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The Kargil conundrum

The charade over who was responsible for the Kargil operations against India dominates the current political discourse in Pakistan.

india Updated: Jun 05, 2006 18:40 IST

The charade over who was responsible for the Kargil operations against India has come to dominate the current political discourse in Pakistan.

Having sewn a political alliance with his archrival Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is planning a homecoming riding on a sympathy factor by explaining his role in the 1999 conflict in the Himalayan heights.

His move may be cushioned by the relatively low profile that Bhutto had maintained when Kargil happened.

She was then in exile and embroiled in many court cases and corruption charges along with her husband Asif Ali Zardari.

Sharif has repeatedly said he was kept in the dark by the 'generals'. He told Gulf News, the Dubai-based newspaper last Saturday, that he owned up the "general's mess in national interest".

The obvious reference is to President Pervez Musharraf who was, and remains, Pakistan's army chief.

However, the generally accepted surmise in India has been different. The "generals" did keep Sharif informed, but did not allow him to dictate the course of action.

Kargil was very much on Pakistan's agenda when Sharif was embracing visiting Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lahore in February 1999.

Sharif had contemplated paying a return visit to India, but before that wanted a military skirmish that would give him a point to bargain.

Indian defence analyst Sreedhar told the agency that Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, a former Pakistan Army chief, had told him that Kargil was supposed to be the operation that would give Pakistan that bargaining point, but "some hot heads in the GHQ went beyond their brief".

Beg claimed that during Vajpayee's Lahore visit itself Sharif had told Musharraf that he was likely to go to Delhi later that year before which Musharraf should "shake up a few things".

He had used the words "kuchh hila dena." Musharraf had nodded in agreement.

Analysts say Sharif's "accepting responsibility in national interest" could be an apparent reference to the telephonic dressing down he got from the then US president Bill Clinton. Convinced of the Indian standpoint, he had asked Sharif to visit Washington.

The Kargil conundrum began to resolve after that visit.

Almost seven years later, Sharif told Gulf News: "I have taken responsibility for some military generals' mess in Kargil on my shoulder in the national interest. I will reveal the truth soon, but in in-camera proceedings."

In the interview reported by the Daily Times newspaper, Sharif did not mince words. He said: "Musharraf breached his oath as army chief when he overthrew my government in a military coup in October 1999."

Musharraf has in the past debunked Sharif's "kept-in-the-dark" accusation on Kargil.

Current Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani recently accused Sharif of breaching his oath as prime minister by stating that the military operation in Kargil was initiated without his consent, and that he learnt about the operation only from his Indian counterpart Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In an earlier interview, Sharif said Vajpayee had telephoned to demand: "Prime Minister Sahab, Yeh kya ho raha hai?" (Mr Prime Minister, what is happening at your end?).

Political analysts say the charade over Kargil may continue to dominate the political dogfight in Pakistan.