Pakistan recognises the Kargil war was a blunder | Opinion
Twenty years ago in May 1999, the ongoing Pakistan-India dialogue, was subverted by Operation Koh-i-Paima (KP), popularly known as the Kargil Operation. In Pakistan, a clique in the military high command had autonomously engaged on a divergent track.
The Kargil clique, comprising four generals — including Pakistan’s army chief, General Pervez Musharraf; the Chief of General Staff (CGS) Lt. General Aziz Khan, Corp commander of X corps, Lt General Mahmud, and the commander, Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA), Major General Javed Hasan - planned Operation KP in complete secrecy. The operational command, covering the geographical area of operation as well as the command and control of troops and heavy artillery, was with the Kargil clique. And, hence, they could move troops and ammunition without involving others.
The operation was initiated at the end of November 1998, before the Lahore summit. In August-September, Pakistan-India talks on Siachen had ended in deadlock. In October, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed Musharraf as the army chief.
Having served in areas along the Line of Control (LoC), the clique was familiar with the terrain. They all believed negotiations alone would not settle Kashmir issue. A plan, almost similar to one presented by Musharraf to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was agreed upon by the clique; Pakistani troops would interdict and block NH-1, the lifeline of Indian troops based in Leh. A panicked India would then turn to the international community. Given the nuclearised South Asia, the international community would advise India to engage with Pakistan. This would lead to negotiations on Kashmir, or at least to India vacating the Siachen glacier it had occupied in 1984.
The clique’s planning was dictated by naïve assumptions that were rooted in delusional reading of the Indian and the international response. Equally, they believed India would not be able to militarily get the Kargil heights vacated. For interdiction, the plan was to occupy around 15-20 peaks. Having crossed over into unmanned areas, the excited young soldiers expanded their presence. It was a classic snowballing into mission creep, ending up in occupation of 120 peaks. They were now in a logistical stretch, making themselves vulnerable to Indian military attacks.
PM Sharif was first briefed on Operation KP months after it had been initiated. On May 17, armed with complicated maps, the army chief and his key commanders briefed Sharif. The CGS, General Khan, told Sharif he would go down in history as the liberator of Kashmir. When his foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, reminded Sharif of the Lahore summit and the ongoing negotiations with India, Sharif did not agree. After all, conferences and paperwork would not lead to Kashmir’s liberation. Sharif was on board.
Operation KP had genuine shock value for the Indian Army. India’s XV Corps, headquartered in Srinagar, had gone easy on winter surveillance of the extremely hostile Kargil Drass terrain.
However, responding to first encounter with Pakistani troops, initially a confused and angered India’s airforce hit across the LoC. Pakistan successfully shot down an IAF MIG.
Subsequently, the Operation unfolded to India’s advantage. By mid-June, having sized up the military and diplomatic situation, India was fully in command. Having initially suffered huge casualties, India’s unceasing ground and air attacks inflicted heavy casualties on the Pakistani troops, and disrupted their logistics and supply lines. Faced with artillery pounding, especially of the heavy Bofors guns, Pakistan’s brave and bold soldiers could only fight on. But to no avail. As the stories of amazing fearlessness of many, like Captain Karnal Sher Khan Shaheed, were written in blood, the blunder of Operation KP became clearer.
Delhi made winning diplomatic manoeuvres. PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s message was clear — my army will fight to get the infiltrators out, but will not cross the LoC, or open other fronts, provided the international community, read Washington, put pressure on Pakistan to pull back its troops.
With Pakistan’s weakened position, mounting casualties, disrupted supply lines, and no deployment of air power, its diplomats were in a no-win position.
By end-June, there was panic among the Kargil clique. Sharif was indirectly asked to step in to save the situation. When ill-planned back-channels with Delhi proved useless, the PM flew to Washington to basically declare withdrawal. The curtains on Operation KP came with the elected PM’s ouster by the cabal of four who had led the country into a difficult strategic space.
If, in February 1999, the world saw Pakistan as a wise and responsible nuclear State, which had engaged India in search of genuine peace and regional cooperation, by June 1999, this had changed. Pakistan’s decision-making was widely questioned.
Meanwhile 20 years later, what has changed?
Even if there is no known formal review of Operation KP, the word in the barracks and beyond is that it was a blunder. With the Imran Khan government, fully backed by the army command, looking for a dialogue opening, an unlikely interlocutor has emerged - Donald Trump. Or has he?
The days for another Kargil are now gone. Only bilateral dialogue, perhaps with international nudging, yet factoring in Kashmiri concerns, will work. Genuine Pakistan-India peace and cooperation, with an unresolved Kashmir, is impossible.
Nasim Zehra is a Pakistani national security specialist, author and journalist. She hosts her own show on Channel24
The views expressed are personal