Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo wrote in his memoir published Tuesday that India and Pakistan came quite close to nuclear war in 2019, and that US intervention prevented escalation into all-out nuclear war between the hostile South Asian neighbours.
“Never Give An Inch” is the title of Pompeo’s memoir on his time as former CIA chief, and later as Donald Trump’s top diplomat.
In February 2019, India launched airstrikes in Balakot inside Pakistani territory, after blaming a militant group for a suicide bombing that killed 41 Indian paramilitary soldiers in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
In response, Pakistan launched coordinated air attacks near Indian military positions in the disputed valley, after which the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) shot down an Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-29 fighter jet that intruded into Pakistani airspace, and captured the downed pilot. The entire episode is now known in Pakistani military lore as “Operation Swift Retort”.
‘Pakistanis had begun to prepare their nuclear weapons’
“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,” Pompeo wrote in ‘Never Give An Inch‘.
Pompeo was in Hanoi for a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, when he was woken with an urgent call from an unknown senior Indian official.
“He believed the Pakistanis had begun to prepare their nuclear weapons for a strike. India, he informed me, was contemplating its own escalation,” Pompeo wrote. “I asked him to do nothing and give us a minute to sort things out”.
‘Actual leader’ of Pakistan
Pompeo said he spoke to “the actual leader of Pakistan” – the country’s army chief at the time, General Qamar Javed Bajwa – in an attempt to avert the crisis.
Pompeo said that US diplomats convinced both India and Pakistan that neither was preparing to go nuclear, and cooled hawkish tempers that called for retaliation. “No other nation could have done what we did that night to avoid a horrible outcome,” Pompeo wrote.
Pompeo is a likely future presidential contender in 2024 against his former boss Donald Trump, but polls currently show lukewarm support for him among Republicans.