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July 26, 1999


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Major General Ashok K Mehta

'The figure of 395 killed may have been reduced
by one third'

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How serious are the charges of subversion by Kargil natives and the rest of J&K?

This is a serious risk India has lived with for long. It has resisted acting against suspects or traitors for political reasons. The latest infiltration of the Border Security Force camp in Bandipora is an example. But the most disturbing incident occurred in early June in Turtuk. At least one dozen Pakistani infiltrators with 30 weapons were ambushed near Turtuk. They were part of a plan to turn the Siachen defences and recapture territory lost in 1971 to the Tiger of Turtuk, Col Rinchen, MVC and bar.

Four villages in Turtuk, of Balti Muslims, were implicated in this operation. Despite the army's insistence on their removal from the sensitive border area, only 11 families were deported. There are other tales of sabotage and subversion from Kargil. It is time to decide what is more important. Defence of suspects or defence of LoC.

How useful was the information war?

Like ground combat, this also took time picking up. This was fought by different agencies and at different levels. The predominant theme was Pakistan's betrayal of India and the latter's righteous cause in launching the military riposte. But the role of the Indian media and the public mood and support were the force multipliers which defeated Pakistan's info war based on denials. The army had set up a special cell for its info and psywar.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was its prime practitioner. He claimed vijay on July 10 even before Pakistan announced withdrawals, thus preempting both Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief and President Bill Clinton from taking credit for it. He suggested that the withdrawals were forced by military victory, not US diplomacy.

Was the war politicised?

An attempt was made by the opposition parties to separate the government from the army so that it could attack the former without hurting the latter. This was resented by the military, which said: we take orders from the government. Any distinction between the two would have spread confusion in the ranks. The politicisation of the war started in the run up to the election. This will inevitably sully the image of the armed forces and hurt the jawan.

What has been the role of diplomacy?

Winning the other war, isolating Pakistan internationally and winning over Pakistan's traditional all weather ally China and strategic partner USA. It won for India the rest of the war after Tiger Hill without fighting it.

What is the cost of the war?

There is no definitive cost estimate as yet. The figures which have been bandied about range from Rs 50 billion to Rs 2.5 billion to Rs 100-150 million per day of the war. The main items are war losses, new equipment, transportation cost, aviation, air and artillery costs, compensation for casualties and now, the new costs for defending Kargil. The Sunday magazine's most liberal estimate is less than Rs 10 billion.

What was Pakistan's game plan in Kargil?

The plan was not as grandiose or complicated as announced by the United Jihad Council but rather simply to cut off the Leh road and turn the Siachen defences, the bottomline being to internationalise Kashmir. The intrusion plan was the fatal flaw. Pakistan could not afford to fight a war.

What were the military shortcomings?

Their preparations were not as sound as made out to be. Pakistan failed to exploit the wide gap north of Chorbat La, south of Turtuk now renamed as Hanif sector. This is puzzling because it is the key to Siachen.

Why did the Pakistan plan fail?

A series of miscalculations: about cutting the Leh road, carrying through the Mujahideen mask on their regular army, strong Indian military reaction, which included air-strikes, and international condemnation. These failures locked Pakistan in issuing convoluted denials: regular troops not involved, the LoC not crossed, dead bodies not Pakistanis and therefore not for theirs to accept, etc. Once their defences started crumbling, so did the morale and willingness to fight. The news for the appeal for withdrawal created panic.

What is the internal power play after the war in Pakistan?

Although Nawaz Sharief has, as before the war, emerged the strongest node of power in Pakistan, the army, the ISI and fundamentalist groups continue to call some of the shots. Sharief was unable to de-escalate the war sooner than he did because of the vested interested of each of these groups. Eventually when groups from within the establishment got together a majority view was culled. At present, publicly only the Islamic fundamentalists have opposed the withdrawal from Kargil.

Why was the Northern Light Infantry regiment singled out by Pakistan for this war?

For reasons of secrecy, to limit the movement of troops into Gilgit-Skardu. None were inducted from outside the northern areas which, according to a court ruling, is not part of Pakistan but undivided J&K. The NLI single-handedly bore the brunt of fighting and suffered 700 killed and 1200 wounded. The question being asked is, why one single regiment from a remote area was made the sacrificial goat.

Had there been no withdrawal, how long would the war have gone on?

After Tiger Hill fell on July 4, the decline in Pakistan army started. The choice became clear -- between military defeat and withdrawal. The NLI chose to retreat. Pakistan however played the charade of appealing to the Mujahideen to withdraw. Had they not, their defences would have been overrun within 10 to 15 days, latest by July 20.

Has nuclear deterrence worked in preventing an all-out war?

Yes. But thanks to Pakistan, Kargil has lent credence to the 10-year-old Western view that Kashmir is a nuclear flashpoint. This is Pakistan's negative gain, which it will live to regret. Nuclear deterrence will not work at sub-conventional, limited war level. A positive fallout from Kargil is a better perception on each side of the other's military threshold.

Why were the casualties so high?

The attacker, especially in mountains, is at a disadvantage against the defender. Artillery has accounted for nearly 80 per cent of casualties on both sides. Pakistan gunners have shown greater accuracy due to their gun locating radar, which India does not have. The delay in bringing down, from heights to bases, the wounded has led to many deaths. Had the Indian army had a fleet of high altitude helicopters and some helipads in the war zone, casualty evacuation would have been more responsive and many lives saved. The figure of 395 killed may have been reduced by one third.

What is left of Indo-Pak relations?

They are in tatters. Mutual suspicion and distrust have eroded what has painfully been developed over the years. Probably the biggest blow is at the military level. For once the Indian soldier will really loathe his Pakistani counterpart. But the door to the Lahore process will not be closed.

What are the lessons from Kargil?

What stands out most is the raw courage of soldiers and the outstanding leadership of young officers. The main lesson is in the perils of lowering operational readiness. The need for modernising intelligence, military equipment and a proper force balance has been highlighted. Kargil has underscored jointmanship.

A Kashmir policy, supported by an operational doctrine, must be invented that will persuade Pakistan to respect sanctity of the LoC.

The Kargil Crisis

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