SRINAGAR: Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has claimed that India and Pakistan were on the verge of a nuclear war in February 2019, when India resorted to surgical strikes deep inside Balakot. In his latest book he has claimed that his then-Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj woke him up for a phone conversation to tell him that Pakistan was preparing for a nuclear attack and that India too was preparing to retaliate, The Tribune reported.
Writing in Never Give an Inch: Fighting for America, Pompeo claims the phone call came when he was in Hanoi for the US-North Korea summit on February 27-28 and his team then had to work through the night with both New Delhi and Islamabad to avert the crisis.
“I will never forget the night I was in Hanoi, Vietnam, when — as if negotiating with the North Koreans on nuclear weapons wasn’t enough —India and Pakistan started threatening each other in connection with a decades-long dispute over the northern border region of Kashmir,” wrote Pompeo in the book. “I do 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.”
The book reads: “After an Islamist terrorist attack in Kashmir — probably enabled in part by Pakistan’s lax counter-terror policies — killed 40 Indians, India responded with an air strike against terrorists inside Pakistan. The Pakistanis shot down a plane in a subsequent dogfight and kept the Indian pilot prisoner.”
“In Hanoi, I was awakened to speak with my Indian counterpart. He believed the Pakistanis had begun to prepare their nuclear weapons for a strike. India, he informed me, was contemplating its own escalation. I asked him to do nothing and give us a minute to sort things out (sic),’’ wrote Pompeo, mistakenly referring to Swaraj as “he”. The MEA has so far not responded to Pompeo’s recollection.
He went on to say that while the incumbent External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was “competent”, his earlier counterpart Sushma Swaraj was not “important” in the matters of external affairs and he used to directly deal with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
Reacting to this, Jaishankar said, “I have seen a passage in Secretary Pompeo’s book referring to Smt Sushma Swaraj ji. I always held her in great esteem and had an exceptionally close and warm relationship with her. I deplore the disrespectful colloquialism used for her.”
Pompeo in his book also claims that “India, which has charted an independent course on foreign policy, was forced to change its strategic posture and join the four-nation Quad grouping due to China’s aggressive actions.” India and China are locked in a lingering border standoff in eastern Ladakh for over 31 months.
The bilateral relationship came under severe strain following the deadly clash in Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh in June 2020.
India has maintained that the bilateral relationship cannot be normal unless there is peace in the border area.
Pompeo called India the “wild card” in Quad. “The country (India) has always charted its own course without a true alliance system, and that is still mostly the case. But China’s actions have caused India to change its strategic posture in the last few years.”
Pompeo also explains how the Donald Trump administration succeeded in bringing India on board the Quad grouping.
The US, Japan, India and Australia had in 2017 given shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the Quad or the Quadrilateral coalition.
“In June 2020, Chinese soldiers clubbed twenty Indian soldiers to death in a border skirmish. That bloody incident caused the Indian public to demand a change in their country’s relationship with China,” Pompeo writes.