Nuclear tipped, hostile neighbors India and Pakistan came “close” to a “nuclear conflagration” in February 2019, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has claimed in his new memoir.
Tensions soared after New Delhi had claimed to have bombed targets in Pakistani territory following an attack on Indian troops in Kashmir.
Pakistan had then conducted an operation in which it shot down two Indian military jets and captured a fighter pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was returned to India within hours and treated as per norms of military ethics.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain and partition in 1947. All but one were directly over Kashmir.
In his memoir, Never Give An Inch: Fighting for the America I Love memoir, 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.
Pompeo adds that he will “never forget the night.”
He was in Hanoi for a summit “negotiating with the North Koreans on nuclear weapons”.
Just as he had thought he had navigated a minefield of nuclear powder keg when another one sprung up.
“India and Pakistan started threatening each other in connection with the decades-long dispute over the northern border region of Kashmir,” he wrote.
After the attack on Indian troops that killed more than 40 soldiers - “an Islamist terrorist attack… probably enabled in part by Pakistan’s lax counter-terror policies,” claimed Pompeo, India had responded with air strikes inside Pakistan.
“The Pakistanis shot down a plane in a subsequent dogfight and kept the Indian pilot prisoner.”
But what came next was more surprising.
Pompeo claimed that he was awakened from his deep slumber in Hanoi with an urgent request for audience with his Indian “counterpart”, who remained unnamed in the memoir.
“He [senior Indian official] believed the Pakistanis had begun to prepare their nuclear weapons for a strike,” Pompeo wrote.
“India was contemplating its own escalation.”
This instantly threw Pompeo into escalation aversion mode.
“I asked him to do nothing and give us a minute to sort things out.”
Pompeo continues that he got to work with the then US National Security Adviser John Bolton in the “tiny secure communications facility in our hotel”.
As the heat of the moment rose, Pompeo wrote that he reached out to Pakistan’s then army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, with “whom I had engaged many times”.
The US secretary of state conveyed to the Pakistani military chief what the Indians had told him.
“He [Gen Bajwa] said it wasn’t true,” Pompeo noted, adding that Gen Bajwa, “as one might expect”, 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, Pompeo noted of the silent victory he had gained.
“No other nation would have done what we did that night to avoid a horrible outcome,” Pompeo wrote.
No comments from India, Pakistan on Pompeo claims
Neither India nor Pakistan have so far commented on Pompeo’s claims.