Vajpayee, Nawaz contacts during Kargil war

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PAKISTAN’S former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, spoke to each other on the phone at least five times during the course of the 1999 Kargil war, with the latter veering to the view that Mr Sharif had been bamboozled by then army chief General Pervez Musharraf into the conflict. 

Author Shakti Sinha

This was disclosed in a book ‘Vajpayee’ written by Shakti Sinha, the private secretary of Vajpayee during his premiership. The Hindu has taken some excerpts of newly released book which is on Mr Vajpayee’s tumultuous tenure. Shakti Sinha a former bureaucrat who served as Vajpayee’s private secretary for many years, goes on to say that the communication was kept up after a telling incident between Mr Sharif and R.K. Mishra, a 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.

One of the calls occurred in 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 dialling 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.

Title of the book

A major factor in the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the LoC, the book claims, was two telephonic recordings that Arvind Dave, then 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 Pakistan 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 point person R.K. Mishra.

The author Shakti Sinha, who had worked with him very closely for three and a half years in the 1990s, first as a secretary to the leader of the Opposition (1996-97) and later as his private secretary (1998-99)

A new book fleshes out political philosophy of veteran BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee and gives an insider account on how the late former prime minister thought and worked. The book, titled “Vajpayee: The Years that Changed India”, will hit the stands on December 25 — on the occasion of Vajpayee’s 96th birth anniversary.

It is written by author Shakti Sinha, who had worked with him very closely for three and a half years in the 1990s, first as a secretary to the leader of the Opposition (1996-97) and later as his private secretary (1998-99). “Atal Bihari Vajpayee is fondly remembered today. People do not know how difficult it was for him to form a government in 1998 and run it.

A file picture taken on Feb 20, 1999, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif receives then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Wagah border near Lahore.

“Despite this he took important decisions like going nuclear and, paradoxically, extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan. How resolutely he defended India when the Kargil war broke out. And how his government was brought down to stop him succeeding as PM,” Sinha, who is currently serving as the honorary director of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Policy Research and International Studies, MS University, Vadodara, told PTI.

Vajpayee, who held the post of the prime minister for three non-consecutive terms in 1996, 1998-99, and from 1999-2004, was the sensitive poet who summoned nerves of steel to conduct the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, the man from humble beginnings who envisioned a project as titanic as the Golden Quadrilateral highway network.

The narrative, which according to publishing house Penguin, also focuses on Vajpayee’s key initiatives in the strategic and economic fields during his first term as prime minister and the political challenges he faced. “Devoid of any political pedigree or patronage, he harnessed his diplomatic acumen to transform India’s relations with the United States, which had long been mired in misunderstandings rooted in the Cold War. His calculated decisions led to key strategic and economic policy achievements,” it added. The over 300-page book, which consists of 10 chapters in total, is presently available for pre-order on e-commerce websites.