Military & Aerospace

20 year after Kargil: India's Military Modernisation remains unaddressed
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Issue Courtesy: South Asia Monitor | Date : 16 Jul , 2019

July 2019 marks the 20th anniversary  of the Kargil war that caught India by surprise in the summer of 1999.  Pakistani troops under the guise of being ‘irregulars’  violated Indian territorial sovereignty  in the Kargil sector of the Himalayas and, to the credit of the  then Vajpayee led government, despite various constraints –  lack of appropriate resources  being the most visible – the Indian military was able to ensure a victory that compelled Pakistan to withdraw from the mountain peaks it had illegally occupied. 

The fact that the Kargil war took  place a year after India and Pakistan had acquired nuclear weapons added to the distinctive nature of the conflict : two nuclear armed neighbors in a war-like situation, albeit in a limited geographical area and a territorial dispute was at the core of the conflict.   

While then Pakistan Prime Minister  Nawaz  Sharif  dashed to Washington DC  and met with US President Bill Clinton  on July 4 to negotiate the terms of the unilateral Pakistani withdrawal,  India celebrated the  Kargil  “victory”  later in the month, when all the intruders were evicted.   The 20th anniversary  celebrations this year will be spread over three days from July 25-27 and. given that national security was a major plank for the emphatic electoral  victory of the Modi-led BJP in the  2019 election, this event will receive a high degree of political attention and involvement. 

Kargil remains a tactically audacious intrusion into India and a high-stakes gamble by the Pakistani army chief at the time, General Pervez Musharraf, who later became that country’s president. However,  the resolve and restraint demonstrated by the Indian leadership ensured  that  the more abiding strategic gain accrued to India. The global community led by the USA admonished the Pakistani military for its adventurism against a nuclear backdrop and commended New Delhi for its prudence in the face of grave provocation.  One may even aver  that the manner in which India conducted itself over Kargil burnished its profile as a ‘responsible’ nuclear power and laid the foundation for the Bush-Manmohan Singh nuclear rapprochement that was concluded in the fall of 2008.

Kargil was a case of India being ‘surprised’  and this had happened earlier in October 1962 in relation to China and the brief border war that followed.   Thus in the immediate aftermath of the July  victory,  the Vajpayee government set up a Kargil Review Committee led by the late K Subrahmanyam (father of the current Foreign Minister S Jaishankar)  and its principal recommendation was that the higher defence management of India and the intelligence grid of the country needed a major review and revamp.  However, it is a matter of deep concern that the Kargil  Committee report submitted in  the summer of 2000 and its many recommendations remain mired in political stasis. Thus,  20 years later, the higher defence structure of India  and the re-wiring of the   intelligence network of the country remain relatively unchanged. The only major change that has been effected in Modi 2.0 is that the National Security Adviser has been accorded cabinet rank  and has become the de facto single point security czar of the country. 

But 20 years after Kargil, the tangible military capacity of the country  and the quality of the intelligence  apparatus and the skillset of its myriad operatives remains well below the required median. The 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai in late  2008 is illustrative of this abiding chink in the national armor.   The modernization of the Indian military remains woefully unaddressed  and it is part  of the parliamentary record that the country does not have adequate war fighting inventory by way of ammunition and relatively modern platforms. Acquisitions are piecemeal and the military as an institution is being relegated by way of its institutional relevance. 

The just announced budget highlights the fiscal resource constraint that bedevils the national security aspiration. India’s trans-border military capability is predicated on the  technological index  of its air force and navy. In this financial year, the air force has been allotted a capital budget of Rs 39,302 crores  while its committed liabilities are Rs 47, 413 crores.  

For the navy the comparable figures are Rs. 23, 156 crores and Rs. 25, 461 crores. In other words, the current financial allocation for the military will only enable  payment  for that  inventory which has already been committed to and no significant new induction is possible. This is the grim reality of how bare the Indian military cupboard is – 20 years after Kargil.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Cmde C Uday Bhaskar (Retd.)

is Director of the Society for Policy Studies. 

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One thought on “20 year after Kargil: India’s Military Modernisation remains unaddressed

  1. Vajpayee very nearly betrayed the Indian Army, which somehow salvaged the situation and redeemed India’s honour. Kargil shall forever remain a black mark against this poetry spewing Pakistan centric politician. I wonder why a pompous nincompoop like Vajpayee is held in such high esteem by the Lutyens’ zone. He legitimized a rogue like Musharaff by welcoming him with open arms. Please don’t whitewash the sins of omission and commission of Atal behari vajpayee.

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