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Kargil conundrum

india Updated: Oct 16, 2006 12:10 IST
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General Pervez Musharraf's brazen attempt in his memoirs In the Line of Fire to whitewash the Pakistan Army's defeat during the Kargil conflict with India has once again focussed attention on the events of the summer of 1999.

The chapter in the general's book on the Kargil conflict is a compilation of gross self-serving lies.

It is worth recalling exactly what had transpired seven years ago.

Even as the Lahore peace process was under way, the Pakistan Army launched 'Operation Badr', an ill-conceived military adventure, across the Line of Control (LoC) into Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir in the summer months of 1999.

By infiltrating its soldiers in civilian clothes through gaps in the Indian defences along the LoC, to physically occupy large areas of ground, the Pakistan Army added a new dimension to its 10-year-old proxy war against India.

Pakistan's provocative action compelled India to launch a firm but measured military operation to clear the intruders from the Indian side of the LoC.

The Pakistan Army's nefarious designs in the Kargil sector took India's military planners completely by surprise.

It was a clear failure of intelligence and threat assessment.

However, India's fight back was determined and well planned.

Additional troops and artillery units were systematically inducted into Kargil and one by one the mountains occupied by the Pakistan Army were courageously taken back.

Besides a swift army response, air strikes from fighter-ground attack (FGA) aircraft and attack helicopters of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and manoeuvres by the Indian Navy in the Arabian Sea contributed to making Pakistan capitulate.

India's 'Operation Vijay' (victory) was finely calibrated to limit military action to the Indian side of the LoC.

The aim was to ensure that the intrusions in Kargil were vacated quickly and Pakistan's military adventurism was not allowed to escalate into a larger conflict.

The primary objective of India's military campaign was to conclude military operations against Pakistani forces as early as possible without enlarging the scope of the ongoing conflict.

This was achieved on July 26, 1999, when the last of the Pakistani intruders was successfully evicted.

Finding the Indian government unrelenting in its resolve to evict every intruder from its territory, even as the Pakistan Army suffered one reverse after another, Pakistan's then prime minister Nawaz Sharif rushed to Washington in the first week of July 1999 (at the behest of General Musharraf) and agreed in his talks with president Bill Clinton that Pakistan would pull out its troops from Kargil unconditionally.

India's resounding victory at Tiger Hill, the news of which came even as Sharif was meeting Clinton, contributed significantly to this politico-military decision.

As a face saving device, Pakistan's widely anticipated pullback was couched in euphemistic terms.

Pakistan would "appeal to the Kashmiri freedom fighters to pull out from their positions in Kargil", the Pakistan government announced - the same so-called mujahideen over whom it had repeatedly emphasised that it had no control!

Why did the Pakistan Army undertake a military operation that was foredoomed to failure?

It did so because it was becoming increasingly frustrated with India's success in containing the militancy in J&K to within manageable limits.

The army saw in the Kashmiri people's open expression of their preference for normalcy, the evaporation of all its hopes and desires to bleed India through a strategy of "a thousand cuts".

Nawaz Sharif's government appeared to be inclined to accept India's hand of friendship, in keeping with the mood of popular opinion within Pakistan, and was committed to opening up trade, liberalising the visa regime and encouraging people-to-people, cultural and sports contacts.

Though it did not feature in black and white in the Lahore Declaration of 1999, the acceptance of the concept of the LoC as a permanent border between India and Pakistan was gaining currency due to the strong public opinion in this regard in both the countries.

People on both sides of the Radcliff Line wished to put the acrimonious past behind them and move on to usher in an era of friendship and cooperation.

Pakistan's military establishment was unable to come to terms with the fact that more than 10 years of its concerted efforts in de-stabilising India through its proxy war in J&K had yielded almost no tangible gains.

The military establishment thought the peace overtures between the two countries would further undermine its efforts to annex Kashmir from India.

Moves towards peace, leading to the acceptance of the LoC as a permanent border, were viewed by the military establishment as a disgraceful compromise since the Pakistani armed forces have been fed the rhetoric that the only unfinished agenda of Partition is the merger of Kashmir with Pakistan.

Pakistan's generals were concerned that peace with India would lead to a diminishing role for the army in Pakistan's affairs.

It was in such a scenario that, in an act more of desperation than any grand strategic planning, the Pakistan Army and ISI decided to launch an organised intrusion into the un-held remote areas of Kargil district to once again ignite the spark of militancy and gain moral ascendancy over the Indian security forces.

The Pakistan Army's eviction from Kargil was not the only reverse that it had to suffer.

It left behind the bodies of over 200 hundred of its soldiers and even denied that they were its own men.

No professional army has ever before disowned its regular soldiers and refused to claim its dead.

Under General Musharraf, the Pakistan Army not only suffered a humiliating military defeat in Kargil, it also sunk to an abysmally low point in the eyes of military professionals all over the world.

Musharraf now has the gumption to write that the intervention in Kargil was a victory.

He has disgraced the memory of over 1,000 Pakistani soldiers who sacrificed their lives for a dubious cause.

He has once again focussed Indian attention on the issue whether any Pakistani general can ever be trusted.

Above all else, through his shoddy attempt to re-write military history, he has disgraced the calling of soldiering.

Military history may have forgiven the Pakistani generals for poor strategic planning and professional ineptitude but it will not forgive Musharraf's megalomaniacal grandstanding.

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Senior Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi. )

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