LAHORE: Tensions between India and Pakistan in February last year, triggered by a suicide attack on paramilitary forces in occupied Kashmir which killed 46 policemen, alarmed the White House, former national security adviser of the United States, John Bolton, revealed in his new tell-all book.
The White House was alarmed at the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) downing of intruding Indian MiG-21 fighter jet so much so that officials held an emergency meeting soon after the incident and spent hours calling their counterparts in the region to defuse the crisis.
The author, in his much-debated memoir, described how on February 27 senior United States officials held a late-night meeting on the brewing crisis, although they had just concluded lengthy discussions with President Donald Trump on Afghanistan.
“I thought that was it for the evening, but word soon came that Shanahan and Dunford wanted to talk to Pompeo and me about a ballooning crisis between India and Pakistan,” Bolton wrote in The Room Where It Happened.
The participants he mentioned by their last names were Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Francis Dunford and the acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
“After hours of phone calls, the crisis passed, perhaps because, in substance, there never really had been one. But when two nuclear powers spin up their military capabilities, best not to ignore it,” Bolton added.
The military standoff between the two arch-rivals followed a militant attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway on February 14. The bomber was later identified as a local Kashmiri, Adil Ahmad Dar, whose family was reported radicalised by the Indian troops.
New Delhi, however, blamed Islamabad for the explosion and on Feb 26 carried out a retaliatory attack in Balakot, which is not part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territory.
International observers have time and again raised doubts about the efficacy of the strike, rejecting New Delhi’s claim that they had targeted any supposed militant training camp.
International media representatives who visited the area after the airstrike noted that the target was “a mere school for the local kids”.
The standoff occurred ahead of the 2019 Indian general poll and political analysts, both in India and abroad, noted that the retaliatory attack improved the electoral prospects of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Balakot strike alarmed the United States and other world powers as they feared that Pakistan would retaliate to this violation of its international border perhaps leading to a larger conflict between South Asia’s two nuclear powers.
Pakistan, however, waited patiently but when another Indian plane entered its territory on February 27, it was shot down.
The Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was captured by angry villagers, held in Pakistan for 60 hours and handed over to India on March 1.