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July 23, 1999
T V R Shenoy
Give me blood,' Netaji said, 'and I shall give you freedom!' He was not, as his appreciative audience understood, asking them to march to the nearest blood-donation camp. He was asking them to face death and there were several thousand who followed cheerfully enough. Perhaps it was because they knew that he asked no more of them than he did of himself.
But those were different days, weren't they? It was a time when even India's princes used to sign up in the armed forces; what is more, some of them fought quite well. I am hard put to name any senior politicians -- the maharajahs of today -- who choose to send their offspring into the military services. Come to that, I don't suppose that many middle-class parents do so either.
You can't blame this on the new job options -- fashion-designing, software, the media -- that are springing up. Engineering, medicine, and the civil services are just as popular today as they were thirty-five years ago. The sad fact, something we don't acknowledge openly, is that a career in the army, navy, or air force is not very attractive. There is little respect, save in dire emergency, and even less money. (This is true of other nations too; in the United States, the elite Marine Corps complains that its men must take up part-time jobs to make ends meet.)
And the result stares us in the face: the army alone is short of 14,000 officers. All those highly-educated upper- and middle-class youths who might have otherwise filled up those vacancies are busy pursuing more lucrative jobs. Which makes it all the more weird that some of the most bloodthirsty noises during the Kargil campaign came from precisely those upper- and middle-class quarters.
''Why isn't India crossing the Line of Control when Pakistan has already breached it?'' ''We would have saved casualties by crossing the LoC to cut off the invaders' supply routes.'' ''The politicians stopped the army from crossing the LoC, which is why we had more casualties.''
I was a war-correspondent both in 1965 and in 1971, and saw more bloodshed than I ever wanted to. So, in the spirit of minimising Indian casualties, let us take up the hypothesis offered by the hawks and see what might have happened.
The first possibility is that outright war would have broken out. To relieve Pakistani pressure on Kashmir, India could have counter-punched across Punjab, with Lahore always a tempting target just across the border. But you couldn't stop with Lahore. Or Multan. Or Rawalpindi. To shatter the Pakistani forces, it would be necessary to subjugate the whole nation. And anyone who thinks this could be done without enormous casualties is living in a dream world.
Scenario two: as soon as war breaks out, the international community (deliberately ignored in the first hypothesis) intervenes. The first step is to insist on an immediate cease-fire, as happened in 1965 when Indian tanks came within two miles of Lahore. India may win several acres of prime agricultural land in west Punjab, but a cease-fire would still have left the invaders sitting pretty in Kargil. Remember that it took two months to get them out -- and in the event of all-out war neither the army nor the air force could have spared the men and equipment. Not before an armistice came into effect. And this would mean that Ladakh was effectively cut off from the rest of the country.
Right, if total war isn't possible, how about a manoeuvre in force limited to crossing just the LoC around Kargil? The short answer is that Pakistan has always held the heights; wresting those positions wouldn't have cut the casualty list. (Why Pakistan holds that ground is a different question; it goes back to Nehru's idiotic decision to thrust Kashmir before the United Nations in 1948.)
As things turned out, India was able to concentrate its fire-power in Kargil, rather than dissipate it on a 1,000-mile front. The immediate military priority -- keeping the road to Ladakh open -- was achieved. Yes, casualties were heavy, but not a fraction of what they would have been had India crossed the LoC. And to all those who think otherwise, answer this question honestly: would you still be so eager if it was your brother/son/friend who would be doing the actual fighting? If, that is, they are in the armed forces which, given those 14,000 vacancies, seems unlikely.
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