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'Intelligence failure led to Kargil'

By A Special Correspondent in Delhi
February 12, 2003 16:02 IST
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The Kargil conflict was the result of systemic and intelligence failures, a US study says.

A paper presented by a researcher with the Center for Contemporary Conflict, funded by the Pentagon, says despite India's well-organized intelligence set-up, Pakistan surprised it in the 1998 Himalayan intrusion.

The Center has been looking into the Kargil conflict and had in May 2002 organized a seminar in Monterey, California -- which is where it is based -- attended by retired civilian and military officers as well as embassy personnel from India and Pakistan.

The paper, Kargil Conflict: A Systemic and an Intelligence Failure, is authored by Surinder Rana, a retired Indian Army officer currently working with the Center, and Dr James J Wirtz of the Naval Postgraduate School.

It was presented at the Center's second seminar in New Delhi last September.

The Indian government has all along maintained there was no intelligence failure in Kargil.

'In April 1999,' says the paper, expected to be published as part of a book later, 'the Indian army was surprised as they did not know about the presence of intruders in Kargil and till late as mid-May they didn't know of their identity, dispositions and actual numbers inside the Indian territory. Was it an intelligence failure? The obvious answer is yes.'

'There is a sharp military asymmetry between India and Pakistan,' the researchers say. 'Pakistan, which is the weaker power in this equation, naturally finds surprise an attractive option. But because achieving surprise is a risky proposition and because it allows the weaker party to consider initiatives and outcomes that otherwise are beyond its capabilities, the victim of surprise (in this case India) often dismisses potential surprise scenarios as improbable.'

The researchers have this to say of India's history of intelligence gathering:

'The sovereign ran the state from a palace/fort, which formed the center of power. The sovereign collected information about the affairs of the state outside the palace through their agents. Inside the palace the information collection invariably used to be done by eunuchs.

'These palace spies drew strength from their proximity to the sovereign, and wielded considerable influence without accountability. India's contemporary domestic intelligence agencies have inherited traits of these palace informers, such as: always maintaining an aura of secrecy and elitism, keeping the ruling political establishment and bureaucracy in good humor, and always ready to explain a failure on external as well as on internal fronts.'

The paper says, 'At the heart of the intelligence problem in India are the limits of human cognition that constrain the ability of intelligence people to anticipate the unexpected or novel, especially if the future fails to match their existing analytical concepts, beliefs or assumptions.'

According to Rana and Wirtz, two glaring weaknesses in the Indian intelligence apparatus are:

'Lack of control: The Indian situation is characteristic of a highly bureaucratized and politicized outside control and a loose, largely undefined set of rules governing the inner functioning of intelligence agencies. There is no legal, constitutional or legislative control of intelligence in India.

'Lack of coordination: Indian intelligence agencies are known to be working at cross-purposes, without any visible lack of coordination.'

The paper alleges a rivalry between the Research and Analysis Wing and Military Intelligence in 1987-89 cost the Indian Army many lives.

'There were even reports of RAW helping the LTTE [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka] by providing them with advance information about the army operations resulting in avoidable loses to Indian army,' the paper says.

Also, due to the lack of coordination between the RAW and Intelligence Bureau, Indian policymakers often lack the complete picture of the nation's security, according to the paper.

Two other areas of weaknesses the paper quotes are:

'Lack of transparency: No political party has ever shown inclination to make intelligence agencies transparent or accountable to the executive as well as the taxpayers through Parliament.

'Functional incoherence: The Indian army has increasingly got sucked into roles such as maintenance of internal security, anti-terrorism and counterinsurgency and even maintenance of law and order.'

Rana, an Indian Army officer from 1978 to 2001 who specializes in counter-terrorism, security and arms control, also writes about the Indian Army's dissatisfaction with RAW.

He says:

a. RAW reports sent to the army are vague;

b. RAW field operatives are reluctant to share information with army counterparts;

c. RAW's attitude is ‘take it or leave it; we don't care for your views;'

d. when confronted with difficult situation like Kagil, RAW evades responsibility by saying they are meant for 'gathering strategic intelligence and not tactical intelligence, which is MI's responsibility.'

'India's political establishment also focused on heightened terrorist activity in Jammu and Kashmir and thus ruled out major armed incursion. Indian intelligence agencies had continued to direct their efforts based upon prevailing national threat perception in the early 1999, which did not foresee Kargil. Hence, if there was a failure the entire system had failed,' the paper says.

Rana writes Pakistan carried out the offensive to 'achieve a significant military victory that would rejuvenate waning insurgency in Kashmir and also provide them a strategic leverage against the Indian Army's deployment in Siachen glacier.'

While explaining the intelligence failure, the paper says, 'In their enthusiasm for [Pakistan Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif,' the Indian government diluted intelligence policy in order to 'befriend Pakistan's Punjabis in general and Nawaz Sharif in particular.'

Another factor behind the failure, according to Rana, is that due to the non-availability of motivated recruits belonging to the minority community, it has become difficult to penetrate organizations like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.

Rana says though Brigadier Surinder Singh, commander of the 121 Brigade responsible for Kargil's defense, was absolved by the Kargil Review Committee, from a military perspective Singh's decision not to send patrols after visualizing the Pakistani threats was irrational.

Singh had argued he would 'be held accountable if the patrols suffered weather casualties.'

Quoting a report, the paper says, 'Pakistan army had apparently studied Indian Army's operational pattern and they had intruded in those areas which were vacated by Indians also not kept under ground reconnaissance surveillance by the Indian Army.

'There is ample information available which suggests that intrusions had begun in December 1998 and by March 1999 Pakistan had established 132 posts inside Indian territory covering an area of 100 km in width to 7 to 15 km in depth.'

'The Indian government and armed forces have lived with these systemic weaknesses over the years; in the changed regional security situation -- especially with the introduction of nuclear weapons -- such anomalies, if not overcome, could lead to catastrophic results.

'Indian officials and security experts are of the opinion that unless structural changes are matched with attitudinal changes in the Indian polity, the existing systemic weaknesses in the security apparatus are likely to continue thus leading to future surprises,' Rana said

This report was first published in India Abroad, the newspaper owned by, in its February 7, 2003 issue


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A Special Correspondent in Delhi