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July 18, 1999
Fernandes again denies intelligence failure
Defence Minister George Fernandes has once again refused to accept that Kargil was a massive intelligence failure.
In an interview with STAR News, he argued that more than half the 140km border had not been under constant surveillance for the last 27 years. "So how can we suddenly say there has been an intelligence failure? You cannot expect us to have been in their operations room to know exactly what their moves were."
Fernandes also refused to retract his statement that the Pakistan Army had planned the infiltration without Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief being fully aware of it. "I have always believed that there are centres of power in Pakistan and I stand by my statement."
He said Pakistan had betrayed India's trust and would find it hard to win it back.
Asked to explain his comment at the start of the conflict that the matter would be sorted out in 48 hours, Fernandes said it was not an off-the-cuff remark, but was based on the assessment of army officers at that time.
The understanding then was that the infiltrators were on only three peaks or ridges, and since they had been already thrown away from half the ridge, they would be removed from the rest within 48 hours.
On whether he expected the terrorists to try and open new fronts or intensify their insurgency, he said, "There is no question of opening new fronts. The fact is that from Gurez down to Akhnoor we have posts that are under attack on a daily basis and we have to fight back. We shoot back on a daily basis and there are casualties on both sides, except that the country has not taken notice of this."
He said the raw courage of the men and the effectiveness of the air force were what turned the tide. No one had believed the extent to which the air force would be able to deal a mortal blow to the enemy concentrations and supply lines, he said.
He said one of the lessons of Kargil is the need to ensure better defence preparedness through greater investment.
"This has been a burden of the past. As far as I am concerned, we will do whatever we can to ensure that the services get the equipment they need."
He said arrangements are being made to disburse funds to the families of the soldiers killed in Kargil within 24 hours of receiving the relevant documents.
He also said that at a meeting of the National Defence Committee, it was decided to extend the benefits that are being given to the victims of Kargil to the families of those killed or injured in previous wars. This will also apply to the operation in Sri Lanka where 1,100 lives were lost.
But the defence minister feared that the deeds of the soldiers would soon be forgotten. "I have received complaints from officers that railway booking clerks are asking for bribes from those going to the front. Why just blame politicians, as a nation we have to learn how to care."
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