In a startling revelation by the former top US official posted in White House, the Pakistan establishment had flirted with the possibility of deploying its nuclear weapons during the Kargil War. According to the ex-officer Bruce Riedel, the CIA had warned then President Bill Clinton that Pakistan was preparing its nuclear weapons for deployment and possible use at the height of the 1999 War.
The CIA’s assessment formed part of the daily top secret classified briefing for Clinton on July 4, 1999 when the president was scheduled to meet the visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
India and Pakistan were locked in a full scale military conflict in May-July of 1999, after infiltrations by the Pakistan army regulars of its Northern Light Infantry along the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) on the advance sectors of the Kargil district in Jammu and Kashmir. India retaliated strongly reoccupying all the positions captured by Pakistan forces.
“The morning of the Fourth (of July, 1999), the CIA wrote in its top-secret Daily Brief that Pakistan was preparing its nuclear weapons for deployment and possible use. The intelligence was very compelling. The mood in the Oval Office was grim,” Riedel, who worked at the time in the National Security Council of the White House, said. He was also among the few present at the Clinton-Sharif meeting which took place after the latter had rushed to Washington seeking its help.
Facing global humiliation and an imminent defeat, Pakistan was desperate to wriggle out of the war.
Bruce Riedel further added that then NSA Sandy Berger had “urged Clinton to hear out Sharif, but to be firm. Pakistan started this crisis and it must end it without any compensation”.
Riedel, a former CIA analyst and now working at the Brookings Institution made the revelations in an obituary he wrote for Sandy Berger, former national security advisor to Clinton, who died of cancer on Wednesday.
“The President (Clinton) needed to make clear to the Prime Minister (Sharif) that only a Pakistani withdrawal could avert further escalation,” he wrote adding, “It worked. Sharif agreed to pull back his troops. It later cost him his job…. But the risk of a nuclear exchange in South Asia was averted”.
(With inputs from the PTI)