WASHINGTON, June 3: It was President Pervez Musharraf who advised former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to listen to the US proposal for withdrawing troops from Kargil, says a former US general.
Gen. Anthony Zinni, who headed the US Central Command from 1997 to 2000, was sent to Pakistan as a special presidential envoy during the Kargil crisis. In his book "Battle Ready", which was published in the United States this week, Gen. Zinni dispels the general impression that it was the civilian leadership in Pakistan that sought Washington's help for arranging a respectable withdrawal from Kargil.
Instead, the former general says, Pakistan's civilian leadership was worried about a loss of face that the withdrawal could have caused and to allay their fears President Bill Clinton offered a plan that could have arranged a respectable withdrawal.
But even at this stage, according to General Zinni, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his civilian colleagues appeared reluctant to endorse a withdrawal. That got Musharraf's attention, and he encouraged Prime Minister Sharif to hear me out," writes Gen. Zinni.
Sharif was reluctant to withdraw before the meeting with Clinton was announced (again, his problem was maintaining face); but after I insisted, he finally came around and he ordered the withdrawal," he adds.
"He set up a meeting with Clinton in July," says Gen. Zinni while explaining how Mr Sharif arrived in Washington for the 1999 meeting with President Clinton that took place on the American Independence Day, July 4.
Explaining the background of the Kargil adventure, Gen. Zinni writes: "In May, Pakistani forces made a deep incursion into an area called Kargil, on the Indian side of the Line of Control. Though there was normally fighting near the Line of Control, the area for a long time has been quite stable.
There would be probes and shooting during the good months of the year, but nothing ever changed much; and in wintertime, everybody would pull back down into the valleys, and the two sides would create 'no-man's-land'.
As spring came, they would go back up into their positions. Every so often, somebody on one side would be a little late getting up to their spring positions, and the other side could grab an advantage of a kilometre or so. It was "Aha, I've gotcha!" on a tactical level. But it did not really change things."
"This time, however, the Pakistanis waylaid the Indians and penetrated all the way to Kargil. This was such a deep, significant penetration that it wasn't tactical; it threatened Indian lines of communication and support up to Siachen glacier."
"The Indians came back with a vengeance. There were exchanges of fire, there was a mobilization of forces, there were bombing attacks, and planes were shot down."
"Then the two sides started to mobilize all their forces all along the line; and it was beginning to look like the opening moves of the larger war. It got alarming."
"I was therefore directed by the (Clinton) administration to head a presidential mission to Pakistan to convince Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Gen. Musharraf to withdraw their forces from Kargil."
"I met with the Pakistani leaders in Islamabad on June 24 and 25 and put forth a simple rationale for withdrawing; 'If you don't pullback, you're going to bring war and nuclear annihilation down on your country. That's going to be very bad news for everybody.' Nobody actually quarrelled with this rationale."
"The problem for Pakistani leadership was the apparent national loss of face. Backing down and pulling back to the Line of Control looked like political suicide. We needed to come up with a face-saving way out of this mess.
What we were able to offer was a meeting with President Clinton, which would end the isolation that had long been the state of affairs between our two countries, but we would announce the meeting only after the withdrawal of forces."
"That got Musharraf's attention; and he encouraged Prime Minister Sharif to hear me out." "Sharif was reluctant to withdraw before the meeting with Clinton was announced (again, his problem was maintaining face); but after I insisted, he finally came around and he ordered the withdrawal.""We setup a meeting with Clinton in July."