1999: War Clouds

The map of Pakistan is incomplete without Kashmir . . . [India should] ensure [U.N. resolutions'] implementation to avert a nuclear war looming over the horizon of South Asia.

-- Pakistani Prime Minister Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry, August 14, 1999, Pakistan's Independence Day.

Throughout the 1990s, guerrilla warfare raged in Kashmir, and nuclear tests showed how high the stakes were. As the decade closed, the situation worsened as Pakistan invaded a portion of Kashmir, and a military coup toppled Pakistan's civilian government.


Sometime between January and May 1999, several hundred Islamic militants -- including Kashmiri rebels, Afghan mercenaries, and Pakistani army regulars -- invaded the Kargil heights area of Kashmir, providing a strategic advantage for Pakistan in ongoing battles on Siachen glacier.

On May 6, India began moving troops to the region. On May 25, Pakistani forces shot down two Indian jets over Kargil, beginning eleven weeks of fierce combat, with more than a thousand dead on both sides combined.

Under intense international pressure, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Washington, D.C, on July 4, signing the Washington Accord, in which Pakistan agreed to withdraw from Kargil, and U.S. President Bill Clinton agreed to take a "personal interest" in the Kashmir dispute (which he never did). Later, that December, a British government official would state that India and Pakistan had come "very close to a nuclear exchange" in the summer.

International Incidents

In early August 1999, less than a month after withdrawing from Kargil, Pakistan seized two strategic points along the Line of Control. On August 10, Indian fighter jets shot down an unarmed Pakistani naval plane. India hurriedly retrieved the wreckage the same day, and later admitted that "the major part" of the wreckage was in Pakistani territory. The international incident led to both countries putting their armed forces on high alert.

Rebels within Kashmir stepped up their attacks during India's September 5 through October 3 elections, with more than 90 people killed on both sides, including two assassinated Indian politicians.

The Coup

I wish to inform you that the armed forces have moved in as a last resort, to prevent any further destabilization.

-- Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf, in October 12, 1999, public announcement of army coup

Three trends converged in September 1999.

First, Pakistan's economy had seriously deteriorated due to sanctions imposed after the nuclear tests, as well as massive tax hikes mandated by the International Monetary Fund to maintain payments on foreign debt.

Second, Pakistanis increasingly believed that the world powers would ignore India's use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Then-U.S. President Clinton showed no sign of "personal interest" in Kashmir as promised.

Third, opposition parties seized upon public dissatisfaction with the Kargil crisis. Opposition media and politicians alleged that Pakistani army regulars were among the invading troops, that the Pakistani army may have acted on its own, and that the prime minister withdrew the army at the command of the United States.

The turmoil within Pakistan was severe. Thousands of Pakistanis turned out in the streets to demand the prime minister's resignation, with the police arresting hundreds, beating many, and killing a few. Traders held a nationwide one-day strike. Violence blamed on fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslim sects claimed nearly 50 lives in 10 days. By late September, rumors of a pending military coup were flying.

On October 10, the Washington Post became the first major U.S. newspaper to report on Pakistani unrest. On October 12, Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a military coup after the prime minister attempted to replace him with the head of intelligence.

Next: Post-Coup Hardball

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