| Clinton to Sharif: Better have a good reason to come on July 4
Washington, June 21: Contrary to common belief, President Bill Clinton did not intervene on his own in the Kargil dispute in 1999 to bring about a withdrawal of Pakistani forces and avert a war between India and Pakistan.
The former President says in his autobiography that “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan called and asked if he could come to Washington on July 4 to discuss the dangerous standoff with India that had begun several weeks earlier when Pakistani forces under the command of General Pervez Musharraf crossed the Line of Control (LoC)”.
The autobiography, My Life, is to be published on Tuesday, but an advance copy of the book, which promises to be America’s publishing sensation of the year, was obtained by The Telegraph on Sunday night.
Clinton’s first person account of US diplomacy and his summit meeting with Sharif in Washington at the height of the Kargil conflict throws authoritative light on America’s approach to India-Pakistan issues and is certain to be a factor with the new policymakers in New Delhi as they weigh their positions on the vexing trilateral issues involving India, Pakistan and the US.
Clinton writes in his memoirs that following the now-exiled Pakistani Prime Minister’s plea to be allowed to visit the White House: “I told Sharif that he was always welcome in Washington, even on July 4, but if he wanted me to spend America’s independence day with him, he had to come to the US knowing two things: first he had to agree to withdraw his troops back across the LoC; and second, I would not agree to intervene in the Kashmir dispute, especially under circumstances that appeared to reward Pakistan’s wrongful incursion.”
According to the former President: “Sharif said he wanted to come anyway. On July 4, we met at Blair House”, the residence for state guests adjacent to the White House.
“Sharif was concerned that the situation Pakistan had created was getting out of control… Once more, Sharif urged me to intervene in Kashmir, and again I explained that without India’s consent it would be counterproductive, but that I would urge (Prime Minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee to resume the bilateral dialogue if the Pakistani troops withdrew. He agreed and we released a joint statement saying that steps would be taken to restore the LoC and that I would support and encourage the resumption… of bilateral talks once the violence had stopped.”
The rest is history. The broad premise of what Clinton writes about his Kargil diplomacy was revealed two years ago by Bruce Riedel, Clinton’s special assistant for South Asia on the National Security Council, in a policy paper for the University of Pennsylvania, but Clinton’s first person account is significant for its confirmation that the US was not doing India any good turn by securing a Pakistani withdrawal of forces from territory it occupied.
In recent years, the Kargil experience with the US has been repeatedly used by those who favour an Indo-US alliance to argue that New Delhi could be a strategic beneficiary of any such alliance.
Clinton’s book reveals that the US was unwilling — at least at that stage — to do anything beyond what it had already done to help India and that it was Sharif’s desperation for a settlement that forced Washington into the picture. Indeed, Sharif had to force himself on Clinton to make peace with India.
Those who favour an Indo-US alliance also cite the Bush administration’s subsequent pressure on Pervez Musharraf to end cross-border terrorism to argue for such an alliance, though their claims have lately been pricked by Washington’s decision to grant Pakistan the status of a major non-Nato ally.
Clinton reveals in his memoirs that his major consideration in dealings with Sharif was that “I needed his cooperation in the fight against terrorism”, the very same rationale of the Bush administration in support of Musharraf, the author of Kargil.
“Before our July 4 meeting”, writes Clinton, “I had asked Sharif on three occasions for help in apprehending Osama bin Laden… We had intelligence reports that al Qaida was planning attacks on US officials and facilities… perhaps in the US as well. We had been successful in breaking up cells and arresting a number of al Qaida members, but unless bin Laden and his top lieutenants were apprehended or killed, the threat would remain.”