It is rare that India gets the upper hand in the diplomatic war with Pakistan. But it did, ten years ago during and after the Kargil war. A combination of factors, Pakistani miscalculation and a failure of Indian intelligence, began a war that would eventually turn the tables on Pakistan. A similarly rare combination of Indian military prowess and diplomacy led to India being seen as the victim of an aggressive neighbour. And it helped that for the first time in the subcontinent, the war was beamed into living rooms with all its emotion and hyperbole. Washington, normally quiescent in these subcontinental wranglings, was forced to act and ask its ally, Pakistan, to back off. The much-touted ‘de-hyphenation’ of India and Pakistan that the Indian establishment is so proud of today began with Kargil. India’s mature response, albeit under pressure from the US, in not crossing the Line of Control (LoC), stood in stark contrast to Pakistan’s deliberate aggression under the cloak of militancy.
But the initial surprise and eventual victory, spawned as many legends of bravery from small town India as they have allegations and counter-allegations. There are many questions that remain unanswered. Beating the current norm, the Kargil Review Committee submitted its report in less than six months of the end of the war. Though it was tabled before Parliament in March 2000, it has never been seriously debated. Many of its recommendations on fine-tuning our security, defence and intelligence establishments are still awaiting political action. Overarching among the unlearnt lessons of the decade-old war is that the Indian national security apparatus remains in urgent need of an overall review. Also pending is an assessment of the decision-making process during security crises.
No number of boots on the ground can assure security unless they’re backed by an assessment from the ears to the ground. One of the most controversial issues from the war was the failure of intelligence assimilation and dissemination, a problem that seems to have outlived the euphoria of a victory against heavy odds. If Mumbai can be termed a ‘maritime Kargil’, then India has a lot to learn from its shortcomings in a war that it won ten years ago.