Two months ago, as fighting raged between Indian and Pakistani forces in the disputed province of Kashmir, American spy satellites revealed a new and alarming development hundreds of miles to the south. In the desert state of Rajasthan, elements of the Indian army’s main offensive “strike force” were loading tanks, artillery and other heavy equipment onto flatbed rail cars.
India, it seemed, was preparing to invade its neighbor.
At least in the short term, President Clinton helped avert that prospect during his widely reported Independence Day meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who agreed after hours of tense discussions to withdraw the forces that had triggered the flare-up in early May.
But the full dimensions of the crisis are only now coming to light. According to senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, the latest conflict over Kashmir came much closer to full-scale war than was publicly acknowledged at the time-and raised very real fears that one or both countries would resort to using variants of the nuclear devices each tested last year.
“This is one of the most dangerous situations on the face of the earth,” said a senior administration official who closely tracks the issue. “It was very, very easy to imagine how this crisis…could have escalated out of control, including in a way that could have brought in nuclear weapons, without either party consciously deciding that it wanted to go to nuclear war.” The danger is far from over (John Lancaster, Washington Post, July 26, 1999).