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Interview: Ex-Pakistani Pres. Musharraf mulled using nukes against India after 2001 attack

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf sits with the Mainichi Shimbun for an exclusive interview in Dubai, on July 21, 2017. (Mainichi)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the partition and independence of India and Pakistan, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf responded to an exclusive interview with the Mainichi Shimbun here in Dubai.

    In an extremely rare move, the former leader of the nuclear-armed state admitted to a specific instance in which he'd considered the use of nuclear weapons. He revealed that amid tensions between India and Pakistan following the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, he contemplated the use of nuclear weapons, but decided against doing so out of fear of retaliation. His disclosure brings the potential for conflict between India and Pakistan to spark nuclear war into sharp relief.

    When the attack on the Indian Parliament took place in December 2001, India accused a radical Islamist group of mounting the attack with the assistance of the Pakistani military intelligence agency. Both India and Pakistan mobilized a total of approximately 1 million army, navy and air force troops to the border, after which a standoff continued until around October 2002.

    Musharraf told the Mainichi that when tensions were high in 2002, there was a "danger when (the) nuclear threshold could have been crossed." He also recalled that he had many sleepless nights, asking himself whether he would or could deploy nuclear weapons. At the time, he had publicly said that he would not rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons, and his testimony points to the fact that it had indeed been a realistic option, not just a diplomatic feint.

    Musharraf also said, however, that at the time, neither India nor Pakistan had nuclear warheads on their missiles, so it would have taken one to two days to make them launch-ready. Asked whether he had ordered that missiles be equipped with nuclear warheads and put into firing position, he said, "We didn't do that and we don't think India also did that, thank God" -- pointing, perhaps, to a fear of retaliation that applied psychological brakes on both sides. The two countries subsequently avoided an all-out clash and tensions subsided.

    After India tested nuclear weapons in 1998, it adopted a "no-first-use (NFU)" policy in 1999. Pakistan, meanwhile, has not ruled out the possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear attack. This is believed to be the reason why India, following the 2001 attack on its parliament, immediately launched limited attacks on cross-border terrorism by Pakistan to avoid giving the latter any time to use its nuclear weapons. Pakistan has responded to this by developing tactical nuclear weapons.

    In November 2016, India's then defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, stated that India would not be tied down to its NFU policy, escalating debate in favor of a nuclear deterrence theory. Musharraf says raising tensions in such ways is extremely dangerous, by pointing to mutually assured destruction -- the notion that the use of nuclear weapons will not stop after the first one, and will eventually result in the complete destruction of all parties involved.

    Musharraf rose to the post of Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan's top military post, in 1998. He staged a coup d'etat in October 1999, ousting then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and took the reins of government. He served as president from 2001 to 2008.

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