July 3, 1999 was a dramatic moment in the tense Kargil war that began with the steady infiltration into Indian territory by Pakistani troops in May of that year. Initially caught by surprise at this  Musharraf led Pakistani challenge by stealth,  the Indian military gradually consolidated and over the next few weeks, evicted the intruders and  re-took the  craggy Himalayan peaks – one at a time  - with  considerable cost in human lives.

Twelve years ago on July 3, then Pak PM Nawaz Sharief left Islamabad for Washington DC to meet with US President Bill Clinton. This unscheduled and sudden meeting took place on July 4 – the American day of Independence – and paved the way for terminating the adventurism triggered by Gen Musharraf and the 1999 Kargil war. The sanctity of the LoC was restored and the anxiety about nuclear escalation by Pakistan gradually receded.  Later it was revealed that during the Clinton-Sharief meeting at Blair House, a stern US President apprised the Pak PM about the manner in which the Pak Army was engaged in a high-stakes military gamble invoking nuclear weapons to wrest territory from India. It was evident at the time that PM Sharief was in the dark about how his Army Chief was misusing the nuclear capability to subtly intimidate both India and the USA. It is a different matter that this imprudent Musharraf initiative did not succeed.

This bit of history acquires added salience against the backdrop of a series of events that have occurred in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the dramatic Abbotabad Osama bin Laden episode of May 2, 2011.  In keeping with his earlier statements, US President Obama announced (June 22) that having achieved most of its post 9-11 objectives, the USA would begin withdrawing its troops from the Af-Pak region from the end of 2011. The Obama  plan , which overruled the advice given by senior American military  commanders, envisages  withdrawing 10,000 US  troops  in 2011, followed  by another 20,000 in mid 2012 and the remainder in a phased manner,  so that by 2014,  the USA would handover Afghan security to the government in Kabul  and Afghan forces.

But even as  the implications of this US withdrawal was being studied in the region – on  Tuesday (June 26),  the  landmark Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul that was hosting a  major security meeting was attacked by terrorists  and the final death toll was 21.  The Haqqani network that has close linkages with both the Pak Army and the al-Qaeda is perceived to have carried out this attack. However, the fact that a group of terrorists could enter a high-security hotel in the heart of Kabul, and that the local Afghan forces were unable to deal with the attackers and needed NATO assistance provides a reality check about the ability of the Afghan security forces to address such challenges.

But as preliminary investigations indicate, the Haqqani network in Afghanistan enjoys a very close relationship with the Pak military and these attacks are being seen as an attempt by the Pak-backed groups to establish their credibility in the post US withdrawal phase of Afghan power sharing.

Afghan security officials and diplomats have often said – in private and occasionally in public – that as long as the Pak military seeks ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan by supporting some terrorist groups, there can be no peace or stability in the region. Concurrently the extreme Islamist ideology represented by the al-Qaeda and its affiliates such as the Taliban and different Lashkars and Jhangvis is differently permeating various sections of Pak society and the recent arrest of a serving Pakistani Army Brigadier is an indication of the spread of such ideology and conviction.

Thus the global concern about the safety of  Pakistani nuclear assets  is not misplaced and this is heightened by  the most recent  report ( June 30) that Pakistan has significantly increased its  nuclear weapon inventory and could have 200 warheads in 10 years, which would be more than double its current capability.

This is where the events of July 3, 1999 and the manner of the closure of the Kargil War becomes instructive. The Pak Army has introduced a dangerous dimension to the use of nuclear weapons and this became apparent in the summer of 1999.  Unlike any other state with nuclear weapons, the Pak military is the sole custodian of this capability and the civilian leadership has been excluded from this domain. Furthermore, since May 1999, the Pak military has used its nuclear weapons to pursue a revisionist agenda and alter the existing territorial status quo in its favor.

A post bin Laden Pak ‘fauj’ that is losing its credibility and institutional honor among its own citizens is likely to use its nuclear assets to blackmail its allies and adversaries – that is both the USA and India.  As Pervez Hoodbhoy, an eminent Pakistani nuclear physicist cautions: “Where does Pakistan go from here as a country? With bin Laden gone, the military has two remaining major strategic assets: America’s weakness in Afghanistan, and Pakistani nuclear weapons. It will surely move these chess pieces around adroitly to extract the maximum advantage.”

As New Delhi prepares to receive US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in mid July, it would be appropriate if both India and the USA share their assessments about the Pakistani military   and its troubled and turbulent trajectory in the aftermath of bin Laden and the Karachi naval base attack.  But this can only happen if Delhi’s political spectrum can go beyond their obsessive preoccupation with scandals of different contours – and make an objective assessment of the world beyond.