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July 27, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ General Ved Prakash Malik

'Kargil campaign is good tonic for the country and army'

When Major General (retired) Ashok K Mehta interviewed General Ved Prakash Malik, the army chief of staff was of the firm belief that the war was not over yet. He warned that we are "dealing with an enemy who is unpredictable, unreliable and tell lies."

At what stage were you most worried during the war?

Well, in the beginning, just when it all started, there was anxiety as the picture was not very clear. Later, it was during the battle for Tololing heights and Point 5140 in Drass that I kept my fingers crossed. That was the success that I was looking for.

When did you realise that the army was over the hump?

It was after the capture of the Tiger Hill, Point 4875 and Point 5303 in Drass. And Point 5203 in Batalik.

What would you have done had the enemy cut off the Leh road and/or occupied the Zojila Pass?

If he had just cut the road, I would have attacked him from the east and west. I brought in 6 Mountain Division partly through Upshi-Manali and the rest through Zojila. Had Zojila been lost, it would have forced the conflict beyond the LoC -- a much wider conflict.

To what do you attribute the success of the operations?

The strength of our jawans, the strength of military leadership -- from commanding officers down to junior officers, particularly young officers who have led the boys from up front. Other than this is the abundance of regimental spirit. Take the recovery of Major Saravanan's body from Jubar by 1 Bihar. The jawans kept vigil for 25 days and refused to withdraw till the body was recovered.

Artillery has been a significant ingredient of success. Also, the air-strikes on logistic bases such as Mantho Dhalo and precision strikes on Tiger Hill. Air was not as effective against enemy posts, but the IAF kept innovating and were ever willing.

Who fought the battles?

The divisional commanders and below. They were involved in the planning and conduct of operations with the corps and army commander overseeing.

Anything else on the war?

I have seen commanders down in the dumps one day rise in spirit after a nudge -- a stick-and-carrot works. It is important for senior commanders to visit the battle zone without interfering in its conduct. I made six trips to the front and I don't think I made myself objectionable. In fact, I could help by arranging the immediate needs for battle -- air photos, binoculars, guns --bypassing normal channels.

Did you get a free hand to fight the war?

Yes, except for the restriction on crossing the LoC. I will not, at this stage, say anything more on this as the war is not over. The decision not to cross it initially was correct. The three service chiefs would meet the Cabinet every day and were kept informed of the non-military aspects of the war.

Did you have any problems at all?

Not really. I won't discuss the larger problems right now. But there was no interference from any quarter in the conduct of the campaign.

But crossing the LoC..?

The operations are not over, so I won't say anything more on this. But there were many positive aspects of civil-military relations. There was close co-ordination and harmony with the ministry of external affairs. I'd been kept informed and consulted where necessary, including by the national security adviser.

All the three service chiefs have been part of the consultation process but I'm the one most intimately involved in the war. The navy has played its role and made its own contribution to the war effort. I'm afraid I cannot tell you how.

Why did the army wait 50 years to declare 1999 the Year of the Jawan?

You should ask me why I declared it now, not why it did not happen in the past. I cannot answer for the past. The army and the nation needed to focus on the jawan, his strengths, and make up his shortcomings in welfare, career management, training and most of all, his izzat.

There is a comprehensive plan for addressing these problems in every army command. The aim is to improve the quality of life and other facilities for the jawan. The state of transit camps has been improved, he can now travel by air to the North-East and J&K and other facilities are in the pipeline. But this is not a job for the army alone. The country, the people and the government of the day have to get together for this.

Are you relieved the war is over?

As I told you, for me it is not over. I do not trust Pakistan. He may not leave!

But I am more confident now after Kargil about the Indian armed forces juggernaut. It is moving and is effective. One feels sorry for the human losses we have suffered. But the Kargil campaign is a good tonic for the country and the army. The credit for this must go to the jawan.

We owe it to the jawans for reminding the nation to be prepared and conscious of its security needs.

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