Exiled former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharief has said that more than 4,000 Pakistani troops and officials were killed during the 1999 Kargil conflict, which also sabotaged efforts to improve Indo-Pak relations initiated by him and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
This was the first time that Sharief disclosed the number of Pakistani casualties, which were kept a closely guarded secret.He also admitted that Pakistan was defeated in Kargil, but said he covered it up by undertaking a visit to the United States, after which Islamabad announced a withdrawal.
Had he accepted defeat then, it would have demoralised the army and India would have got an 'opportunity' to invade Pakistan, Sharief said in a message read out at a joint opposition rally organised by the 15-party Alliance for Restoration of Democracy in Lahore on Thursday.
President Pervez Musharraf was the army chief during Sharief's tenure as prime minister. Sharief was later overthrown in a military coup and in 2000 exiled to Saudi Arabia.
Accusing Musharraf of masterminding the Kargil conflict, during which militants backed by Pakistani troops occupied the mountain peaks of Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir, Sharief said the entire operation was launched without the knowledge of his government. As a result, the Lahore process initiated by him and Vajpayee to normalise relations between Pakistan and India was sabotaged.
"Had Kargil not taken place, the Kashmir issue would have been resolved long ago," Sharief was quoted as saying in his message by the local media. Instead of accepting responsibility and resigning voluntarily, Musharraf overthrew his government under 'dictation from some other quarters', Sharief said but did not reveal who he was referring to.
Sharief alleged that Musharraf was also behind the protests staged by some religious parties during Vajpayee's visit to Lahore in 1999. Vajpayee was not given the honour equal even to that accorded to a delegation of parliamentarians and journalists, which recently visited Pakistan, Sharief said.
He said the political crisis faced by country was the result of the subversion of the 1973 constitution by Musharraf.
The rally was organised by the ARD in which the Sharief's Pakistan Muslim League and Pakistan Peoples Party, headed by self-exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, are dominant partners. It passed a resolution against Musharraf and certain constitutional amendments and another demanding that Bhutto and Sharief be allowed to return from exile.
In her message read out at the rally, Bhutto said her party had held talks with the military leadership during the last three years to find a 'honourable way' to establish a constitutional government in the country. But the military regime did not honour its commitments, she regretted, as 'they were not sincere after we refused to endorse military rule'.