharif had called Clinton on July 2, 1999, apparently after the DCC meeting, and “appealed for American intervention immediately to stop the fighting….” Riedel says Sharif told Clinton he could come on July 4, leaving Islamabad on July 3. The president reshuffled his schedule to accommodate Sharif.
Musharraf told the Urdu news channel that after the July 2, 1999, DCC meeting, he went to Murree where “I received Sharif’s call in Murree at around 9pm and he asked me to reach Chaklala airport immediately. When I got to the airport, I saw Nawaz Sharif ready to fly to the US.” Musharraf claimed that Sharif went to the US and “solely decided on Kashmir”.
The visit to Washington had been in the works since Zinni’s visit between June 24 and 26. Ironically, a major Karachi English daily’s report, which covered Gen Musharraf’s speech to the media on June 26, 1999, read, “COAS: Nawaz and Clinton may meet soon over Kashmir”. It went on to say: “Talks are under way to prepare [a] meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and US President Bill Clinton on the Kashmir crisis, Pakistan Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf said today….The general declined to say when the meeting was likely to take place” but he added, “I hope soon.”
The statement went on to say that “Musharraf said the US and Pakistani sides had explained their points of view during the recent meetings. They wanted to find a solution agreeable to Pakistan, India and the United States, to cool down the current tensions and move towards a settlement of the five-decade-long dispute over Kashmir, he (Musharraf) said.” If he knew a meeting was in the works, why was he surprised to see him leaving for Washington?
Interestingly, Musharraf’s book makes no mention of Gen Zinni’s mission on Kargil or any other visit to
Pakistan. Zinni is missing from the index.
Even with his hands completely tied during the Washington summit and the so-called Washington declaration being dictated to him, Sharif was able to include an amendment which said: “The President would take personal interest to encourage an expeditious resumption and intensification of bilateral efforts (i.e. Lahore) once the sanctity of the LOC had been fully restored”. Clinton accepted the amendment.
After the withdrawal from Kargil, President Clinton, says Riedel, “privately invited Sharif to send a senior trusted official to Washington to begin a discreet discussion on how to follow up on his ‘personal commitment’ to the Lahore process”.
According to Riedel, it soon became apparent, however, that “all was not well in Islamabad….We concluded the Pakistani internal situation was not ripe for Sharif to take action.” Finally, when Sharif came in late September 1999, says Riedel, “he all but said that they knew a military coup was coming. On October 12, 1999 it came….”
Riedel says President Clinton instructed to “do all we could to convince the new Pakistani leadership not to execute Sharif….President urged Musharraf to let Sharif free. With our encouragement the Saudis pressed hard for Sharif’s freedom.”
Kargil could not have been planned if then chief of army staff, Gen Jehangir Karamat, retired on time, i.e. January 10, 1999, because it would have been too late to plan and take positions by February. But Gen Karamat, by sheer coincidence, found a way to get out of the way in October 1998. After his retirement, Gen Karamat became the first chief of army staff to head for employment in the United States, taking up his first assignment at the Brookings Institution.
Who gained the most from the Kargil adventure? Unmistakably, the United States. “Doors opened to Americans in New Delhi that had been shut for years. The Indian elite, including the military, and the Indian pubic began to shed long held negative perceptions of the US,” says Riedel. That seems closer to“the truth and the whole truth”.