NEW DLEHI – Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke to each other on the phone at least four to five times during the course of the Kargil War, with the former veering to the view that Sharif had been bamboozled by Pakistani army headed by General Pervez Musharraf into the conflict.
A new book on the late Prime Minister’s tenure at the helm of affairs in India, called “Vajpayee: The Years That Changed India” by former bureaucrat Shakti Sinha who served as Vajpayee’s private secretary for many years, including in the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) during the conflict, goes on to say that the communication was kept up after a telling incident between Sharif and R.K. Mishra, former head of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), the man selected for back channel talks to end the conflict.
“…Sharif’s position was a tenuous one, and in a later meeting, he indicated to Mishra that they should take a walk in the garden, obviously suspecting that his own house was tapped. When Mishra reported this to Vajpayee, the latter took this as an indication that Sharif was more a prisoner of circumstances than anything else,” says the book was quoted by The Hindu as saying.
“Vajpayee must have spoken to Sharif 4-5 times during the one and a half month period from mid-May to 4th July when the Pakistani PM publicly committed to President Clinton that Pakistan would withdraw its forces to its side of the LoC,” the book further states.
One of these calls occurred in mid-June from Srinagar, after Vajpayee had made a visit to Kargil. “On his arrival in Srinagar Vajpayee asked me to connect him to Sharif. My small team and I tried but we just could not get through. Then one of the local officers present informed us that dialing Pakistan (+92) from Jammu and Kashmir was barred. The telecom authorities were told to open the facility for a short while, so that the two prime ministers could talk,” says the book.
A major factor in the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the LoC, according to the book, was also because of two telephonic recordings that Arvind Dave, chief of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s external intelligence agency, brought to Prime Minister Vajpayee.
“Arvind Dave, the R&AW chief, came up with two telephonic recordings between the Pakistani Army chief Pervez Musharraf, and his chief of general staff, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Aziz. It was clear that the Pakistan Army was involved, with the Mujahideen playing a minor role, if any,” says the book. The tapes were shared with the media later, but were also smuggled into Pakistan for Mr. Sharif via the diplomatic route along with diplomat Vivek Katju and back channel points person R.K. Mishra.
The book spans Vajpayee’s premiereship and the very eventful years that it covered from and insiders perspective and full of such bon mots, hitherto unknown.