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Pakistan made preparations for nuclear strike on India

Pakistan made preparations for nuclear strike on India

Author: Shyam Bhatia and Tom Walker
Publication: The Sunday Times, UK
Date: May 12, 2002

The Pakistani army mobilised its nuclear arsenal against India in 1999 without the knowledge of its prime minister, a senior White House adviser at the time has disclosed.

As the Indian army pushed the Pakistani forces back across the so-called ''line of control'' dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir, Nawaz Sharif, the then Pakistani prime minister, asked for American intervention and flew to Washington.

In a paper to be published shortly by the University of Pennsylvania, Bruce Riedel, who was a senior adviser to Bill Clinton on India and Pakistan, recalls how the president 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.

Riedel and other aides feared that India and Pakistan were heading for a ''deadly descent into 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 Clinton not to reveal his intelligence hand 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 nuclear war in 1962 over Cuba. Did Sharif realise 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 mobilisation entailed. But John Pike, director of the Washington-based Global Security Organisation, said intelligence channels could have become aware of the trucks that carry Pakistan's nuclear missiles being moved from their bases at Sargodha, near Rawalpindi.

''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 realise 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.

A recent report by the CIA, Global Trends 2015, predicts that the threat of nuclear war will remain a serious regional issue for the next 15 years.

By next year Pakistan is thought likely to have between 50 and 75 nuclear warheads, while India will have between 75 to 100.

Riedel, a visiting member of the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, said that during the same meeting Clinton upbraided Sharif for his failure to rein in Bin Laden, who was known to be colluding with the Taliban with the connivance of the Pakistani intelligence service.

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