When Vajpayee got Nawaz Sharif to speak to Dilip Kumar

Bajinder Pal Singh
Bajinder Pal SinghSep 03, 2015 | 21:09

When Vajpayee got Nawaz Sharif to speak to Dilip Kumar

Among the many untold stories of the Kargil War, this sounds both ingenious and dramatic. During the height of the Kargil crisis in 1999, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee got his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to speak to Bollywood superstar Dilip Kumar in an attempt to defuse tensions, and stress the need for peace in the subcontinent.

This tale comes from Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who served as foreign minister of Pakistan under General Pervez Musharraf from 2002-2007. Kasuri’s forthcoming book Neither a Hawk nor a Dove: An Insider's Account of Pakistan's Foreign Relations ends with a chapter on Indian Muslims, and the anecdote forms the concluding portion of his book.

Kasuri’s account of Dilip Kumar, who enjoys immense popularity in Pakistan, is also indicative of the soft power that India exercises in the subcontinent, courtesy of Bollywood’s popularity. The Peshawar-born Dilip Kumar is also a recipient of Pakistan’s highest civilian award "Nishan-i-Imtiaz", and his residence in Pakistan is regarded as a "protected monument". Dilip Kumar’s presence and personal association in a conversation between two prime ministers is also reflective of the numerous tracks that the two countries adopt to talk to each other.

According to Kasuri, when Vajpayee realised the gravity of the Kargil situation, he called his Pakistani counterpart Sharif. An indignant Vajpayee complained that while he was feted on the occasion of the Lahore bus ride in February 1999, within a few months, the Pakistani side had moved inside Indian territory to the Kargil heights.

“You welcomed me in Lahore, and what have you done now?” Vajpayee is reported to have told Sharif during the telephone call made in May 1999. Sharif professed ignorance, and told Vajpayee that he would verify with his army chief Musharraf and revert.

Sharif has often stated that he was not aware of Musharraf’s Kargil plans, and has repeatedly said that he learnt about the Kargil incursion from his telephonic conversation with Vajpayee.

Kasuri states that towards the end of the telephonic conversation, Vajpayee told Sharif that “someone” wishes to talk to him, and handed over the phone to the person sitting next to him. The “someone” was none other than actor Dilip Kumar. The superstar posed the same question to Sharif, and asked: “What are you doing?” The Kargil incursion will ruin the lives of Muslims in India, Dilip Kumar averred. “It will become difficult for us, and I will not be able to leave my home,” the thespian reasoned with Sharif.

Kasuri states that if an icon like Dilip Kumar is apprehensive of the fallout of a spike in India-Pakistan tension, then the interests of Indian Muslims are best served by a lowering of tensions and maintenance of peace between the two neighbouring countries.

While the book is yet to hit the shelves, Kasuri narrated the story from his book to senior Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi in the programme “Aapas Ki Baat” telecast by Geo TV. Kasuri told Sethi that his source was a person who was present at the time of this conversation, and though he did not reveal his source in the television programme, he has named him in the book. In the interview, telecast on August 28, 2015, Kasuri also outlines the contours of a possible solution to the Kashmir issue.

Here's Kasuri's interview with Sethi. For the portion of the interview where Kasuri makes this revelation, watch from 36 minutes onwards:

Last updated: December 25, 2015 | 12:20
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