Military & Aerospace

The Kargil Conflict does not qualify to be called a War
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Issue Book Excerpt: Hinduism & its Military Ethos | Date : 30 May , 2018

It appears from newspaper reports that some Pakistani mujahideens (irregulars) occupied the Kargil heights sometime around April 1999. Later on, they were joined by regular Pakistan troops. Their overall numbers might have been a few thousand (some estimates talk of about 1000 numbers). Again, going by newspaper reports it would appear that the Pakistanis built some bunkers on those heights. India remained blissfully unaware of these major incursions till some shepherds informed of the same; So much for Indian Intelligence.

 …India would not cross the LoC. Hypocritical moral posturing? Why? Pray, why would we not cross the LoC when the other party has? …let us not forget that it was our pseudo-moral posturing and lack of aggressive spirit (i.e. no LoC crossing) that resulted in such high casualties.

When the factual position was learnt by the Indian side, panic set in and all hell broke loose. The Northern Army Command was in a frenzy and Army HQ in a tizzy. The Ministry of Defense did not know which way to look. The Government got busy in efforts to hide its embarrassment.

As the story goes, the army was caught with its pants half down. There was an intolerable pressure from the Army HQ to get the occupation vacated before the nation would come to know the full scale of all round negligence and incompetence, primarily of the Intelligence set up. The Ministry of Defense was a willing accomplice. Young officers were asked to mount frontal attacks on the enemy sitting at heights and behind bunkers and boulders. Crossing of the Line of Control (LoC) was banned. Naturally, the Indian casualties were intolerably high; 527 Indian martyrs to evict a few thousand (or less) intruders, mostly with light arms. That was a clear sign of the panic of the authorities. Our troops performed extremely well and many cases of exceptional courage and bravery were recorded. We pay our tributes to the martyrs.

During the conflict, regular statements were made by the Indian authorities, including Service Chiefs, that India would not cross the LoC. Hypocritical moral posturing? Why? Pray, why would we not cross the LoC when the other party has? If that results in a wider conflict, so be it. After all, the armed forces are for such occasions only. That was the Hindu defensive mindset on display (the BJP was in power). If we had crossed (perhaps on the quiet) the LoC a bit here and there, the intruders’ supplies could have been intercepted and they could have been starved out. In that case, our casualties would have been much lower, perhaps just in two digits. In the din and euphoria over the Kargil ‘victory’, let us not forget that it was our pseudo-moral posturing and lack of aggressive spirit (i.e. no LoC crossing) that resulted in such high casualties. The Government of the day must take full responsibility for that.

The BJP government decided to convert the whole situation to its advantage by exploiting the emotions of the nation. For all their proclaimed independence, TV channels were roped in and they became willing tools. As coffin after coffin draped in the national flag arrived at Delhi airport, the scenes were shown on live TV. The burning funeral pyres in villages were also made a part of the exercise. As expected, all this display aroused national sentiment and won sympathy for the government.

In keeping with our (dubious) tradition, we fought only when attacked, and took care to fight only on our own land. Going over to the enemy land would have dented our pseudo-pacifist image, and interfered with our Hindu military mindset.

Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister of Pakistan at that time. At some stage, he panicked and requested President Clinton for an interview, of all days on 4th July — a national holiday in America. Clinton agreed as a special case. Going by newspaper reports, Clinton showed Nawaz satellite photos of the movement of Pakistani nuclear missiles during the conflict. Nawaz was red-faced and denied any knowledge of the movement. Instead of showing any sympathy, Clinton was furious. He asked for the immediate withdrawal of the intruders. Nawaz Sharif rushed back, and soon the intruders melted away.

The BJP Government went on to proclaim a ‘major’ victory. Celebrations set in; jamborees were organized at which the BJP leaders went eloquent. Efforts were made to project the ‘victory’ as even bigger than 1971; fortunately, these were not successful. In 1971, we had taken 93,000 Pakistani prisoners and created a whole new country. During Kargil, we perhaps took no prisoners (as far as public knowledge goes); we just drove out a few thousand (or may be only about 1000) from our own border lands. In keeping with our (dubious) tradition, we fought only when attacked, and took care to fight only on our own land. Going over (even a little bit here and there, and on the quiet) to the enemy land would have dented our pseudo-pacifist image, and interfered with our Hindu military mindset. That is a carry-over of the Hindu military strategy from the days of Ghazni and Ghauri, i.e.:

  • Fight only when attacked; wait to be attacked
  • No need to take the fight to the enemy’s home
  • Let the enemy bring the fight to your home
  • No offensive action; be always on the defensive.

The hypocritical policy of moral posturing and over-emphasis on ahimsa (non-violence) and shanti (peace) can never pay. The world only respects ‘power’ when projected in an appropriate manner, and at an appropriate time. Anyway, the public was duly taken in. In the ensuing election, the public gave the BJP and its allies a governing majority and they went on to rule for five years.

Even by the dismal Indian standards, Kargil was a major Intelligence failure. All organizations including R&AW, IB, Army Intelligence and others were found missing in action. Various types and manners of excuses were fabricated and let out to misguide the gullible and simple Indian public. Deceptively calibrated statements were leaked out from time to time. Let us consider an example.

The Indian State claimed and hailed Kargil as a ‘major victory’. What type and grade of ‘major victory’ was Kargil?

It was expressed that it was a (long-standing) practice to withdraw troops from Kargil and other heights, during the winters (mind you, there is no such practice at Siachen where the winter is much more severe). It was never clarified how long this practice was in vogue, and more importantly, at what level was this practice sanctioned. Did this ‘practice’ have the concurrence of the GOC-in-C, Northern Command, and the Army Chief? It would appear from the information available that it was just a ‘practice’ indulged in, without any sanction at an appropriate level. It would also appear that it was also a ‘practice’ that having withdrawn, no patrols were to be undertaken, in spite of the mandatory requirement for armies to send such patrols. There are also a large number of Army and Air Force helicopters in the area; some more could have been positioned. It would seem that it was also a ‘practice’ not to undertake regular surveillance sorties by these helicopters.

The Ministry of Defense (as apart from Service Headquarters) is the single point organization for the defense of the country. Did it have a role and what was it doing? Where was the BSF? The simple answer is that the BSF was in Rajasthan where all the smuggling takes place. It was let out that it was a practice not to put the BSF on the LoC. Who sanctioned such a ‘practice’? Was it with the knowledge of the PM, or the Cabinet Committee on Defense/Security?

There are a slew of questions as outlined in the preceding paragraphs; but there are no answers. A high powered Committee was set up to go into the Kargil fiasco. It successfully swept all inconvenient issues under the carpet. No one of any consequence, except a poor Brigadier was held to blame.

The Indian State (read BJP) claimed and hailed Kargil as a ‘major victory’. What type and grade of ‘major victory’ was Kargil? Before we answer that question, we again record our respectful homage to the 527 martyrs and acknowledge the innumerable deeds of courage and bravery during the Kargil conflict.

India is big; it must start thinking big, i.e. of successfully engaging armies a million or two strong, equipped with modern weapons. We should claim a ‘major victory’ only when we come up with good performance against a force of our own size.

India has the 3rd or 4th largest army of the world, with more than one million troops under arms. The army has an awesome array of the most modern weapon systems of tanks, artillery and mechanized infantry, backed by every type of conceivable support system. Then, there is the formidable Indian Air Force, again having the most advanced aircraft weapon systems — 3rd or 4th largest in the world. What were these formidable and awesome armed forces pitted against? A rag-tag force of irregulars and regulars numbering a few thousand (some estimates talk of about 1000 numbers), mostly equipped with small arms. They perhaps had nothing more lethal than medium/heavy machine guns and howitzers. They had no tanks, no heavy artillery and without a single aircraft. Their only advantage was that they were sitting at heights.

The above type of engagement would not qualify to be called a war; it was more like an intensive border conflict. By saying so, we are in a way trying to reduce the importance of the innumerable cases of raw courage and bravery displayed by the Indian soldiers during the Kargil conflict. We are just trying to prepare the country for major conflicts that it may have to face in the foreseeable future.

On the tenth anniversary of the Kargil conflict, there was a lead Editorial in the Hindustan Times of 25 July 2009. A sentence in that reads as follows:

“One of the controversial issues from the war was failure of intelligence assimilation and dissemination, a problem that seems to have outlived the euphoria of victory against heavy odds (emphasis added).”

What constitutes heavy odds — a few thousand (or even less) lightly armed irregulars and regulars, pitted against a million strong Army, backed by a formidable Air Force? That gives us a peek into the Indian (read Hindu) military mindset.

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India is big; it must start thinking big, i.e. of successfully engaging armies a million or two strong, equipped with modern weapons. We should claim a ‘major victory’ only when we come up with good performance against a force of our own size. We may be faced with that type of situation not too far in the future, say 10–15 years down the line. That requires a type of mindset, altogether different from the one reflected in projecting Kargil as a ‘major victory’, which was a work of small minds. We end this chapter in the hope that our comments on Kargil are understood in the broader context in which we make these, i.e. to prepare the country for bigger conflicts — perhaps much bigger conflicts, which are in a different league altogether.

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16 thoughts on “The Kargil Conflict does not qualify to be called a War

  1. In all this hullabaloo, my heart goes to the family of the matryed soldiers. Is the government not responsible for their death? We sitting cozily in the comfort of our homes criticize the actions but my dear friends it is very difficult situation in the battlefield. Wish hard if our intelligence did not failed us but then only if. The government has to stop playing this silly idiotic card. No Hindu ideas mean the enemy to ransack your house. In fact time has changed and so we need not repeat our mistakes.

  2. What a poorly written article. For a Air Marshal, he show a pathetic knowledge of geo-political and strategic issues. It is a bombastic ramble without any substance. By the way, could the author please define what he means by a ‘War’ ?

  3. THE ARMY ,S BRIG CDR DIV CDR , ORP CDR AND NORTHERN ARMY CHIEF SHOULD HAVE BEEN SACKED . SIMILARLY HEADS OF CHIEFS OF RAW , IB , MIL INT SHOULD HAVE BEEN PUT ON THE BLOCK . THE OLD LETHARGIC VAJPAYEE , AND HIS SCOTCH DRINKING BUM CHUM BRIJESH MISHRA SHOULD HAVE BEEN KICKED OUT WITHIN DAYS .THE ARMY CHIEF DGMO , VICE CHIEF AND PSOS INCLUDING ORDNANCE CHIEF SHOULD HAVE BEEN MADE TO RESIGN ON MORAL GROUNDS . THE AIRFORCE OPERATING FOR 70 YEARS WAS FOUND INCAPABLE OF OPERATING IN THE MOUNTAINS AND LACKED BOMBING EQUIPMENT AND MISSILES AND BOMBS . WHEN OVER A 760 KM OF BORDER WITH PAKISTAN IS MOUNTAINOUS AND ALL 4000 KM WITH CHINA IS ALSO MOUNTIANOUS

  4. The previous BJP government showcased Kargil as something bigger than 1971. The current BJP government has gone a step further. It has, and continues to project a “surgical strike” as something bigger than World War Ii

  5. A very bad analysis. Showed his poor knowledge level if army’s infantry warfare. The biggest advantage enemy had was of height n air marshall sir is categoring that big advantage as “Just” the advantage. He mention that intruders were lightly armed n had no bug weaponary support like tanks of air force. Does he surely expect tanks to operate at 12000+ feet.

    In plain areas, to achieve victory infantry attackers vs defenders ratio shud be 4:1 and in those heights, this ratio goes to 16:1. That means it needs 4 times more soldiers to dislodge the enemy and air marshal saab declare this advantage as “just”.

    Arty is called God of War and it actually is. Does he know how accurate was paki arty and we dis not have Weapon locating radars with our arty. Big advantage for paki forces.

    Would he care to answer why air force was not that effective at those heights. One reason was the height itself. Laser designators were not working properly coz of freezing cold weather and a difference of just 1 foot would leave the air attack useless.

    I understand his zeal to criticize “hindu defensive mindset” but why he became irrational in his zeal to prove his point and came up with very surface level analysis.

    I am glad i did not buy the book.

    • I would advise you to read Harinder Baweja’s Kargil: The Inside Story, the most in-depth, incisive and revealing account of the engagement, told with a blinding honesty, in the soldiers’ own words, which the Vajpayee government did its best to suppress. The IAF was not particularly effective against Pakistani intruders sitting atop mountains peaks. In fact Indian fighter jets targeted those positions from a far distance, to avoid going too close to the enemy held shoulder fired stinger missiles and often missing their targets. There is nothing in the entire Kargil literature to beat Baweja’s account of those one sided battles. The Bofors gun played a much better role in helping dislodge the Pakistanis. The Vajpayee government must bear the criminal responsibility of letting our officers and men die, fighting those odds.

  6. Sir,
    As you pointed it out rightly – hitting the nail on the head – Kargil Episode, by sheer media ‘BLITZKRIEG’ – created the so called “Vijay Divas!”
    I want to know, why was it not given the status of a WAR officially?
    Why is it called, OFFICIALLY that is, Kargil Conflict? Not a war?
    Were there financial implications?
    And No Sir, I am not from the Services – just a story writer – who happened to come across a family whose sole breadwinner was “Martyred” for the “Vijay Divas!”
    For my stories – about ordinary human beings caught in situations beyond their control – I have read not only Liddelhart’s books on the two World Wars, but also “Mein Kampf”, a book on “Asal Uttar”, another on “Battle of Dograi” – besides a dozen others involving Wars (or were they also Conflicts) in the Far East and Indo-China. (Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar etc.)

    Sir, I request you sincerely, with no critical or political leanings – please do reply!

    WHY IS KARGIL A CONFLICT AND NOT A WAR?

    S. Ravikiran Shastry

  7. Marshall sir and others what is the criteria for classifying any military engagement as War — Battle — skirmish — altercation — you would do the nation a favour by quantifying what to call when as a guideline number of skirmishes = Battle and number of battles = conventional War let’s hear your version

  8. The Marshal has gone cranky at this age his another article wherein he shows lack of historical depth (the other article was Clive conquering entire India) Marshal sahib thora idhar udhar bhi padha karo (Read here and there also) he of the category who believe British ruled India for 300 years and muslims for a thousand years — funny people cant even count straight ie from 1876 to 1947 over British India however there existed another as well known as Princely India please read the difference and their extent — In between there was Maratha empire up till 1818 — kya marshal sahib lakir ke fakir hi rah gaye aur puri book likh di

  9. I completely agree with the author that Kargil conflict cannot be classified as war.
    Few observations. Our young officers acquitted themselves commendably. Nobody can doubt the fact that they saved the day. There were numerous cases where Commanding Officers refused to attack uphill fearing heavy casualties and had to be threatened with charges such as cowardice. (Quite obviously some had to be) However, most of these Brigade/ Battalion Commanders were suitably rewarded with UYSM / YSMs on regimental nets simply because their companies attacked while some of them were either sitting at bases or at suitably safe vantage points “controlling” the battle on radio..
    I had the pleasure of serving in winters as a Deputy Brigade Commander in 1988-89 when patrolling was done on paper & posts were withdrawn for winters (quite unofficially but with the tacit approval of Corps HQ). A link patrol from Tang tse Sector was aborted by me due to shortage of mules for carriage of stores. However, patrol report showing task completed was reported. I had brought this to the notice of Subramanium Committee but it possibly got glossed over.
    There are many other aspects which could be discussed but that would underplay the bravery of our young officers.

  10. THE ENTIRE NORTHERN COMMAND WAS UNDER ATTACK . SINCE JAN REGULAR ATTACKS ON INDIAN POSTS ALL ALONG THE BORDER WERE TAKING PLACE . THE THEN ARMY CHIEF MUST HAVE APPRISED THE GOVT
    AS HE GAVE A CLASSIFIED PRESENTATION TO NAVAL OFFICERS IN FEB MARCH. THE GOVT SLEPT WITH BRIJESH MISHRA AND PM VAJPAYEE ENJOYING THEIR CHHOTA PEGS . BODY BAGS OF SOLDERS AND YOUNG OFFICERS WERE REGULAR BUT IT WAS ONLY POOR FARMERS , SHOPKEEPERS , TRADERS , DRIVERS , GOVT OFFICALS CLASS2,3,4 JCOS AND OFFICERS SONS WHO WERE DYING . NO POLITCAN , BUSINESSMAN ,
    IAS OR IPS , FOREIGN SEVICE OR GENERALS SONS WERE DYING , NEWS WERE THERE BUT THE MATERIALISTIC SOCIETY , THE BABUS IN MOD AND BIGGERBABUS IN ARMY HQS COULDNOT CARE LESS. A DISJOINTED MOD , INTELLIGENCE AND THREE SERVICE HQS WORKING IN SILOS WERE ALL AWARE BUT THE HIGHER DEFENCE MANGEMENT WAS NOT THERE IF ANY IT WAS BUSY SCHEMING , CONNIVING , LEAKING REPORTS TO THE AMERICAN CIA BASTARD IN DELHI WHO WAS FEASTED , HOSTED BY THE GOV IN SRINAGAR. THE SARGENT SOLDER GENERALS WERE SIDELINED, THE THEN NAVY CHIEF Sacked and the hawk eyed ISI AND PAK ARMY GENERALS THEIR MORALE SKY HIGH AND COFFERS FULL WITH MONEY FROM AMERICAN AID , HEROIN TRADE FIRST FOOLED MIAN SHARIEF AND THEN OCCUPIED THE HEIGHTS FOR THE CLEAR VIEW OF THE PLAINS OF HINDUSTAN AND THE NATIONAL HIGHWAY NH-1 TO CHOKE STARVE AND DEFEAT THE COLD HUNGRY , ANGRY INDIAN SOLDERS. THE ENTIRE POLITICAL , MILTARY LEADERSHIP TOGETHER WITH INTELLIGENCE CHIEFS SHOULD HAVE BEEN SACKED BECAUSE IT IS THEY WHO FAILED SITTING IN AIRCONDITIONED OFFICES IN SENA BHAVAN AND SOUTHBLOCK AND NOT THE YOUNG INDIAN OFFICERS AND JAWANS BARELY OUT OF THIER TEENS WHO SHED THEIR BLOOD TO COVER UP FOR THE INCOMPETANCY OF THEIR SENIORS THE MOD BABUS AND POLITICAL LEADERSHIP. THE REWARDS OF THE PAY COMMISSION WERE FOR THE SENIOR LEADERS AND NOT MAJS AND BELOW WHO DESERVED THE MOST . THE INJURED ARE STILL RUNNING FROM PILLAR TO POST AS A LEGLESS SIKH OFFICER WAS SHOWN ON KARGIL DIWAS 15 YRS AFTER THE KARGIL WAR.

  11. Its a sad story – I would blame the Government of handling the issue poorly. That was the time we should have taken Pakistan to task. BJP Government is pacifist and lacked the balls to bring the matter to a fruitful conclusion. I would also blame the Military leadership in following the dictates of dhotiwalas. Sam Manekshaw could tell Indira Gandhi to wait till the Army was adequately prepared to launch an offensive. Here they just decided to throw Battalion after Battalion as cannon fodder. The Commanding Officers were more or less told that to perform or perish career wise. We as a military failed in Kargil. I can challenge any general over this issue. Firstly how did the Pakis come in ?? Why did we let them do it ? If the Americans hadn’t put the pressure on the Pakis to withdraw and deescalate we couldn’t have retrieved the situation. The Pakis were forestalled in reinforcing their positions. If they had their way there was no way we could have evicted them. Lets thank the Americans for that. The Generals panicked. They could have told the govt to wait and drawn up a proper battle plan to tackle the Pakis. They foolishly went head long to please the politicians and get a whole lot of good men killed. What stopped us from launching a counter stroke in the Shyok Valley? The top brass of the Army has to answer a lot of questions. For the politicians – stop trying to control the Army in war – or you will face another ’62.

    • Very well said. Heads should have rolled in the Army hierarchy, but alas nothing happened. At least the Chinese jolt in 1963 brought some retribution in the Defence set up, but not anymore now. Something is brewing on the Chinese border, but India is taking it lying down as usual.

  12. And because of such mentality, the Govt pushes on the verdict that the Geneva Convention be denied to the armed forces as this was not a war but a conflict.
    In reality
    The fact is that the Kargil was neither limited nor contained. It was only in the particular sector because the enemy chose it and india gave into that with and due to Fear and it was contained only in the area as again the enemy deemed fit to do so.
    The enemy lost nothing yet gained a significant psychological victory and experience should they next time not want to limit nor contain it.

    As far as only blaming the Govt…its like the govt and the babus shirking responsibility and slop shouldering the blame…what are the Air Marshalls, Generals and Admirals for….certainly not postmen that pass on un military strategy deficient diktats of the civilian minds down the line and chanelise the army into contrary situations. They are there to in-fact channelize, pressurise with authority the babus and the politicians to folow the military dictat especialy in war. Why did the General have to say we shall fight with what we have…name the Bbaus who denied the armed forces what they shoudl have, address the nation, be the General, defy the Ministry against Defense when in a position to do so instead of succumbing to carrots shown when in Power. Past Generals have done so….what makes the present generals not put their foot down

  13. Any or every Indo-Pak conflict or war starts off with little intelligence. It is a fact that people across have initial advantage. Mujaheddin and other terrorist Groups feed them almost real time intelligence. Indian perhaps may continue to suffer from this disadvantage. Though they do make up in the execution phase. Which is rather late.

  14. Excellent synopsis by the Air Marshal. “The BJP government decided to convert the whole situation to its advantage by exploiting the emotions of the nation” – the (same ?) BJP is rising on the horizon to rule India again as the Congress has gone on a suicidal course ! I guess, there is a “mini repeat” of Kargil very recently in Ladakh at the Chumar base on the Chinese border near Chusul. It will most interesting to know this Air Marshal’s insightful analysis of this incident.

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