How the U.S. could have saved 225,000 lives and $4 trillion
Author : C.Uday Bhaskar
Twelve years ago, on July 4, 1999, even
as the U.S. was celebrating Independence Day, the White House was
quietly but hastily preparing to receive Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif at Blair House for an unscheduled meeting with U.S. President
The White House was predictably concerned -- (furious, is the insider
account) -- since U.S. intelligence had picked up signals that the
Pakistani Army, which had just been evicted from Indian territory, in
what is referred to as the 1999 India-Pakistan Kargil War, was putting
out a veiled nuclear weapon threat.
The Pakistan army was in effect using its nuclear weapons to subtly
intimidate both India and the U.S. to bolster its war termination
The greater ignominy for PM Sharif was that he was totally in the dark
about these nuclear-related developments, which were being handled by
his army chief -- the flamboyant and feckless General Pervez Musharraf
-- who was to later overthrow the civilian PM in a coup.
An insider's account of the Blair House meeting, which was revealed
later by a senior Clinton aide, recounts the U.S. president confronting a
very agitated and nervous Pakistani PM with the evidence that the White
House had gathered.
Finally, closure on the Kargil War was facilitated by this meeting and
the Pakistan army was actually let off the hook, as it were, and given
an exit route from the very provocative, high-risk adventurism that
General Musharraf had embarked upon.
In later years, after deposing PM Sharif, the Pakistan army under
General Musharraf laid the entire onus and blame for the Kargil fiasco
on a hapless civilian leadership. This was possible mainly because the
U.S., led by the White House, chose to both condone this nuclear
transgression by the Pakistan army and begin a policy of appeasement of
Pakistani generals that was to become even more apparent after the
enormity of 9/11 and the collapse of the Twin Towers.
Soon thereafter, the U.S. led by President Bush was at war -- in
Afghanistan, then Iraq and later the Af-Pak region. Currently, President
Barack Obama is cashing in on the elimination of Osama bin Laden to
declare his war termination plan -- and the withdrawal of U.S. troops
will begin from end-2011.
In the interim, a Brown University report has estimated that U.S.
military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan will cost the
treasury upwards of $4 trillion -- and that the total number of lives
lost to date is in the bandwidth of 225,000 to 258,000.
It is the view of this column that had the U.S. arrived at a more
objective and rigorous assessment of the July 4, 1999 Blair House
meeting and the kind of deviant fervour that was driving the Pakistan
army, the events that followed may have had a different contour and
At the time, the U.S. was not unaware of the scourge of terrorism
impelled by religious radicalism and related militant Islamic ideology.
It had experienced the attack on two U.S. embassies in east Africa in
August 1998; preceded by the 1993 attacks near the CIA HQs and the first
attempt on the World Trade Centre.
Preliminary investigations at the time -- 1993 and 1998 -- had revealed
linkages with Pakistan and its terror infrastructure -- and most
vitally, the links with the Pakistan army and the ISI.
Yet, the U.S. and its vast security bureaucracy supported by myriad
think tanks and eminent analysts were burnishing a different narrative
that exonerated the Pakistan army and offering less than effective
policy options to their political leadership.
Appeasement was the order of the day and the magnitude of this
path-dependency error, apropos the Pakistan army and its covert strategy
of supporting terror culminated in 9/11; the cold-blooded murder of
Daniel Pearl and Benazir Bhutto; the November 2008 Mumbai attacks; the
Osama bin Laden charade and the world is still counting.
Would a different call in 1999 have averted these events? Could 225,000
human deaths have been averted? If the Pakistan army had been firmly
admonished by the U.S. for its reckless adventurism, would that country
have been different?
Currently, the Pakistan military is believed to have been widely
infiltrated by Islamists -- which facilitated the audacious attack on
the naval base in Karachi -- and GHQ Rawalpindi has just arrested its
first serving brigadier for right-wing terror links with a group in the
UK. Concurrently there are reports about Pakistan cranking up its
nuclear inventory and it is estimated that by 2020, Pakistan will be the
fourth largest nuclear weapon power -- after the U.S., Russia and
Another July 4 is upon us and a $4 trillion tab will challenge the U.S.
leadership and burden its citizens. A more holistic and honest policy
review of the last 12 years going back to Blair House is called for,
even as Hillary Clinton prepares for her mid-July visit to the troubled
South Asian region.
(This article first appeared in the Reuters on July 3, 2011)