Friday, February 25, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Kargil took Army, govt unawares
Panel blames defence chiefs, security set-up
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Feb 24 — The Pakistani armed intrusion in the Kargil sector came as a complete and total surprise to the Indian Government, Army and intelligence agencies and the Jammu and Kashmir Government and its agencies, the Kargil Review Committee report has said.

The 228-page report, which was tabled by the Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, amidst din in the Lok Sabha just before it was adjourned for the day, said that the committee had overwhelming evidence that the Pakistani armed intrusion came as a surprise to all. “The committee did not come across any agency or individual who was able to clearly assess before the event the possibility of a large-scale Pakistani military intrusion across the Kargil heights”. What was conceived was the limited possibility of infiltration and enhanced artillery exchanges in this sector.

The Subrahmanyam Committee report, which has come out with 25 glaring deficiencies in the country’s security set-up, aptly titled, “From Surprise to Reckoning”, has recommended that such a review should be undertaken by an independent body of credible experts and done expeditiously. At many places in the report and in its executive summary, portions have been blanked out on security grounds.

The committee has come down heavily on the three Service Chiefs for not being in close touch with the Government and has said, “The Chiefs of Staff have assumed the role of operational commanders of their respective forces rather that that of Chiefs of Staff to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister”. The Prime Minister and the Defence Minister do not have the benefit of the views and expertise of the Army commanders and their equivalents in the Navy and Air Force so that higher level defence management decisions are more consensual and broad-based.

The committee has held all intelligence agencies, including the Directorate-General of Military Intelligence (DGMI), responsible for not being able to detect the intrusion or even the excessive movement of troops on the other side of the border. It has also said that the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) was neither informed about the possibility of intrusion nor was it accorded the importance it deserved either by the intelligence agencies or the Government.

The committee is of the view that a Kargil-type situation could perhaps have been avoided had the Indian Army followed a policy of Siachenisation to plug unheld gaps along the 168-km stretch from Kaobal Gali to Chorbat La.

Severely criticising the role of the Service Chiefs, the committee has said that India is perhaps the only major democracy where Armed Forces Headquarters are outside the apex governmental structure. The Chiefs of Staff simultaneously discharge the roles of operational commanders and national security planners and managers, especially in relation to future equipment and force postures. Most of their time is, however, devoted to the operational role, as is bound to happen.

This has led to a number of negative results. Future-oriented long-term planning suffers. Army Headquarters had developed a command rather than a staff culture. Higher decisions on equipment, force levels and strategy are not collegiate but command-oriented. The present obsolete system has perpetuated the continuation of the culture of the British Imperial theatre system of an India Command whereas what is required is a national defence headquarters. Locating the Services’ Headquarters in the Government will further enhance civilian supremacy, it says.

The report says that there is a need for closer coordination among the intelligence agencies. It says that the Indian intelligence structure is flawed since there is little back-up or redundancy to rectify failures and shortcomings in intelligence collection and reporting that go to build up the external threat perception by the one agency, RAW, which has a virtual monopoly in this regard.

It is neither healthy nor prudent to endow that one agency alone with multifarious capabilities for human, communication, imagery and electronic intelligence. Had RAW and the DGMI spotted the additional battalions in the FCNA region that were missing from the ORBAT, there might have been requests for ARC flights in winter and these might have been undertaken, weather permitting. As it happened, the last flight was in October, 1998, long before the intrusion, and the next in May, 1999, after the intrusions had commenced. The intruders had by then come out in the open.

The present structure and processes in intelligence gathering and reporting lead to an overload of background and unconfirmed information and inadequately assessed intelligence which requires to be further pursued. There is no institutionalised process whereby RAW, the IB, BSF and Army intelligence officials interact periodically at levels below the JIC.

This lacuna is perhaps responsible for RAW reporting the presence of one additional unit in Gultari in September, 1998, but now following it up with ARC flights on its own initiative. Nor did the Army press RAW specifically for more information on this report. The Army never shared its intelligence with the other agencies or with the JIC. There was no system of the Army authorities at different levels from the DGMI downwards providing feedback to the agencies.

There is a general lack of awareness of the critical importance and the need for assessed intelligence at all levels. Reports of the JIC do not receive the attention they deserve at the political and higher bureaucratic levels. The assessment process has been downgraded in importance and consequently various agencies send junior officials to JIC meetings.

The report says that the DGMI did not send any regular inputs to the JIC for two years preceding the Kargil crisis. The JIC was not accorded the importance it deserved, either by the intelligence agencies or the Government. The chairmanship of the JIC had become the reserve of an IPS officer who was generally a runner-up for the post of Secretary in RAW or the DIB. The post was in fact left unfilled for 18 months until December, 1998. During this period, the Secretary, RAW, doubled as Chairman, JIC.

RAW assessed the possibility of a “limited swift offensive threat with possible support of alliance partners” in its half-yearly assessment ending September, 1998, but no indicators substantiating this assessment were provided. Moreover, in its next six-monthly report ending March, 1999, this assessment was dropped. In fact, its March, 1999, report emphasised the financial constraints that would inhibit Pakistan from launching any such adventure.

While the intelligence agencies focussed on ammunition dumping on the other side, they appeared to lack adequate knowledge about the heavy damage inflicted by Indian artillery, which would have required the Pakistani army to undertake considerable repairs and re-stocking. That would partly explain the larger vehicular movements reported on the other side. The Indian Army did not share information about the intensity and effect of its past firing with others. In the absence of this information, RAW could not correctly assess the significance of enemy activity in terms of ammunition storage or construction of underground bunkers. This provides another illustration of lack of inter-agency coordination and lack of coordination between the Army and the agencies.

In other words, the Indian threat assessment is largely a single-track process dominated by RAW. In most advanced countries, the armed forces have a defence intelligence agency with a significant intelligence collection capability. This ensures that there are two streams of intelligence which enables governments to check one against the other, the report said.

The committee has also commented that the paramilitary and Central police forces are not trained, raised and equipped to deal with trans-border terrorism by well-trained mercenaries armed with sophisticated equipment who are continuously infiltrating across the border and LoC. Over the years, the quality of these forces has not been appropriately upgraded effectively to deal with the challenge of the times and this has led to the increased dependence on the Army to fight insurgency. The net result has been to reduce the role of the Indian Army to the level of a paramilitary force and that of the paramilitary forces, in turn, to the level of an ordinary police force.

It has said successive Army chiefs and directors-general of military operations examined by it had been “near unanimous” in their opinion that military intrusions on the scale attempted were “totally unsustainable”.

Though the Army had anticipated attempts to capture a post or two on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, it had not foreseen the kind of intrusions that took place in the Mushkoh, Dras, Kaksar and Batalik areas.

The report has said the nearest approximation to the events of May last year was the Army’s 15 Corps war game in 1993, which envisaged a Pakistani long-range penetration positioning itself south of national highway 1-A and bringing the Srinagar-Leh highway on fire from both sides. “Even that assessment did not visualise an intrusion to hold ground by hundreds of Pakistan army regulars”.

The report has said Kargil also highlighted gross inadequacies in the nation’s surveillance capabilities, particularly through satellite imagery. It has recommended allocation of adequate funds to ensure that capability of world standard is developed indigenously and put in place in the shortest possible time.

It has also suggested a two-stream approach — civil and military — for downloading and interpretation of the imagery and said that ideas followed by some western countries of a national surveillance command can be considered.

The Government Report on Action Taken on the Kargil report said action had already been initiated for acquisition of equipment like high-altitude unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles (UAVs), communication interception equipment, satellite imagery capability of world standard besides developing skills in coding and decoding (encryption and decryption).

About the National Security Council (NSC), the Subrahmanyam Committee has said the NSC is still evolving and its procedures will take time to mature.

“Whatever its merits, having a National Security Adviser, who also happens to be Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, can only be an interim arrangement”, it said, suggesting there must a full-time national security adviser and that the second line of members be inducted into the system as early as possible and groomed for higher responsibility.

The report has described the interception of a series of high-level Islamabad-Beijing telephone conversations as the most spectacular intelligence coup of the Kargil operations and said this highlighted the role of communication intelligence which was fragmented in India.

“The equipment needs to be modernised in keeping with advances made by Pakistan in inducting advanced communication technology,” the committee said, adding there was also gross shortage of direction finding communication and firing equipment whose acquisition would improve counter-insurgency operation.

The committee, incidentally, has exonerated all senior Army commanders, excepting Brig Surinder Singh, posted in the region and also said that Army Chief was justified on taking the trip to Poland even when the intrusion had been noticed.

It has said that the early military appreciation was of limited infiltration in Kargil. Nevertheless, the Corps Commander, in whose area of responsibility the intrusion occurred, had acted promptly and vigorously to deal with even larger eventualities. “There was no need to cancel the Army Chief’s visit which had been long planned and was of some political significance”.

The COAs remained in touch with developments at home and there was no vacuum in the higher military leadership because of his absence abroad during the early phase of Kargil developments.

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