LONDON: Former president Pervez Musharraf, through his army generals in 2001, warned that Pakistan could launch a nuclear strike within eight seconds if India did not stop killing of its own people and putting the blame on ‘freedom fighters’.
The warning is described in the latest volume of diaries by Alistair Campbell, a key aide of former British prime minister Tony Blair. The Pakistan army general asked Blair’s former communications director to remind India of Pakistan’s nuclear capability amid fears in Islamabad that Delhi was “determined to take them out”. Britain became so concerned about Pakistan’s threat that Blair’s senior foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning, later warned in a paper that Pakistan was prepared to “go nuclear”.
The warnings are relayed by Campbell in a section in his latest diaries, The Burden of Power, which are being serialised in the Guardian on Saturday and Monday. The diaries start on the day of the 9/11 attacks and end with Campbell’s decision to stand down in August 2003 after the Iraq war. The nuclear warnings came during a visit by Blair to the Subcontinent after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Campbell was told about the eight-second threat over a dinner in Islamabad on October 5, 2001, hosted by Musharraf.
In his diaries, Alistair Campbell writes: “At dinner I was between two five-star generals who spent most of the time listing atrocities for which they held the Indians responsible, killing their own people and trying to blame ‘freedom fighters’. They were pretty convinced that one day there would be a nuclear war because India, despite its vast population and despite being seven times bigger, was unstable and determined to take them out.”
Campbell added: “When the time came to leave, the livelier of the two generals asked me to remind the Indians that ‘it takes us eight seconds to get the missiles over’, then flashed a huge toothy grin.”
Blair visited Pakistan less than a month after the 9/11 attacks as Britain and the US attempted to shore up support in Islamabad before the bombing of Afghanistan, which started on October 7, 2001. Campbell writes that the Pakistani leadership seemed to be keen for Britain and the US to capture Osama bin Laden.
The Guardian notes that relations between Islamabad and New Delhi plummeted after the Blair visit when terrorists attacked the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001, killing seven people. Five of the attackers died. India blamed Pakistan-based militant groups Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed for the attack. Tensions became so great that Richard Armitage, the US deputy secretary of state, was sent to the region in May 2002.
Blair returned to the Subcontinent in January 2002, shortly after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, amid one of the tensest nuclear standoffs between Indian and Pakistan since independence in 1947. In the preparations for the visit, Manning prepared a paper for Blair that warned of the real threat of a nuclear conflict. In an extract from his diaries for January 4, 2002, Campbell wrote: “David Miliband (the then foreign secretary) had a paper, making clear our belief that the Pakistanis would ‘go nuclear’ and if they did, that they wouldn’t be averse to unleashing them on a big scale. Blair was genuinely alarmed by it and said to David, ‘They wouldn’t really be prepared to go for nuclear weapons over Kashmir would they?’ David Miliband said, ‘The problem was that there was not a clear understanding of strategy and so situations tended to develop and escalate quickly, and you couldn’t really rule anything out’.”
A few days after the visit, the India-Pakistan standoff was discussed by the British war cabinet. In an extract for his diaries on January 10, 2002, Campbell wrote: “CDS [chief of the defence staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce] said if India and Pakistan go to war, we will be up the creek without a paddle. Geoff Hoon (the then defence secretary) said there may have to be limited compulsory call-up of Territorial Army reserves.