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Posted at: Jul 26, 2018, 12:34 AM; last updated: Jul 26, 2018, 12:58 AM (IST)

Kargil II unlikely to happen

What should worry India is Pakistan army’s irrationality, not its capability
Kargil II unlikely to happen
THE THEATRE: It was Kargil where the gaps were vulnerable especially in winter

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

ALL over India there are efforts by many to hold events marking the Kargil Vijay Diwas today, the anniversary of the day when the undeclared war at the Kargil heights drew to a close in 1999. The Indian Army recaptured much of the territory occupied deceitfully by Pakistan during the ‘winter vacated’period of 1998-99. As many as 527 of our jawans made the ultimate sacrifice and 1,363 were injured. The remaining territory was vacated by the Pakistan army under politico-diplomatic pressure from India and the international community. India needs to remain reassured that if our politico-diplomatic efforts had not borne fruit, our Army would have fought on and recaptured the occupied territory and more. This would have been even to the extent of launching a war and suffering more casualties; an unfortunate consequence of misreading intent and being lulled at the operational level by events at the national-strategic level. 

As someone who had a grandstand view of events from the flank and was repeatedly tasked to analyse the potential of a second Kargil, I remain convinced that a Kargil-like situation may never again be experienced. Yet I am diffident about the Pakistan leadership’s utter unpredictability and irrationality. It is not just our weapons, equipment, training or intelligence that will prevent a potential Kargil 2, but better public information, interest in matters related to the armed forces, knowledge on national security at every level and better aware operational and tactical level commanders, that will. 

Most of the events organised today will remain bereft of explanation of what happened at Kargil and why. We are duty bound to tell the nation more about this. It is good to read Pakistani author Nasim Zehra’s recent book, From Kargil to Coup, to get a better idea of Pakistani psyche and how irrationally things work in that country. 

Why did Musharraf decide to target Kargil? A Mohajir General picked from lower in the seniority list to be chief; a former SSG commando deluded by perception of Indian incapability and a man perceiving himself smarter than all, led his army to intrude across the LoC for early occupation of the Indian ‘winter vacated’Kargil heights. He hoped it would give advantage by interdicting the summer highway from Srinagar to Leh. This artery is the lifeline to Ladakh and opens in May each year; the alternative route from Manali is less viable. In the absence of a communication artery for the logistics stocking effort, Indian occupation of the Siachen glacier would become untenable, thus forcing withdrawal; at least, that is what Musharraf thought. 

He had other linked intentions too. One of these was to bring J&K into limelight again and the other was to give an impetus to militancy in the Valley. He was convinced that the movement of reserve forces from the Valley (immediate flank) would open vast spaces for conduct of militant operations and infiltration; he wasn’t wrong on this. In addition, concerns of the international community would run high as there was little clarity on doctrines and protocols in the nuclear-armed region. This would bring diplomatic intervention by the big powers and force India to the negotiating table to resolve J&K. From all indicators and recent literature, the political leadership of Pakistan remained in the dark up to a point after which it was misled into acquiescence. Nawaz Sharif, at best, gets the benefit of the doubt. Musharraf’s attempted deception through projection of his army as just local mujahideen, out to expand the J&K conflict, also considered PM Vajpayee’s Lahore bus yatra as a contribution to the credibility of the deception plan. His assumption, like many Pakistani leaders before him, was that India lacked the will and courage to pursue robust operations to evict the intruders. 

No one questions the valorous response of the Indian Army to a situation that surprised it. The question is how and why we were surprised. The lesson from Kargil is that at no time must we lose balance in our focus. Our concentration was on the big-ticket counter-terror operations to neutralise the dangerous situation in the hinterland of the Valley and the Jammu region, as also on Siachen, where we were strong, but even a toehold by the adversary on the Saltoro Ridge could be disastrous. So it was only Kargil where the existing gaps in deployment were unviable and, therefore, vulnerable, especially in winter when a large number of posts were vacated. Attempts to do serious wide-area reconnaissance by helicopter in winter were restricted many times due to constraint in flying hours. At the operational level, the Army can never allow itself to be lulled by actions being undertaken at the national strategic level (such as the peace efforts through the Lahore yatra). The operational stance must cater to manageability of the volume of intelligence inputs, resources for deployment and response and even the nature of terrain. The sheer expanse of 15 Corps which managed the deployment from Gulmarg to Demchok (east Ladakh), Siachen and the hinterland operations obviated focus on a comparatively low-priority sector such as Kargil, where the population was not anti-national and the nature of LoC apparently fitted into the perception of only frequent exchanges of fire. 

In the light of an unstable state of polity in Pakistan, under the control of an army which seeks ways of retribution against India despite many efforts coming cropper, India needs to be wary. The Pakistan army has not learnt its lessons and is ever willing to risk employing innovative ways of attempting to wrest advantage. A nation in the habit of issuing daily nuclear threats and believing that it has achieved deterrence against us may lack intellectual capability to read the likely effects of its actions. Not its capability but its irrationality should continue to worry India. 

Kargil Vijay Diwas is a good occasion to recall the grit, valour and supreme sacrifice which was on display during the Kargil war. However, it would also be in order to conduct an audit of what has changed for the better since then, and what continues to constrain the armed forces. The Kargil Review Committee’s recommendations along with the Group of Ministers’ report have many benchmark measures which yet need consideration almost 20 years down the line. Shying away from them would be tantamount to repeating the mistakes of Kargil 1999. 

A former GOC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps

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