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The Rediff Special/Wing Commander R V Parasnis (Retd)

Pak misadventure in Kargil: The road ahead

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Not many countries of the size of India, have faced consistent hegemonistic designs and threats, wars on full scale and/or proxy wars on its territory from smaller neighbours. Possibly, we are the sole example. A small country like Pakistan has forced three wars on us, has illegally and by war-like activity occupied two-third part of the original Kashmir state, which had legally joined the Indian Union.

Not content with that, Pakistan has been waging a proxy war against us for decades by giving open support and use of its territory first to Khalistani terrorists and later by subverting and misguiding a large number of Kashmiri youth led by some of Pak army regulars and foreign mercenaries. Now that the Kashmiri populace has finally been disenchanted with the sinister Pakistani designs after a decade long exposure and the youth is no longer joining the militant ranks, Pakistan has brought in a large number of international terrorists and even its own army regulars disguised as mujahideen to keep the flames burning.

Where does Pakistan find courage to take on India, even after repeatedly suffering defeats in wars? Support from US, China and Islamic states? No doubt, but there are other reasons as well.

It is quite clear that India is perceived as a weak-willed state. Our political rulers lack the concept of a sovereign state. Of all the leaders, it was the great statesman of the calibre of Jawaharlal Nehru, who stopped our army from liberating the whole of Pakistan occupied Kashmir in 1948 and worse, internationalised the issue by taking the matter to the UN. The bitter fruit of this folly we continue to suffer even today and there is no respite in sight. The loss in terms of money and human lives has been incalculable.

The weak-kneed behaviour of our leaders is ably supported by some of our so called peace-loving intellectuals, as also the emotional prize winning writer whose world and God was destroyed because India exploded a hydrogen bomb in Pokhran and their vociferous protests against arms race and development of nuclear weapons.

Sadly, none of them have a foggiest idea of security and the long term national interests and the fact that peace is not the luxury of the weak. Our media too has no direction and keeps swinging between two extreme points of view. After taking the reins of the country in their hands, much was expected from the BJP, which had talked of hot pursuits of militants into their support bases in enemy territory when they were in the Opposition, but to no avail. The Kashmir situation has only worsened.

This time Pakistan has dared to send in a very large number of heavily armed infiltrators backed by the Pak regular army to occupy our territory near the Line of Control in Ladakh on commanding heights bringing the Srinagar-Leh highway under threat. This is nothing short of naked aggression and shows scant regard for international law and our own military might.

As usual the elaborate infiltration and follow-up plans which needed the Pakistani government sanction as also the long and arduous execution of this plan remained a secret from us which is a major intelligence failure. It is the repetition of 1948, 1962 and 1965. Worse, we failed to gauge the enemy's designs ever since they started unprecedented heavy shelling in Kargil and surrounding areas from August 1998. The shelling also continued for an unusually long period, but our security agencies never smelt a rat. Even the large-scale infiltration went unnoticed. That brings into focus vigilance failure not only on behalf of the intelligence agencies, but also the BSF and the army.

Finally on May 6, 1999, the Indian army detected the infiltrators occupying strategic positions in our territory. Even then we were slow to react all our operations conducted so far give the impression of being ad hoc knee-jerk type reaction, though I am sure, as the surprise is now over and alertness has set in, we will display hard professionalism soon. Care must be taken, however, to avoid both over confidence as well as abundant caution.

Immediate aerial reconnaissance after the detection of the infiltrators on our soil, would have brought out the enemy dispositions early enough and that would have helped us plan a suitable strategy to reduce army casualties. Today we have even the reconnaissance satellite in orbit. Then why have we failed to keep the critical areas under surveillance? High direction and co-ordination of various surveillance agencies is positively lacking.

After proper reconnaissance, a well thought out and swift action plan should have been arrived at in total secrecy and tactical surprise should have been achieved with sudden air strikes followed by army assaults on the softened targets. Instead, our government, which was so particular about secrecy in the Admiral Bhagwat episode, announced our plans and intentions to the whole world. Our prime minister, as is our custom, 'decently' warned and prepared Nawaz Sharief in advance and our young men at the borders and the pilots with their aircraft have paid the price. National security cannot be thus sacrificed on the altar of decency.

It is now learnt that our defence minister after reassuring the prime minister asked him to leave the matter entirely in his charge and then neglected national security at a critical time for over two weeks, and now while a crucial battle is raging in the high Himalayas, our Defence Minister George Fernandes is busy defending Nawaz Sharief and the infamous ISI -- by George, our George deserves an unceremonious sack!

We have also so far rejected the only effective remedy there is -- to make incursions into those parts of the PoK across the LoC, that would give us the geographical advantage to completely isolate the infiltrators or at least affect their support and supply lines effectively. That would also, for a change, grant us the choice of the time and place for action and permit us to seize the initiative into our hands. Our tactic should be to concentrate our forces at key locations rather than spreading action over a larger areas and thus diluting the forces.

Fighting to free the presently occupied areas of Kargil, Dras and Batalik is merely a defensive action, costly in terms of efforts and disproportionately heavy in terms of casualties. True to our national character, we have selected the defensive course of action. It may not be out of place to remind the readers of the courageous decision of Late Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had permitted the army to cross the international border to open two fronts, towards Lahore and Sialkot, so as to ease the pressure on Chhamb-Jaurian and save the national highway to Kashmir from getting cut-off in 1965, a decision that really saved Kashmir then.

Be as it may, use of air power to evict the infiltrators is a right decision under the circumstances but again it could have been taken speedily, depriving the enemy time to disperse, dig-in and also take counter measures. It must, however, be realised that ground support by jet fighters in mountainous terrain is an exceedingly difficult job. In fact maneuvering the jet aircraft in the mountains at around 18,000 feet high itself is a tough task. Then the fighter pilots flying at 550 miles an hour find it extremely difficult to spot well-camouflaged targets and for guidance need the services of a Forward Air Controller positioned with the forward-most troops.

A few hundred well dispersed infiltrators do not really provide a very good target for air power. Worse, conventional weapons such as free fall high explosive bombs and strafing attacks with rockets and machine guns are not likely to give the desired results. The enemy are also equipped with the Stinger, the world's best shoulder fired Surface-to-Air Missile. There are, thus, tremendous limitations on the use of air power in the target area under discussion.

The need of the hour is the Precision Guided Munitions -- mainly laser and television guided bombs and fire and forget stand-off weapons with appropriate warheads, especially napalm, which is ideal to flush out well dug-in troops and cluster bombs which cover a larger area in destruction pattern (a cluster bomb carries a large number of small bomblets which spread over a large area). Sadly, we are rather miserly in attitude while considering the use of PGMs and standoff weapons in action on account of their high cost.

I wonder whether loss of aircraft and pilots is cheaper! Flying into hostile terrain to get a pot shot at the enemy could easily prove futile because of not only the risk of getting shot by shoulder fired missiles, such as the Stinger, but also because of geographical difficulties faced by jet fighters in operating and aiming fire in the mountains. Stand-off weapons help you to avoid flying through that extremely hostile final run-in by firing from distance and turning away. Whereas the PGMs give you virtually pin-point accuracy in hitting the target. Then the MIG-21 is hardly the aircraft for the ground attack role. It is not a stable platform for accurate ground attack.

The helicopter gunships would be an ideal attack force but have problems operating at heights like 18,000 feet. Therefore, a combination of helicopter gunships and ground attack fighters like the Sukhoi-30, Jaguar and Mirage-2000 will have to be used. Rather expensive aircraft, these, to be risked for ground action but perhaps justifiable under the circumstances! After all, we have limited the choice of the actions, by our own will or the lack of it.

These aircraft can also defend themselves better with their Electronic Counter Measures, chaff and flares to misguide enemy's missiles. Also routing of the aircraft to the target area and back must be carefully chosen to avoid being fired at en-route. We must neutralise enemy radars by use of ECM and Anti-Radiation Missiles. We must consider positioning Airborne Warning And Control System, even though they are still under development in India and Combat Air Patrol appropriately for giving protection to our ground-attack strike force, as the aerial battle escalates and Pakistan Air Force intervention appears imminent.

No doubt, the Indian Air Force is considering all these measures, but the question is why didn't they do so in the first place? They had enough time for preparation and planning and are well aware of the present age war scenario. History has it that IAF had successfully stemmed the Pakistani armoured thrust in Chhamb-Jaurian in 1965, but when the second wave of ground attack aircraft reached the front line, all but one were shot down by the waiting Pakistani CAP. A somewhat similar thing has happened again in the Kargil sector now. Must we always learn the lessons the hard way? Also, loss of aircraft on way to combat on account of a technical snag is a serious cause for concern.

As luck would have it, the world community, for a change, is on our side. It is convinced of Pakistani aggression in this case and our customary 'maturity and restraint' policy has gone in our favour. We are now entirely within our right to take to calculated aggression. A purely defensive attitude has never achieved anything for anyone and a hawkish attitude is not the prerogative of Pakistan alone.

But, herein lies the tricky decision. Pakistan's operation so far has been a well planned one and executed to perfection. The only thing that went against them is that we detected their presence on our soil earlier than they expected. Their full game plan is not yet revealed to us. Could there be something that does not meet the eye? They appear to be fully prepared for all out war! Coupled with this is the fact that for the first time we find the Americans appearing to support us against Pakistan. At least they have admitted without ambiguity that Pakistani infiltrators are occupying territory on the Indian side of the LoC and that the IAF air strikes have been entirely within Indian territory and that none of the bombs had fallen on Pakistani side at all.

And yet the US has not made any special effort to force the Pakistanis to cease fire and withdraw. Are they edging us on to fight? Do they really want the war to escalate into a no holds barred situation? Could it be their intention to have the two South Asian nations destroy each other's nuclear capability? Are they involved with Pakistan in their game-plan to have the crisis escalate on Indian initiative and then use it to open a diplomatic offensive and force international intervention in Kashmir to arrive at a solution tilting in their favour? Or are they genuinely trying to suppress the Pakistani aggressive instinct?

Time alone will tell. Hence our decision, at this stage, has to be a carefully calculated one and aggressive but without foolhardy elements and above all backed by full preparation to face all the likely eventualities.

In the end it is felt that Pakistan must realise the futility of this misadventure which is bound to end in considerable destruction of their country in case of all-out war, while India can well afford whatever damage it may suffer on account of its strategic depth and that is true for a nuclear war too.

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