London: The UK feared an India-Pakistan nuclear war in the wake of the terror attack on Parliament in 2001 and tried to “persuade and cajole” the two countries to pull back from a military confrontation, according to evidence presented to an inquiry into the 2003 Iraq war made public on Wednesday.
The then UK foreign secretary Jack Straw made the revelations during his depositions before the Chilcot Inquiry, which declared on Wednesday that the Iraq invasion in 2003 had been based on “flawed intelligence”.
In an attempt to highlight other pressing matters at the time, Straw said he had been preoccupied with the India-Pakistan issue on an “hour by hour” basis which formed the grounds for his close relationship with his US counterpart at the time Colin Powell.
In a memo to the inquiry committee dating back to January 2010 Straw said, “Immediately after 9/11 the foreign policy priority for the UK was Afghanistan. Towards the close of the year, following the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, the possibility – verging it appeared at times on the probability – of a military engagement between India and Pakistan became an added preoccupation for the UK government and the US.
The attack on Parliament by LeT and JeM militants killed 9 people.
“The joint US-UK endeavour to avoid such a serious regional conflict was the foundation of the very close working relationship which I developed with the US Secretary of State General Colin Powell,” he said.
His testimony is backed up by his Foreign Office spokesperson and media adviser at the time, John Williams, who told the inquiry “The Foreign Secretary was chiefly preoccupied with trying to persuade India and Pakistan back from the edge of a war that might easily have gone nuclear”.
In a later statement Straw made to the Chilcot Inquiry committee in person in February 2011, he again sought to prove that Iraq had not been a serious consideration on his foreign policy agenda before 2002 by stressing the bubbling tensions between two nuclear powers like India and Pakistan.
Straw explained, “Then on 13th December 2001 there was the attack by Islamist terrorists against the Lok Sabha in Delhi. That led to a series of events which over the following months led to a mobilisation of conventional forces by India and Pakistan and the possibility that they might begin to threaten each other with their nuclear forces.
“I got completely immersed in that. With Colin Powell, with his deputy, with David Manning, we were backwards and forwards to India and Pakistan throughout that period to persuade and cajole the Indians and Pakistanis to pull back from a military confrontation. So that was our preoccupation”.
Describing the Iraq issue as merely a “problem” which did not have to be dealt with “there and then” he added, “We were dealing hour by hour with the India-Pakistan issue”.
“Just to illustrate what I mean by ‘hour by hour’, it is a matter of Straw family record now that I was supposed to be cooking the Christmas lunch and I served the first course on Christmas day and the rest of the time was spent on the telephone talking to Colin Powell and others about the India-Pakistan thing. So this was completely dominant. Iraq was a problem, but it was a problem we didn’t have to deal with there and then,” he said.
The extensive ‘Iraq Inquiry’ report is made up of 12 volumes and comes after nearly seven years of testimony and evidence gathering since 2009.
The five-member inquiry committee was chaired by former civil servant John Chilcot and included House of Lords Indian-origin member Baroness Usha Prashar.