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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Pakistan 'prepared nuclear strike'
Pakistan's Ghauri ballistic missile on parade
The USA knew about Pakistan's missile readiness
Pakistan deployed nuclear weapons for a possible attack against India in 1999 but was persuaded by the US not to launch them, former White House aide Bruce Riedel has said.

You've put me in the middle today, set the US to fail and I won't let it happen

President Bill Clinton
Mr Riedel says that the US became aware that Pakistan's armed forces were preparing for a possible deployment of nuclear weapons against India during a tense military stand-off in 1999.

In late June, successful Indian counter-attacks on Pakistan-occupied positions around Kargil in Kashmir, and Islamabad's diplomatic isolation, raised the probability of a Pakistani defeat.

According to Mr Riedel, this is when the US became aware Pakistan was preparing to use nuclear weapons, and President Clinton intervened to prevent their launch.

In a paper written for the Centre for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, Mr Riedel recounts the last days of the Kargil conflict and the US role in defusing tensions.

Nuclear deployments

He says in early July, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif desperately sought US intercession to prevent an escalation by India, and requested urgent intervention by President Clinton.

Pakistan's Shaheen ballistic missile being test-fired
Mr Sharif thought India was doing the same
Mr Clinton insisted that Pakistan must first pull out from east of the line of control (LoC) dividing Kashmir and accept the blame for initiating the conflict.

Despite this, Mr Sharif arrived in Washington on 4 July, America's Independence Day, as Mr Clinton's guest.

According to Mr Riedel, Mr Sharif sought US help in extricating Pakistan from a much wider and more dangerous potential conflict, but President Clinton insisted on a Pakistani withdrawal from Kargil.

Mr Clinton then asked if Mr Sharif had ordered the army to prepare Pakistan's nuclear-tipped missiles for operational deployment.

Mr Sharif was taken aback but only replied gloomily that perhaps the Indian army was doing the same, Mr Riedel says in his account.

Mixed results

President Clinton rejected Mr Sharif's plea for a face-saving device for Pakistan's withdrawal from across the LoC and vented his frustration.

India's Prithvi ballistic missile on parade
A nuclear exchange would be catastrophic
"You've put me in the middle today, set the US up to fail and I won't let it happen," he said. "Pakistan is messing with nuclear war."

But he offered to do what he could on the Kashmir dispute once Pakistan had pulled back all its forces from Indian-administered Kashmir.

Mr Riedel says Prime Minister Sharif, despite fears of possible military reaction to accepting such stark terms, reluctantly agreed.

Mr Sharif kept his word. On returning home, he ordered his forces back and President Clinton then persuaded India to accept a cease-fire.

Mr Riedel says President Clinton's clear and firm demands not only averted nuclear conflict but transformed US relations with India after decades of coolness.

However, Mr Riedel does link Pakistan's withdrawal from Kargil to the military coup that followed and the ousting of Prime Minister Sharif's and his eventual exile.

See also:

20 Mar 02 | Americas
US voices South Asia war fear
14 Feb 02 | South Asia
Warm praise for Musharraf in US
26 Jan 02 | South Asia
Powell laments India missile test
25 Jan 02 | South Asia
South Asia's high nuclear stakes
25 Jan 02 | South Asia
Analysis: India's message to the region
30 Dec 01 | South Asia
Pakistan 'ready for war'
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