An unnamed Pakistan Army general reportedly boasted that Islamabad could launch a nuclear strike against India within “eight seconds” and asked Britain to convey the message to New Delhi.
The claim is made by Alastair Campbell, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s communications chief, who was with him during his visit to Islamabad in 2001 soon after the 9/11 attacks.
According to Mr. Campbell, Pakistanis feared that India was “determined to take them out” and wanted New Delhi to be “reminded” of Pakistan’s nuclear capability. He claims that the “warning” came during a dinner in Islamabad on October 5, 2001 hosted by the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
“At dinner I was between two five-star generals who spent most of the time listing atrocities for which they held the Indians responsible, killing their own people and trying to blame ‘freedom fighters’. They were pretty convinced that one day there would be a nuclear war because India, despite its vast population and despite being seven times bigger, was unstable and determined to take them out. When the time came to leave, the livelier of the two generals asked me to remind the Indians: ‘It takes us eight seconds to get the missiles over,’ then flashed a huge toothy grin,” he writes in the latest volume of his diaries The Burden of Power being serialised in The Guardian.
Two months later, in December 2001, Pakistan-based terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament provoking international outrage.
Mr. Campbell says that Britain was so “alarmed” by the general’s boast that Mr. Blair’s foreign policy adviser David Manning warned that Pakistan was prepared to “go nuclear” in its standoff with India over the Kashmir dispute.
“DM (David Manning) had a paper, making clear our belief that the Pakistanis would 'go nuclear' and if they did, that they wouldn't be averse to unleashing them on a big scale. TB (Tony Blair) was genuinely alarmed by it and said to David ‘They wouldn't really be prepared to go for nuclear weapons over Kashmir would they?’ DM said the problem was there wasn't a clear understanding of strategy and so situations tended to develop and escalate quickly, and you couldn't really rule anything out,” he writes.
The India-Pakistan tensions were also discussed by the British war cabinet where Mr. Blair gave a “pretty gloomy assessment”. According to Mr. Campbell, Mr. Blair said that Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Indian Prime Minister , was “really upset at the way [Pakistan’s President] Musharraf treated him”.
“He assessed that the Indians believed that they could absorb 500,000 deaths. Pakistani capability was far greater than the Indians believed,” Mr. Campbell writes.
The article has been corrected for an error in the year of the Parliament attack.