Fifteen years after the Indian army evicted Pakistani intruders from the heights of Kargil, an NDA government is back in power with promises to ensure that India is never surprised again. But it has a long way to go. The 1999 Kargil intrusions derailed the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA’s peace efforts, forcing a chastened government to set up the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) to propose comprehensive reforms for India’s obsolete security architecture.
But most of the committee’s recommendations couldn’t be implemented after the NDA lost the 2004 general elections. The KRC was perhaps the most comprehensive look at the systemic failures that allowed the Pakistanis to occupy the strategic heights of Kargil. It looked at the problems dogging the military, the intelligence community and the inadequate management of India’s land and maritime borders. But more than a decade later, India’s borders remain porous. A startling reminder of India’s vulnerability came in November 2008 when terrorists slipped into Mumbai and held the city hostage for three days.
Read: Up, close, personal: Sharing pain, joy, tears and history with Kargil heroes
The military may have bumped up its strength in key border areas, but the higher echelons of defence management continue to be archaic. The KRC had recommended the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as a means to provide single-point professional military advice to the political leadership. But so far no political consensus has emerged on the issue.
“The CDS was the most significant recommendation and that’s still in limbo,” said strategic affairs expert Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal. A recommendation to integrate the service headquarters with the Ministry of Defence and improve decision-making has also failed to take off because of resistance.
Some like former army chief General Deepak Kapoor are confident “the possibility of a Kargil-like operation being repeated is extremely remote in view of the measures taken by us”. Their optimism is based on the fact that some of the committee’s proposals have been implemented. The government created a tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command and set up the Strategic Forces Command for India’s nuclear arsenal.
But these measures were too few to address a larger, systemic obsolescence, as the 26/11 attack on Mumbai revealed a fresh set of challenges. India’s intelligence community continues to be in a shambles and its ability to anticipate and prevent terrorist attacks remains abysmal. It remains to be seen whether the NDA under Narendra Modi will address the unfinished legacy of the Kargil war.
Fighting other battles
Colonel Lalit Rai, a Kargil war hero, has ordered two cakes to celebrate July 26. One for his daughter’s birthday and the other to mark his “rebirth” — Rai came close to getting killed many times during the Kargil war.“A cat has nine lives. I guess I have 20,” said Rai, who quit the army in 2007 to join the corporate world. Rai, who had commanded 1/11 Gorkha Rifles, was awarded Vir Chakra for bravery and leadership.
Rai, 58, quit after he was overlooked for the rank of brigadier. He was asked to put in a complaint to get redress. But Rai saw no point in proving himself further. “There’s no bitterness. I wanted to move on,” he said. He may be earning eight times more than an army general as the HR president of a leading Pune-based real estate company, but the soldier in him is still alive and kicking.
He said, “In the army, if a soldier steps on a mine and his leg is blown apart, he knows someone is going to get him. In the corporate sector, the culture is different.” He recalled the Kargil war as a “hellish” experience. “My boys were hungry, cold and angry. I told them if we failed it would not be the battalion’s failure or the army’s, but the country’s,” he said. Rai brought glory to his battalion: it won 29 awards including a Param Vir Chakra and five Vir Chakras. It was also conferred the title of ‘the bravest of the brave’. He added, “There’s nothing like being in the army but I am happy pursuing other things in life now.”