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Clinton to Nawaz: You set US up to fail, I won’t let it happen

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    Clinton to Nawaz: You set US up to fail, I won’t let it happen

    I recieved this in an email message from a friend working in the foreign office, just wanted to share this with the forum and see what the comments are!

    Clinton to Nawaz: You set US up to fail, I wont let it happen
    Bruce Riedel

    Nawaz Sharif rushed to Washington to diffuse nuclear war couds. Sharif was edgy, Clinton angry, records Bruce Riedel, former aide to the US President in his paper American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House. Exclusive excerpts

    The Presidents advisers gathered early on the 4th to brief him on the meeting ahead. Sandy Berger opened the session by telling the President that this could be the most important foreign policy meeting of his Presidency because the stakes could include nuclear war.

    Strobe (Talbott) noted the importance of being very clear with Nawaz and not letting the Prime Minister be alone with the President so that he could later claim commitments not made. There was more disturbing information about Pakistan preparing its nuclear arsenal for possible use. I recommended that he use this only when Sharif was without his aides, particularly not when the Foreign Secretary, Shamshad Ahmad, who was known to be very close to Pakistani military intelligence (ISI) was in earshot.

    The President began by noting he had to travel on the 5th to Americas poorest states, and thus was glad the PM could be available on the 4th. He then framed the days discussion by handing the PM a cartoon from the days Chicago Tribune newspaper that showed Pakistan and India as nuclear bombs fighting with each other. Clinton said this is what worried him.

    Clinton told Sharif he had repeatedly asked for Pakistani help to bring Osama to justice. Instead, the ISI was working with Osama and the Taliban to foment terrorism. His draft statement would also mention Paks role in supporting terrorists in Afghanistan and India. Was that what Sharif wanted, Clinton asked? Did he realise how crazy it was?
    Sharif opened by thanking the President for resolving the outstanding quarrel between the two countries over the suspended delivery of F16 fighters. Sharif then went into a long and predictable defense of the Kashmiri cause. He appealed to the President to intervene directly by pressing India. Much of his argumentation we had heard before only the US could save a billion and a half South Asians from war, if only the President would devote 1% of the effort he gave to the Arab-Israeli dispute to Kashmir it would be resolved, etc. The President pushed back by reminding Sharif that the US played a role in the Arab-Israeli conflict because both sides invited it to mediate, that is not the case with Kashmir. The best approach was the road begun at Lahore, that is direct contact with India. Pakistan had completely undermined that opening by attacking at Kargil, it must now retreat before disaster set in.

    Sharif noted that India had been the first to test nuclear weapons and refused to hold an election to determine the future of Kashmir. Again the President said that was all true but the fundamental reality of the day was the Pakistani army and its militant allies were on the wrong side of the LOC and must withdraw. A full and complete withdrawal without pre-conditions would give the US some leverage with India, money in the bank of showing America could help.

    The President urged Sharif to give him that money in the bank. But he warned there could be no quid pro quo, no hint that America was rewarding Pakistan for its aggression nor for threatening its nuclear arsenal at India. If the United States appeared to be acting under the gun of a nuclear threat its ability to restrain others from threatening use of their nuclear forces would be forever undermined.

    The room was tense and Sharif visibly worried. The President told the Pakistani team that he had just read John Keegans new book on the first World War. The Kargil crisis seemed to be eerily like 1914, armies mobilizing and disaster looming. The President had sent Strobe and his team to South Asia a half dozen times in the last year to try to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ease Indo-Pakistani tensions. Pakistan was threatening to undo all of that.

    Sharif handed the President a document which he said was a non-paper provided to him early in the crisis by Vajpayee in which the two would agree to restore the sanctity of the LOC (a formula for Pakistani withdrawal) and resume the Lahore process. Sharif said at first India had agreed to this non-paper but then changed its mind. Sharif then asked that the meeting continue just with the two leaders. Everyone left the room except Sharif, Clinton and myself. The President insisted he wanted a record of the event. Sharif asked again to be left alone, the President refused.

    The Prime Minister then briefed the President on his frantic efforts in the last month to engage Vajpayee and get a deal that would allow Pakistan to withdraw with some saving of face. He had flown to China to try to get their help to press India to agree to a fixed timetable for talks to resolve Kashmir. Sharifs brief was confused and vague on many details but he seemed a man possessed with fear of war.

    The Prime Minister told Clinton that he wanted desperately to find a solution that would allow Pakistan to withdraw with some cover. Sharif warned ominously, the fundamentalists in Pakistan would move against him and this meeting would be his last with Clinton.

    Sharif appealed to Clinton to intervene directly with India on the Kashmir issue, like with Israel. Clinton reminded Sharif that the US had been invited to mediate in the Arab-Israeli conflict, unlike in Kashmir. The best approach, he said, was the Lahore peace process, which Pakistan had undermined by attacking at Kargil
    Clinton asked Sharif if he knew how advanced the threat of nuclear war really was? Did Sharif know his military was preparing their nuclear tipped missiles? Sharif seemed taken aback and said only that India was probably doing the same. 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.

    Sharif asked again to have me leave the room. The President dismissed this with a wave of his hand and then told Sharif that he warned him on the second not to come to Washington unless he was ready to withdraw without any precondition or quid pro quo. The President said he had a draft statement ready to issue that would pin all the blame for the Kargil crisis on Pakistan.

    The President was getting angry. He told Sharif that he had asked repeatedly for Pakistani help to bring Usama bin Ladin to justice from Afghanistan. Sharif had promised often to do so but had done nothing. Instead the ISI worked with bin Ladin and the Taliban to foment terrorism. His draft statement would also mention Pakistans role in supporting terrorists in Afghanistan and India. Was that what Sharif wanted, Clinton asked? Did Sharif order the Pakistani nuclear missile force to prepare for action? Did he realize how crazy that was? Youve put me in the middle today, set the US up to fail and I wont let it happen.

    Sharif was getting exhausted. He denied that he had ordered the preparation of their missile force, said he was against that but he was worried for his life now back in Pakistan. The President suggested a break to allow each leader to meet with his team and consider next steps. He would also call Prime Minister Vajpayee to brief him on the discussions.

    After ninety minutes of intense discussion the meeting broke up. The President put through a short call to New Delhi just to tell Vajpayee that he was holding firm on demanding the withdrawal to the LOC. Vajpayee had little to say, even asking the President what do you want me to say? There was no give in New Delhi and none was asked for. After the intensity of the first round, the President lay down on a sofa to rest his eyes for a few minutes. We all were consumed by the tension of the moment and drama of the day.

    The President, Sharif and I returned to the discussion. The President put on the table a short statement to be issued to the press drawing from the non-paper Sharif had given us and the statement we had drafted before the meeting to announce agreement on withdrawal to the LOC. The key sentence read the Prime Minister has agreed to take concrete and immediate steps for the restoration of the LOC.

    Strobe, Sandy, Rick and I had drafted this key sentence during the break. The statement also called for a ceasefire once the withdrawal was completed and restoration of the Lahore process. Finally, the statement included a reaffirmation of the Presidents long standing plans to visit South Asia.

    Clinton called Delhi to tell Vajpayee he was holding firm on demanding the withdrawal to the LOC. Vajpayee had little to say, even asking, what do you want me to say? Clinton lay down on a sofa to rest his eyes
    Sharif read the statement several times quietly. He asked to talk with his team. After a few minutes Sharif returned with good news. The statement was acceptable with one addition. Sharif wanted a sentence added that would say the President would take personal interest to encourage an expeditious resumption and intensification of the bilateral efforts (i.e. Lahore) once the sanctity of the LOC had been fully restored. The President handed the sentence to me and asked my opinion. I said we could easily agree to this because the President already supported the Lahore process but we need a clear understanding on how we would portray the LOC issue we would need to explain to our press that this language meant a Pakistani withdrawal. Clinton agreed. Reluctantly, the Prime Minister said yes.

    The mood changed in a nano-second. Clinton told Sharif that they had tested their personal relationship hard that day but they had reached the right ending. Once the withdrawal from Kargil was done the US would have more credibility with India and the President expressed his determination to do what he could on Kashmir. The President called Vajpayee to preview the statement. Sharifs Foreign Secretary Ahmad, made a last minute effort to reopen the text. He approached Sandy Berger with a list of alterations in the text. Sandy dismissed him with a curt your boss says it is ok as is.

    Sharif came to the White House early the next morning for a photo op with his family and the President. His mood was glum, he was not looking forward to the trip home. The Prime Minister knew he had done the right thing for Pakistan and the world, but he was not sure his army would see it that way.

    The Prime Minister was good to his word. He ordered his army to pull back its men and its allies and they did so. India was jubilant, Pakistan morose. The President also lived up to his word. As soon as the Pakistani forces were back across the LOC he pressed India for a cease-fire in the Kargil sector. After this occurred he privately invited Sharif to send a senior trusted official to Washington to begin discrete discussions on how to follow up on his personal commitment to the Lahore process.

    It soon became apparent, however, that all was not well in Islamabad. For weeks the Prime Minister did not respond to our queries to send someone to discuss Kashmir. The only explanation offered was that it was difficult to decide whom the right person combining the PMs trust and the background on Kashmir was.

    Finally in September Sharif sent his brother, the governor of Lahore, to Washington for the long awaited discussions. Rick Inderfurth and I met with him. We tried to get a feel for how the Prime Minister wanted to pursue the Kashmir issue. Instead, Shahbaz Sharif only wanted to discuss what the US could do to help his brother stay in power. He all but said that they knew a military coup was coming.

    On October 12, 1999 it came. Ironically, it was Nawaz who provoked the coups timing by trying to exile Musharraf when he was on an official visit to Sri Lanka. The President instructed the NSC to do all we could to convince the new Pakistani leadership not to execute Sharif as General Zia had executed Prime Minister Bhutto in 1978. With our encouragement the Saudis pressed hard for Sharifs freedom. Finally, in December 2000 Sharif was exiled to the Saudi Arabian Kingdom.

    Why did Sharif agree to withdraw on the fourth? Only the former Prime Minister can answer this question authoritatively. What is clear is that President Clinton was direct and forceful with him at Blair House there were no options except withdrawal or isolation. Whatever hopes Sharif and the rest of the Pakistani leadership had of getting American support for their Kargil adventure vanished that afternoon in Washington.


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