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Ottawa Citizen May 12, 2002

U.S. averted nuclear strike against India: In 1999, Pakistan's army prepared attack without PM's knowledge, former Clinton adviser says

BYLINE: Shyam Bhatia and Tom Walker

LONDON -- The Pakistani army mobilized 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 "line of control" dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir, Nawaz Sharif, the then-Pakistani prime minister, asked for U.S. intervention and flew to Washington, D.C.

In a paper to be published shortly by the University of Pennsylvania, Bruce Riedel, who was a senior adviser to U.S. president 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," Mr. Riedel writes. Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Clinton not to reveal his intelligence hand in the opening talks with Mr. 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 Mr. 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 U.S. and Soviet Union had come to 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."

Mr. Riedel does not state in the paper how the U.S. gathered its 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 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.

Mr. Clinton drove home the advantage that the intelligence coup had given him, Mr. 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?"

Mr. Riedel describes how an "exhausted" Mr. Sharif "denied he had ordered the preparation and said he was against that, but worried for his life back in Pakistan." Soon afterwards Mr. Sharif, who now lives in exile in Saudi Arabia, signed a document agreeing to pull back his forces.

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.

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