New Delhi: “I just know it was too close,” says former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on India and Pakistan reaching almost the stage of nuclear war in February 2019.
In his memoir, ‘Never Give An Inch: Fighting for the America I Love’, Pompeo writes he will “never forget the night” he was in Hanoi at a summit “negotiating with the North Koreans on nuclear weapons” when “India and Pakistan started threatening each other in connection with the decades-long dispute over the northern border region of Kashmir”.
Notably, the development relates to the Pulwama terror act by Pakistan and after New Delhi launched strikes against militants’ hideouts in Pakistani territory.
Pakistan was ‘demarched’ categorically for its act of aggression against India on Feb 27, 2019.
The Modi government also remained firm about its resolve to take ‘firm and decisive action’ to protect national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity and had categorically told Pakistan that instead of taking credible actions against terrorists, Islamabad has only acted with ‘aggression’ against India.
“It was clearly conveyed that India reserves the right to take firm and decisive action to protect its national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity against any act of aggression or cross-border terrorism,” a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs had said after Pak Deputy High Commissioner Syed Haider Shah was summoned in New Delhi.
Pakistan had then shot down two Indian military jets and captured Indian Air Force fighter pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan.
Needless to add, India has long accused Pakistan of backing separatist militants in the Kashmir Valley.
The nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours have fought three wars since independence and partition in 1947.
In his book, Pompeo says he does “not think the world properly knows just how close the India-Pakistan rivalry came to spilling over into a nuclear conflagration in February 2019”.
“The truth is, I don’t know precisely the answer either; I just know it was too close,” he writes.
India had also strongly ‘objected’ to Pakistan’s “vulgar display of an injured personnel” of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.
“It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return,” the statement said.
“Regret was expressed at continuing denial by Pakistan’s political and military leadership at the presence of terrorist infrastructure in territories under its control. A dossier was handed over to the Pakistan side with specific details of JeM complicity in the Pulwama terror attack,” the MEA had said.
In his memoir, Pompeo said he was awakened in Hanoi to speak with an Indian “counterpart”, who is unnamed.
“He believed the Pakistanis had begun to prepare their nuclear weapons for a strike. India, he informed me, was contemplating its own escalation,” Mr Pompeo writes.
“I asked him to do nothing and give us a minute to sort things out.”
Mr Pompeo writes he began to work with the then National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was with him in the “tiny secure communications facility in our hotel”.
He says he reached out to Pakistan’s then Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, with “whom I had engaged many times”, and told him what the “Indians had told me”.
“He said it wasn’t true. As one might expect, he believed the Indians were preparing their nuclear weapons for deployment. It took us a few hours – and remarkably good work by our teams on the ground in New Delhi and Islamabad – to convince each side that the other was not preparing for nuclear war.”
“No other nation would have done what we did that night to avoid a horrible outcome,” Mr Pompeo writes.
The Indian government, at the directives of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had made it clear that Pakistan would have to release pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan unharmed.
Author and daughter of late Pakistani politician Murtaza Bhutto, Fatima Bhutto, in an Op-Ed for ‘The New York Times’, also made a cause for peace and urged the Pakistani government to release captured the Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan.
“Many other young Pakistanis and I have called upon our country to release the captured Indian pilot as a gesture of our commitment to peace, humanity and dignity. We have spent a lifetime at war. I do not want to see Pakistani soldiers die,” she had written.