By Jawed Naqvi

NEW DELHI: Former US President Bill Clinton was seriously alarmed by ‘zealots’ in India and Pakistan who briefed him about their preparedness to annihilate each other and he believes that Kargil was a close call, says a new book based on secretly-taped conversations with him.

The Indian view was that in the event of a nuclear war it could emerge the ultimate ‘winner’ after wiping off Pakistan but lose up to 500 million of its own people, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Taylor Branch has claimed in his 700-page book The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President. The PTI quoted excerpts from the book, which hit the stores in the US on Tuesday. It said the casual manner in which Indians and Pakistanis spoke of a nuclear war scenario alarmed Mr Clinton, the then US President, who admitted: ‘They really talk that way’.Mr Branch claims Indian leaders had portrayed such a scenario during the 1999 Kargil conflict to Mr Clinton who was ready to ‘jump on a plane’ to prevent its escalation into a nuclear war as Pakistan, fearing military defeat, had almost prepared itself to nuke India. The portion on nuclear warfare appears in the chapter ‘Eight Missiles in Baghdad’ in which the author claims Mr Clinton told him that Delhi would nuke Pakistan, annihilating the entire country if anyone in Islamabad triggered nuclear bombs against it.‘In private, he (Clinton) disclosed, Indian officials spoke of knowing roughly how many nuclear bombs the Pakistanis possessed, from which they calculated that a doomsday nuclear volley would kill 300 to 500 million Indians while annihilating all 120 million Pakistanis.

The Indians would thus claim ‘victory’ on the strength of several hundred million countrymen they figured would be left over.’ That was one view. ‘But on the other side, the Pakistanis insisted that their rugged mountain terrain would shield more survivors than the exposed plains of India. They really talk that way, Clinton sighed. We have bad relations with both of them, he continued,’ according to Mr Branch.At the peak of Kargil war, Clinton told him that Pakistan sneaked its soldiers across the Line of Control as its strategy to escalate tension and thus gain international attention.

‘If they (India and Pakistan) called tonight, and said I could end this thing by flying over there, I would have no choice but to jump on the plane,’ Mr Clinton was quoted as saying in the book.
‘Failing mediation, Pakistan’s zealots prepared nuclear attacks to stave off annihilation by India’s conventional forces. India’s zealots prepared nuclear attacks to pre-empt Pakistan, or retaliate, or defy any mandate for India to weaken its legal rule over Kashmir,’ Mr Clinton was quoted as saying. ‘Clinton said the current intelligence reports detailed by far the gravest alarm of his presidency. He could not say more, even on these restricted tapes, but Kashmir was far from over as a threat,’ Mr Branch said.With ‘credible hard intelligence’ that Al Qaeda had lined up its marksmen in Islamabad to assassinate him, Clinton landed there secretly, off schedule in an unmarked plane and not in Air Force One, the book said. ‘Clinton landed secretly off-schedule in an unmarked plane, taking with him the smallest functional entourage ‘consistent with the dignity of the United States’,’ Branch writes, referring to Clinton’s visit to the Indian sub-continent in March 2000.