Published on Monday, December 30, 2002 by the Associated Press
Pakistan Says It Was Close to Nuclear War
by Zarar Khan
KARACHI, Pakistan Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said Monday he'd been prepared to use atomic weapons if Indian forces crossed into its territory earlier this year when tensions peaked in an admission of how close the neighbors came to nuclear war.
"I personally conveyed messages to (Indian) Prime Minister Vajpayee through every international leader who came to Pakistan, that if Indian troops moved a single step across the international border or Line of Control, they should not expect a conventional war from Pakistan," he told Pakistani Air Force veterans,
Pakistan refers to the use of its nuclear arsenal as non-conventional war.
India's army chief, however, said Pakistan's nuclear capability did not deter it from war.
"We were absolutely ready to go to war. Our forces were well located," Gen. Sunderajan Padmanabhan told reporters Monday. "Such a decision (on whether to go to war) is ultimately a political decision," Press Trust of India quoted him as saying.
On whether Islamabad's claimed possession of tactical nuclear weapons could have deterred New Delhi from war, Padmanabhan said, "When we assess our adversaries, we assess all its capabilities. We had evaluated it and were ready to cope with it."
Tensions between India and Pakistan peaked earlier this year when both sides sent troops to their shared border after a deadly attack on the Indian Parliament last December. New Delhi blamed Islamabad, accusing Pakistan's spy agency of masterminding the assault that killed 14 people.
Pakistan denied the charge.
International diplomacy brought the nuclear neighbors back from the brink of war. And in recent months it appeared that tensions had eased, with both sides saying they have withdrawn troops from the border and stepped back from their previous war footing.
The United States was particularly anxious to avoid an Indian-Pakistani war at a time when it depended heavily on Pakistani support in its global fight against terrorism and as it waged its on war in Afghanistan, Pakistan's neighbor to the west.
Both India and Pakistan say they possess a minimum nuclear deterrent, although it is not known how many nuclear devices or type of weapons each country possesses.
"We have defeated our enemy without going into war," Musharraf, referring to India, told the gathering of veterans and active members of Pakistan's Air Force.
Both Pakistan and India also possess ballistic missiles that are capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads and can hit deep within each other's territory.
The South Asian neighbors exploded tit-for-tat underground nuclear tests in 1998.
The world condemned the tests and put sanctions on both countries. But the economic penalties were lifted after Pakistan became a key ally of the anti-terrorist coalition following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Pakistan and India share a 1,800-mile border, a section of which is the Line of Control that divides Kashmir. Both claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over their dispute.
The simmering Kashmir dispute dates back to the partition of the subcontinent when Pakistan was created in 1947 as a homeland for Muslims of the region. Pakistan wants Kashmiris on both sides of the disputed border to vote whether a united Kashmir should belong to India or Pakistan.
India rejects the vote proposal and accuses Pakistan of backing militants who have been waging a bloody secessionist uprising in Indian Kashmir since 1989 that has killed more than 61,000 people. Militants want either outright independence or union with Islamic Pakistan. Indian Kashmir is India's only Muslim majority state in the predominantly Hindu country.
© 2002 The Associated Press