Air Chief Marshal AY Tipnis’s account of the Kargil conflict has stoked a fiery debate between the army and the air force. The then army vice-chief, Lieutenant General Chandrashekhar, has accused Tipnis of distorting facts to publicise his forthcoming book.
“His ridiculous account has done irreparable damage to the already fragile army-air force relationship,” Chandrashekhar told the Hindustan Times from Mumbai. He was reacting to HT’s report based on the former air chief’s version of the Kargil war.
Chandrashekhar officiated as army chief for 10 days in May 1999 when then army chief General VP Malik was touring Poland. Tipnis claimed Chandrashekar turned down offers of help from the IAF.
Lieutenant General (retired) Arjun Ray, the man responsible for turning global opinion in India’s favour during the conflict, told HT, “Such utterances will create friction between the two services, which have hardly made any headway in evolving a joint services structure since Kargil.”
Ray, who was handpicked as additional director general of information operations in June 1999, also feared that if a Kargil-like situation developed again, the army and IAF would commit the same goof-ups “because each service still looks at warfare from an individual perspective”. He said higher commanders had to understand that “leadership today is about building relationships and not just individual brilliance.”
General Ray defended Malik, saying he never felt that the chief had attempted to conceal facts. He said, “Instead of waiting for the appointment of the CDS (chief of defence staff), military commanders should take the initiative of forging jointmanship (sic) at various levels.”
In his Kargil account, Tipnis said that an embarrassed army had played down the intrusion and kept the Ministry of Defence in the dark. He criticised the army for seeking wrong firepower and talked about how Malik got touchy and lost his cool.
A former army commander expressed surprise at Tipnis’s timing as his version had come even before the dust could settle on Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf’s controversial account.
Air Marshal (retired) Vinod Patni, who was in the thick of things then as head of the Western Air Command, said, “I do not know if Malik lost control, but if a military commander loses his cool, his operational thinking is bound to get clouded by emotions.”
Patni said he was amazed the army and IAF have not conducted a joint study on what really happened during Kargil: “When national security is at stake, it is important for us to admit our mistakes. The IAF owned up to its mistakes during Kargil.”