Opinion | Lessons Pakistan Army learnt from Kargil- and one it did not
In July 1999, the Indian Army was engaged in a ferocious battle against overwhelming odds in the icy heights of the Kargil Sector. It was the sheer bravery of Indian soldiers that led to our success against an entrenched enemy, and it is only fitting that the victory is being celebrated on its 20th anniversary, this year.
It is, of course, another matter whether the lessons of the Kargil War, so faithfully recorded in the Kargil Review Committee (KRC), have been addressed. A number of articles have been written lamenting that many recommendations of the KRC and the subsequent Group of Ministers’ report on National Security have either been ignored or only partially implemented.
Wars are never one-sided, and in our analysis of the Kargil operations, it is also essential to study the lessons that the Pakistan Army learned from this conflict. And I am deliberately referring to Pakistan Army and not their government, because strategic decisions concerning India are firmly in the hands of Pakistani generals.
The first lesson was that the Line of Control (LoC) had acquired the inviolability of an international border and that any attempt to change it by force, risked dragging Pakistan into a full-fledged war with India. The initial assumptions of the small clique of Kargil planners was that the Indian response to the intrusion would be limited and that it would force India to come to the negotiating table on the Kashmir issue. Both the assumptions were flawed, and there was massive criticism in Pakistan on the fallout of the Kargil misadventure.
A Rand Corporation monograph report titled Limited Conflicts Under the Nuclear Umbrella: Indian and Pakistani Lessons from the Kargil Crisis, quoted Shahid M Amin, a long-serving Pakistani diplomat as articulating a ‘commonly held opinion’ when he stated, “It is high time that the country become ruthlessly realistic about its limitations and priorities. First and foremost, Pakistan’s survival must precede everything else, including our attachment to the Kashmir cause.”
The second lesson was a result of the first. Kargil-type operations were no longer possible but a status quo on Kashmir, which suited India, was also not acceptable to the Pakistani deep state.
Under these circumstances, Pakistan Army would have to fall back on its trusted allies — the jihadis. The violence in Kashmir peaked following the Kargil war, and the number of terrorists killed doubled in the next two years, from 1387 in 1999 to 2645 in 2001. The Op Parakram mobilisation in 2002 [the mobilisation of troops launched in the wake of the December 13, 2011 attack on the Parliament] also saw little impact on infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan. In subsequent years, Pakistan Army has calibrated the flow of terrorists into Kashmir, but only to suit its national interest.
The third lesson was on the utility of nuclear weapons. It was a commonly accepted view in Pakistan that the fear of an outbreak of nuclear war in South Asia would bring international pressure on India — led by the United States of America — and limit its response to terror activities sponsored by Pakistan. Pakistan Army also saw its nuclear forces as deterring India from unleashing the full weight of its conventional superiority against Pakistan. The Indian decision to limit the conflict to the Kargil sector and not cross the LoC lent credence to this viewpoint.
However, there was also an understanding in Pakistan Army that the presence of nuclear capability did not completely rule out a conventional conflict. As India adopted (though not officially) the ‘Cold Start Doctrine’ (a strategy that relied on a speedy military victory while remaining below the nuclear threshold), Pakistan also set out to refine its conventional warfighting doctrine.
The Pakistan Armed Forces conducted four Azm-e-Nau joint military exercises from 2009 to 2013, after which a doctrine named ‘New Concept of War Fighting’ (NCWF) was formally adopted. The NCWF is designed to blunt India’s conventional superiority by faster mobilisation and create additional reserves at all levels to absorb the initial Indian offensive.
Pakistan’s weapons procurements in the last few years have also contributed to building up its conventional capability. Walter C Ladwig, in his 2015 study Indian Military Modernization and Conventional Deterrence in South Asia, has pointed out that “India’s defense procurement continues to underperform, producing far less in terms of military power than its spending would suggest. Conversely, Pakistan – assisted by China and others – has prevented the emergence of sharp asymmetries in the conventional military balance and even narrowed previously existing gaps.”
Today, Pakistan Army could feel reasonably confident in limiting India’s success in a short, sharp conventional conflict.
The final lesson was that the nature of civil-military relations in Pakistan leads to the making of poor strategic assessments.
The Kargil war was entirely planned and commenced without taking the political leadership into confidence. Retired Lieutenant General of Pakistan army Shahid Aziz wrote in his article Putting our Children in Line of Fire, “An unsound military plan based on invalid assumptions, launched with little preparations and in total disregard to the regional and international environment, was bound to fail.”
Unfortunately, this lesson has not been learned, and the Pakistan military continues to wield enormous political influence. The political leadership of Pakistan has meekly accepted the dominant role of the army, and the judiciary has often overlooked extra-constitutional acts of the military by quoting the doctrine of necessity. This will result in a continuation of Pakistan Army’s risk-taking behaviour without fully comprehending the political and diplomatic fallout of their actions.
In studying any war, perspectives of the vanquished also matter. As Sun Tzu said, “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.” Let us celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Kargil war, but also be pragmatic in recognising the limited impact it had in changing Pakistan Army’s fundamental attitudes towards India.