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Context of 'January-May 1990: India and Pakistan Come Close to Nuclear Attack on Each Other'

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Congressman Stephen Solarz.Congressman Stephen Solarz. [Source: AP]The “Solarz Amendment” to the Foreign Assistance Act is passed by the US Congress and becomes law. The amendment, championed by Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY), cuts off all military and economic aid to purportedly non-nuclear nations that illegally export or attempt to export nuclear-related materials from the US. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] There are subsequently several examples of Pakistan exporting nuclear weapons technology from the US, but they are not punished until the end of the Soviet-Afghan War (see August 1985-October 1990).

Entity Tags: Foreign Assistance Act, Stephen Solarz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Despite the passage of two amendments dealing with Pakistan’s nuclear program in August 1985 (see August 1985 and August 1985), the Reagan and Bush administrations will fail to keep Congress properly informed of incidents related to Pakistan’s acquisition of components for its nuclear program, even though such notification is required by law. Senator John Glenn (D-OH), chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, and Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY), Chairman of the House Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, will later say that they are not formally briefed about any significant Pakistani procurement, with the exception of one case (see July 1987 or Shortly After), during this period. For example, Glenn will later say he should have been briefed about a nuclear scare involving Pakistan and India in 1990 (see January-May 1990) [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]

Entity Tags: House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, Governmental Affairs Committee, Reagan administration, Stephen Solarz, John Glenn

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Following an incident where a Pakistani procurement agent was arrested in the US trying to buy components for a nuclear weapon (see Before July 1987), there is a serious row about it between a CIA manager and a CIA analyst at a Congressional hearing. The hearing is called by Stephen Solarz (D-NY), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, to vet intelligence concerning Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. CIA manager General David Einsel says it is “not cut and dried” that the arrested Pakistani, Arshad Pervez, and his handler, Inam ul-Haq, are agents of the Pakistani government. Richard Barlow, a CIA analyst there to help Einsel, is surprised by the false answer, as it is a criminal offense to lie to Congress. He realizes, “Einsel’s testimony was highly evasive, and deliberately so.” He will also later comment: “These congressmen had no idea what was really going on in Pakistan and what had been coming across my desk about its WMD program. They did not know that Pakistan already had a bomb and was shopping for more with US help. All of it had been hushed up.” When Barlow is asked the same question, he says it is “clear” Pervez is working for Pakistan, at which point Einsel screams, “Barlow doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Solarz then asks whether there are any more cases involving the Pakistan government. Einsel says there are not, but Barlow replies, “Yes, there have been scores of other cases.” Barlow is then hustled out of the room and returns to CIA headquarters. A senior government official not cleared to attend the briefing comes in and tries to repair the damage, saying that Barlow was referring to intelligence reports, but “not all intelligence reports are accurate.” The official will later indicate that he is not proud of what he does, saying, “I didn’t know what I was getting into.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Guardian, 10/13/2007] Barlow will subsequently be forced out of the CIA because of this hearing (see August 1987-1988).

Entity Tags: Stephen Solarz, Richard Barlow, Inam ul-Haq, House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, Arshad Pervez, Office of Scientific and Weapons Research (CIA), David Einsel, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Tensions rise in India and Pakistan due to a crisis in Indian-held Kashmir, and the situation escalates to such a degree that strikes with nuclear weapons are considered. In January, Indian police open fire on pro-independence demonstrators in the province, killing fifty, which prompts the Pakistani government to step up support for pro-Pakistani militants operating there. There are also large protests and India blames Pakistan for the unrest, a charge which is partially correct and leads Indian authorities to try to suppress the protesters. India also moves offensive units to the Pakistan border, prompting the Pakistani army to mass on the other side. A US official will later say that the Pakistani military knew it could not hold out against the Indian army using conventional means: “The only way for the Pakistanis to deal with the Indians is to be able to take out New Delhi.… There’s no way that sending ten F-16s with conventional bombs is going to do it. Only the nukes could strike back.” Richard Kerr, a deputy director at the CIA, will later comment: “It was the most dangerous nuclear situation we have ever faced since I’ve been in the US government. It may be as close as we’ve come to a nuclear exchange. It was far more frightening than the Cuban missile crisis.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] The crisis is resolved by National Security Council member Robert Gates, who persuades the two sides to disengage (see May 1990).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Kerr, Robert M. Gates

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

When the US learns of a crisis in relations between India and Pakistan that could escalate into nuclear war (see January-May 1990), President George Bush sends Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates to meet leaders of both countries in an attempt to prevent armed conflict. Gates will later say he appreciated the seriousness of the situation: “The analogy we kept making was to the summer of 1914… Pakistan and India seemed to be caught in a cycle that they couldn’t break out of. I was convinced that if a war started, it would be nuclear.” However, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who is on a tour of the Middle East, keeps changing the place where she is to meet Gates, indicating she has no desire to see him. Gates therefore only meets with Pakistani army chief Aslam Beg and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who say they will cease supporting insurgents in Kashmir. This is apparently enough to calm the Indians, who allow US officials to check that the Indian army is not on the border preparing to invade Pakistan, and the situation gradually calms down. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Aslam Beg, Benazir Bhutto, Robert M. Gates, Ghulam Ishaq Khan

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

After the US successfully resolves a crisis that could have led to nuclear war between Pakistan and India (see January-May 1990 and May 1990), essential details of the affair remain secret until March 1993, when they are revealed in a New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh. Hersh will comment, “Stopping a nuclear exchange seemed made to order for the public-relations machinery of the White House.” However, what reports there are at the time in the US and British press are dismissed as exaggerations by the Bush administration. Hersh will say: “An obvious explanation for the high-level quiet revolves around the fact, haunting to some in the intelligence community, that the Reagan administration had dramatically aided Pakistan in its pursuit of the bomb.… [The administration] looked the other way throughout the mid-nineteen-eighties as Pakistan assembled its nuclear arsenal with the aid of many millions of dollars’ worth of restricted, high-tech materials bought inside the United States.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

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