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.
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.