It was around 1130 hours on July, 1999 on an extremely hot and humid day, when the motorcade of senior Pakistan embassy officials in Washington DC, including myself, led by our brilliant Ambassador Riaz Khokhar escorted PM Nawaz Sharif and his limited entourage directly to the Blair House from Washington's Dulles International Airport. Built in 1824 and in service with US government since 1942, Blair House stands across Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House and is the US president's Guest House, playing host to foreign heads of state on official business. July 4 is the US Independence Day and a public holiday. It is extremely rare for a US president to attend to official work on this day. But in the backdrop of two nuclear armed South Asian nations engaged in an intense and bloody war over Kargil heights, PM Nawaz Sharif's air dash to Washington for an urgent meeting with US President Clinton made this July 4 most significant in American diplomatic history. The meeting at Blair House started around 1330 hours with a plenary session between Clinton and Nawaz Sharif alongwith their respective teams comprising national security, state department and foreign policy experts. Bruce Riedel, special assistant to Clinton and senior director for South Asian affairs in National Security Council in White House was a key member of Clinton's team in these sessions that lasted for almost three hours. Review of Bruce Reidel's Policy Series Paper titled American Diplomacy and Kargil Conflict at Blair House, reveals Clinton's tough stance and pressure tactics with Nawaz Sharif during the historic meeting. According to Riedel, Clinton told Nawaz Sharif, he had warned him (Sharif) on July 2/3 on telephone not to come to Washington unless he was ready to withdraw without any preconditions or quid pro quo. Riedel adds that PM Nawaz Sharif went into a long and predictable defence of the Kashmir cause as well as his efforts to urge the Indians for a dialogue to descalate the situation, but Clinton was unmoved. Clinton made his intentions clear to the PM with an already US prepared statement which would pin all blame for Kargil crisis on Pakistan and would also mention Pakistan's role in supporting terrorists in Afghanistan and India, in case Nawaz Sharif did not agree to a withdrawal behind the LOC. As per Riedel the atmosphere of the meeting was tense and Clinton seemed obsessed with the information of reported plan for mobilisation of Pakistan's nuclear assets. Clinton was angry: "You have put me in the middle of today to set the US up to fail and I won't let this happen." Bruce further states that Clinton was clear and firm; Nawaz Sharif had a choice, either to withdraw behind the LOC and the moral compass would tilt back towards Pakistan or stay and fight a wider and dangerous war with India without US sympathy. Almost midway during the course of the marathon session, I vividly recall an apparently angry, red flushed Clinton with a document in his hand moving from one room to the other within Blair House, followed by Sandy Berger his national security advisor. A senior member of the Pakistani delegation remarked: "It is the mother of all negotiations." At one point during the meeting, Clinton did call on Indian PM Vajpayee in Delhi. Once the agreement to withdraw Pakistan backed forces behind the LOC was reached, Sandy Berger also called his Indian counterpart. President Clinton was seen off by PM Nawaz Sharif at the Blair House doorsteps around 1615 hours that day. The brief joint statement was issued at a White House press briefing in the evening the same day. The authenticity of Bruce Riedel's account of the deliberations inside the summit room maybe questionable and can only be verified by the PM or his worthy team members. Apparently, despite PM Nawaz Sharif's efforts, Washington had essentially forced Pakistan in accepting a 'retreat' document. As reflected in the joint statement/agreement, while Kargil did achieve to bring Kashmir dispute into international focus, but catchy phrases related to 'restoration' and 'sanctity' of the LOC in the agreement, too, received international recognition, much to India's advantage. Blair House summit ended without a positive quid pro quo or a deal in our favour; the tactical gains were lost at the strategic level. Did India not turn a military defeat into a political cum diplomatic victory? Given the desperate situation faced by the Indians to dislodge the Kargil fighters, there appears no doubt that it was the Indo-US nexus that forced Pakistan into accepting a withdrawal from Kargil. The Indian disinformation to Clinton about reported move of Pakistan's nuclear assets, was exploited by the US president to force a decision in India's favour. While General Musharraf has persistently claimed that the then PM Mian Nawaz Sharif was fully on board and given a series of briefings on Kargil at GHQ and ISI, Mian Sahib remains adamant that the Operation was planned and executed without his knowledge. What actually transpired between General Musharraf and PM Nawaz Sharif's last moment meeting at Islambad airport before the PM's departure for Washington is not clearly known, though General Musharraf recently claimed in an interview with a private television channel that neither had he sent the PM to US nor had he given him advice to withdraw forces from Kargil. "Whom to believe?" is the unfortunate dilemma that the nation has faced to-date. Kargil achieved a complete textbook style military surprise. The plan displayed tactical ingenuity and boldness in its execution in a most treacherous and hostile terrain under extreme weather conditions. Termed as India's Pearl Harbour, Kargil exposed India's endemic deficiencies in its intelligence and logistic infrastructures. India's intelligence agencies relied heavily on the myth that the difficult and inhospitable terrain like Kargil precluded any chance of enemy incursion. Kargil was India's nightmare that shook the Indian Army's foundations and may haunt them for a long time to come. From the Pakistani perspective, Kargil demonstrated that despite a sound tactical plan, the intensity of politico-international ramifications were underestimated. But Kargil and the Blair summit's most important lesson is the need for sound strategic coordination and institutionalised decision making at the highest levels of national leadership, integrating all stakeholders and elements of national power. For India, Kargil was a wakeup call and reminder that without a just resolution of Kashmir dispute, peace and stability in South Asia would remain elusive. For Pakistan and the Kasmiri freedom struggle, Kargil was yet another attempt to put the world community to shame for their failure to deny the Kashmiris their right of self-determination. What about the sacrifices of those diehard freedom fighters and the valiant officers and men of Northern Light Infantry units of FCNA who withstood the blunt of repeated Indian airstrikes and repulsed wave after wave of enemy's upmountain assaults on Kargil heights, even engaging in hand to hand combat, but preferring martyrdom over retreat or surrender? In the evening after returning to Hotel Willaird, located a block away from White House, an overall sense of gloom and despondency prevailed in the Pakistan Embassy camp office. Mian Sahib briefly talked to PML-N supporters in the hotel's lobby. They were furious over the full page Indian sponsored 'Rogue Army' advertisement against Pak Army published in leading Washington newspapers and demanded a matching response. Mian Sahib, cool as ever, reminded them of their responsibilities in safeguarding Pakistan's interests on foreign soil. Consequently an even stronger full page advertisement highlighting Indian Army's atrocities in Kashmir, was splashed in US newspapers. As the evening progressed, the Independence Day fireworks, the high mark of the day, began in the area overlooking the Potomac River that flows through the heart of Washington DC. From the hotel's lobby the night sky appeared lit up with a fantastic spectacle of colours. But that night the Washington sky appeared unusually red in the background. Was it the blood of the Kargil martyrs? The writer is a retired brigadier who had served in the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington DC in the period 1996-2000 E-mail: fhkhan54@gmail.com