1999 Kargil war: Ex-Pak envoy denies US diplomat’s claim
The former Pakistan High Commissioner to India Ashraf Qazi (1997-2002) has denied that he approached US ambassador to India Richard Celeste (1997-2001) to get the US to back Pakistan during the Kargil War of 1999. Responding to revelations in Celeste’s forthcoming book reported by Hindustan Times last month, Qazi said: “My government did not instruct me to do any such thing as its communications with the US would naturally be through either our mission in Washington and/or the US mission in Islamabad.’’
The book Life in American Politics & Diplomatic Years in India published by Har-Anand Publications and expected to be out by September, quoted an exchange between the two diplomats at the height of the Kargil War in 1999. Celeste writes that Qazi dropped in one night: “He was seeking our help to persuade the Indians to “cease their aggressive actions in Kargil.” I pointed out that the Indians had held these posts for some time. Ashraf repeated the claim that civilian “freedom fighters” had occupied the positions. “Ashraf.” I said, “I’m going to let you tell me what your government wants you to tell me. But I know that it is not true and I am embarrassed for your sake. I’m your friend so I’m going to be honest with you. We know who trained and equipped those troops and we know how they are being supplied and directed. Our government cannot accept your plea.”
Celeste goes on to add how, in a meeting with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif shortly after this, President Bill Clinton asked him to “withdraw troops” from Kargil. Then came a call from the US president to Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, “That call from Clinton to Vajpayee was without precedent in Indo-US relations,’’ the former ambassador writes. Indeed, some experts mark it as a key turning point in India’s relations with the US.
Speaking to HT from Islamabad, Qazi said that he and the American envoy lived across the road from each other and did have a good relationship. “Dick Celeste is indeed a good friend of mine and during the Kargil crisis he and I had a few private conversations. But he is certainly mistaken in claiming I was “seeking [US] help to persuade the Indians to cease their aggressive actions in Kargil” to which he allegedly replied “our government cannot accept your plea”.”
Qazi added: “My government did not instruct me to do any such thing as its communications with the US. That would naturally be through either our mission in Washington and/or the US mission in Islamabad. It would certainly not ask its envoy in India to get in touch with his US counterpart for any such purpose. Nor would I presume to be officially conveying, as Celeste puts it, “what your government wants you to tell me” without any instructions to do so. ‘’
Qazi said that while he was sure that Celeste’s book was not ill-intended, its claims were ”simply not true.”
Reacting to Qazi’s comments, Celeste said: “Ambassador Qazi is a well respected diplomat and a dear friend. I accept the fact that our recollections differ and, in my case, would acknowledge an aging mind.”