Learning From Kargil ; What Should India Do?

New Delhi – Asia Defence News International — Eminent editor’s and researchers Arvind Gupta, S Kalyanaraman and Ashok K Behuria have written a commentary “India-Pakistan Relations After the Mumbai Terror Attacks. What should India Do?” They pointed out, India-Pakistan relations have been on a roller coaster. They reached a new low after the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008. Tensions increased to such an extent that the possibility of a war was openly talked about on both sides. However, only a couple of hours before the attacks, the foreign ministers of the two countries had appeared upbeat about the state of the peace process and the composite dialogue which had started in January 2004.

The post-Mumbai situation brings to mind the Kargil episode of May 1999. A few months before units of Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry were discovered in the icy heights of Kargil, India and Pakistan were enjoying the honeymoon that had begun with Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore. Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore, also known as the Lahore Bus Yatra, was an attempt by the two sides to normalize the bilateral relationship after the May 1998 nuclear weapons tests. Even as the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan were signing documents to normalize the relationship, the Pakistan Army was planning intrusions into Indian territory. After the Pakistan Army was forced to withdraw from the Kargil heights by Indian military operations and international condemnation and pressure, the elected civilian government was overthrown by the then Army Chief, General Parvez Musharraf, who ruled the country for the next nine years.

They said further, “there is a need to take a long-term view of Pakistan. India can do little to make Pakistan stable or unstable and should be prepared for all scenarios. If Pakistan goes down-hill, there is very little New Delhi can do about it. India can afford to wait, while external and internal factors play out in that country. It needs to improve its security machinery to deal with terrorists targeting India from Pakistani territory with or without official sponsorship. At the same time, Indian policy should be sophisti­ated enough to differentiate between the liberal and hard-line constituencies within Pakistan, the goal being to strengthen the liberals and weaken the hardliners.

In his “Kargil War : Reflections On The Tenth Anniversary,” former Chief of Army Staff, Gen V P Malik pointed out, in May 1998, India and Pakistan surprised the world by carrying out nuclear weapon tests. The tests were followed by two developments. The positive development was Lahore Summit in February 1999. In a simultaneous negative development, Pakistan initiated the Kargil war. Due to difficult terrain, inadequate intelligence and poor surveillance, it took time to clear the initial fog of war. Later, despite a self-imposed strategy, Indian forces responded with a resolve and daring that few believed was possible. The conflict terminated in a resounding politico-military triumph for India and a humiliating setback for Pakistan. The author reflects on the war, its geo-political impact and the follow up on its key lessons.

Gen Malik said, “The Kargil war was the third to be initiated by Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir. This does not include the skirmishes in Siachen and the 20-year-old Pakistan-­sponsored proxy war in the tate. The strategic conditions prevailing at present are a lot more stringent. It should be obvious by now that the J&K imbroglio cannot be resolved by military means or by militancy. India’s central premise is that the peace process with Pakistan should take place in a violence-free environment. If such a premise turns out to be unsustainable, the government tends to lose popular support for talks with Pakistan. Therefore, unless Pakistan ensures the implementation of its commitments on terrorism made in the January 2004 Islamabad Declaration in letter and spirit, there is little chance of establishing durable friendly relations between India and Pakistan. The ongoing dialogue between the two countries and the cease­fire along the LoC gives hope for peaceful, stable relations. The armed forces in India can hope for the best contingency. But they must remain prepared for the worst contingency.

Eminent journalist and visiting Professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi B.G.Verghese, “Ten years later, the Kargil War still arouses deep emotions turning around Pakistan’s gross perfidy, an intelligence failure, great heroism, military improvisation and innovation, a national upsurge, a most open inquiry leading to a comprehensive review of vital issues long closed to scrutiny and reform. Its report, prepared in record time, was uniquely presented to the nation as a commercial publication. (From Surprise to Reckon­ing : The Kargil Review Committee Report, Sage, New Delhi, December 1999.)

Verghese reminds us that “An important fallout of the Kargil War was the appointment by the National Demo­cratic Alliance (NDA) Government under Vajpayee of the Kargil Review Committee (KRC). This was composed of K Subrahmanyam, convenor of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), as chairman, Lieutenant General (Retd.), KK Hazari, former Vice-Chief of Army Staff, and myself, also a member of the NSAB, as members, and Satish Chandra, Secretary of the National Security Advisory Council Secretariat, as member-secretary. We were ably assisted by the NSAB secretariat. The terms of refer­ence were to review the events leading up to aggression by Pakistan in the Kargil sector and recommend measures to safeguard against similar armed intrusions in the future.

No commission of inquiry or judicial commission has ever delivered, or possibly will ever deliver, anything as much as the KRC did, and in so short a span of time. Commissions of inquiry have notoriously been used to delay and duck or obfuscate matters of urgent public importance, and judicial inquiries too are often procedurally hung up and lack the political and social insights that are of much greater value than purely judicial determinations.

The KRC laid bare a whole range of issues pertaining to higher defence direction, border management, intelligence gathering and its collation, analysis, and formulating a nuclear doctrine that had been locked away in musty cupboards to the detriment of national security. It laid the basis for informed public debate on subjects hitherto taboo. The government of the day must be given full credit for immediately appoint­ing a high-powered group of ministers to examine the KRC report. This it did in fairly quick time and set up four task forces to flesh out the KRC’s findings and translate them into programmes of action. This too was done and many reforms were in fact implemented. Satish Chandra’s association with this continuing process proved inval­uable, as did Subrahmanyam’s leadership in the NSAB where the KRC’s analysis fanned the basis for formulating a national security doctrine that the country finally adopted.

According to P R Chari, Research Professor of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, “The Kargil conflict can be categorized as a ‘limited war’. It was initiated by Pakistan to achieve mixed military and political objectives, but made important misjudgments that doomed the enterprise to failure. The questions discussed in this article are: Why was India surprised; why did both countries observe such great restraint; did the Kargil conflict have a nuclear dimension; and is ‘limited war’ a viable concept with nuclear deterrence obtaining in South Asia. It also argues that the Kargil conflict was an exception, in some dimensions, to the ‘stability-instability paradox’.

Chari says, “It should be noticed that, ironically, none of the salutary lessons of the Kargil limited war were learnt by India and Pakistan. Two years later a border confrontation erupted, lasting from December 200I to October 2002, which could easily have escalated to a general war and nuclear conflict between the two countries. Like the Bourbons, the leadership of the two historical adversaries had learnt nothing, but forgotten nothing.—(ADNI)

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