NEW YORK, May 13: The Pakistan army mobilized its nuclear arsenal against India in July, 1999, without the knowledge of the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, a senior White House adviser in the Clinton administration at the time has disclosed.
The details of the paper, to be published shortly by the University of Pennsylvania and obtained by the Sunday Times and an Indian paper, reveal that Bruce Riedel, who was a senior adviser to Bill Clinton on India and Pakistan, recalls how President Clinton was told that he faced the most important foreign policy meeting of his career.
There was disturbing information about Pakistan preparing its nuclear arsenal, Riedel writes.
As the Indian army pushed the Pakistani forces back across the Line of Control dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir, Nawaz Sharif asked for American intervention and flew to Washington.
Riedel and other aides feared that India and Pakistan were heading for a deadly descent into a full-scale conflict, with a danger of nuclear cataclysm. They were also concerned about Osama Bin Laden’s growing influence in the region.
Intelligence experts had told Riedel that the flight times of missiles fired by either side would be as little as three minutes and that a Pakistani strike on just one Indian city, Bombay, would kill between 150,000 and 850,000 alone.
He told President Clinton not to reveal his intelligence in the opening talks with Sharif, in which the president handed the prime minister a cartoon that showed Pakistan and India firing nuclear missiles at one another.
But in a second discussion, at which Riedel was the only other person present, Clinton asked Sharif if he knew how advanced the threat of nuclear war really was. Did Sharif know his military was preparing their missiles? he writes.
The president reminded Sharif how close the US and Soviet Union had come to a nuclear war in 1962 over Cuba. Did Sharif realize that if even one bomb was dropped...Sharif finished his sentence and said it would be a catastrophe.
Riedel does not state in the paper how the Americans gathered their intelligence, nor what the mobilization entailed. But John Pike, director of the Washington-based Global Security Organization, said intelligence channels could have become aware of the trucks that were being moved from their bases at Sargodha, carrying Pakistan’s nuclear missiles.
One scenario is that missile trucks were picked up parked in a convoy, he said.
Pakistan’s uranium bombs are designed to be dropped by plane or carried by Ghauri missiles, while smaller plutonium warheads can be attached to Chinese-made M-11 missiles.
Clinton drove home the advantage that the intelligence coup had given him, Riedel recalls. Did Sharif order the Pakistani nuclear missile force to prepare for action, the prime minister was asked. Did he realize how crazy that was? Riedel describes how an exhausted Sharif denied he had ordered the preparation and said he was against that, but worried for his life back in Pakistan. Soon afterwards Sharif, who now lives in exile in Saudi Arabia, signed a document agreeing to pull back his forces.
If, as Riedel implies, Sharif was kept in the dark about his nuclear programme, he suffered a similar embarrassment to that of his predecessor, Benazir Bhutto, who is said to have asked the CIA for a briefing on Islamabad’s nuclear capability because that privilege was denied to her by her own generals.