New Delhi: Tensions between India and Pakistan peaked in February 2019 after the Balakot airstrikes. However, former US National Security Advisor John Bolton has written in his tell-all memoir, The Room Where It Happened, that the tensions “never really had been” a crisis “in substance”, though his country chose not to ignore it.
The Indian Air Force conducted the airstrikes on Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps in Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in the early hours of 26 February. This was India’s retaliation to the killing of 40 CRPF personnel 12 days earlier in a suicide attack in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
Trump & officials were in Vietnam
Bolton’s memoir, which will be released Tuesday, states that US President Donald Trump was engrossed in dealing with North Korean supremo Kim Jong-un on that day. Trump and his senior officials were touring Vietnam at the time for a summit meeting with Kim, their second after a bilateral meeting in Singapore in 2018.
According to Bolton, it was “the big day”, and the meeting was aimed at launching diplomatic talks between Trump and Kim in an effort to deter North Korea away from its secret nuclear and missiles programme.
“I thought that was it for the evening, but word soon came that Shanahan (Patrick Shanahan, then Acting Secretary of Defense) and Dunford (Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) wanted to talk to (Mike) Pompeo (US Secretary of State) and me about a ballooning crisis between India and Pakistan,” Bolton writes.
“After hours of phone calls, the crisis passed, perhaps because, in substance, there never really had been one,” he stresses.
“But when two nuclear powers spin up their military capabilities, it is best not to ignore it. No one else cared at the time, but the point was clear to me: This was what happened when people didn’t take nuclear proliferation from the likes of Iran and North Korea seriously,” he says.
Trump said Modi ‘will be OK’ while cutting Iran oil
In his scathing memoir, Bolton, who was fired by Trump as the US NSA on 10 September 2019, also talks about how some US bureaucrats were in favour of extending India a “waiver”, so that it could import oil from Iran, on which the Trump administration had imposed stringent economic sanctions.
“(State Department) bureaucrats found endless reasons to extend the other waivers, as ‘clientitis’ took hold. ‘But India is so important’, or ‘Japan is so important’, said officials, arguing the interests of ‘their’ countries rather than the US interests at stake,” Bolton writes.
“One of the worst cases involved India, which, like the others, was buying Iranian oil at prices well below the global market because Iran was so desperate to make sales,” he says, adding that India “complained” about being disadvantaged not only because of having to find new suppliers, but also because the new sources would insist on prevailing market prices.
“India’s making this argument was understandable, but it was incomprehensible that US bureaucrats echoed it sympathetically,” he writes.
Bolton goes on to describe a phone call between Trump and Pompeo where they were discussing asking India to bring its oil imports from Iran down to zero.
“In a phone call with Pompeo, Trump had not been sympathetic to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying, ‘He’ll be okay’,” the former US NSA writes.
India completely stopped importing oil from Iran in May last year under US pressure.
Bolton also adds in his memoir that Trump was concerned over news reports emanating from India that New Delhi was planning to buy S-400 air-defence systems from Russia over America’s Patriot defence systems.