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'It will be a matter of great dishonour if you lose a body to the enemy'

The Major General Ashok Mehta Chat

Major General Ashok Mehta had his problems with a slow and unsteady line, a factor with irritated readers anxious to quiz him about the Kargil issue and possible solutions. But, in the end, while their fears weren't altogether assuaged, they left the chat with a better understanding of the problem.

Major General Ashok Mehta (Wed Jun 2 1999 7:32 IST)
Hello! I am here, ready for your questions.

Sasikala (Wed Jun 2 1999 7:9 IST)
Can you describe to us, how is the Kargil area? How was it possible for these intruders to land up at that place without Indian military sensing trouble?

Major General Ashok Mehta (Wed Jun 2 1999 7:43 IST)
Sasikala: The Kargil area consists of about 180 km of very high mountains ranging from 14,000 to 18,000 feet. This area is critical because there is an important road that runs from Srinagar to Leh across the Zoji La pass, which is 11,000 feet high. There are four main sub-sectors in Kargil: these are Drass, Kaksar, Kargil and Batalik. The distance from the road and the Line of Control where the Pakistanis are located is approximately varying in distance from 10 to 15 km as the crow flies.

Now your question about how did these people get inside. Since this area is a very large one, there are some pretty big gaps between our military posts on the Line of Control. These gaps are unoccupied. The Pakistani regulars, backed up by the Taliban from Afghanistan, stealthily crossed the LoC through the gaps and came into the unoccupied areas. At present, there are four areas of intrusions, that is where the intruders have come in. These are, from west to east, Mashkoh, Drass, Kaksar and Batalik.

The size of each of these intrusions varies from about seven to eight km in width and five to six km in depth. In normal circumstances, these intruders should not have been able to come in, but it seems there has been some laxity in the surveillance in this region. Another reason for this problem is the fact that these unoccupied areas are mostly glaciated and snow-clad and regarded as inaccessible.

A couple of years ago, our soldiers occupied some of these areas, but later on, for some reason, they stopped holding these posts. So you can see that it is a combination of a bigger lapse of intelligence and a smaller deficiency in ground surveillance and general alertness.

eagle (Wed Jun 2 1999 7:44 IST)
Why is the Indian Army always reactive and not proactive in Kashmir? Isn't history repeating itself when Pakistanis keep attacking India (like Prithvi Raj Chauhan)? When will Indian Army be proactive in Kashmir to keep the pressure on Pakistan and not the reverse?

Major General Ashok Mehta (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:7 IST)
Sorry for the delay, VSNL problems in Delhi!

EAGLE: The reactive nature of the Indian State is a legacy of history. Even before Partition, there were problems, internal disorder and India was never a nation state. It was only after the British left India that we began to handle national security. But our leaders were far too preoccupied in matters of politics and neglected the aspect of defence and national security.

Soon after Independence, we went into J&K, liberation of Junagadh, Hyderabad, Goa. So our security is completely defensive. That is, the defence of our inch of our territory became our creed and led to a rather passive mentality.

Gopinath MM (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:7 IST)
Major General Saab, our newspapers have been giving details of our casualties and lost lives but not much is reported about the other side. WE NEED TO KNOW, SIR!

Major General Ashok Mehta (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:11 IST)
Gopinath MM: In battle, both sides are very careful about recovering their casualties. It is a sacred task to bring back the wounded and the dead bodies. It will be a matter of great dishonour if you lose a body to the enemy.

As far as our casualties are concerned, these are accurate and based on headcount. In the case of the enemy, in this case the intruders, some bodies are still lying around in the place of fighting on the mountain tops. Most of the casualties would have been taken away by the Pakistanis. The figure of casualties on the other side are based on radio intercepts and should be accurate.

SANTOSH PAWAR (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:1 IST)
General Mehta, despite India having advanced technologies like satellites and advanced fighter aircraft, why are they not using these to pinpoint and eliminate these intruders, why are the jawans and pilots being risked by the conventional means of warfare.

Major General Ashok Mehta (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:16 IST)
Santosh Pawar: First of all I want to correct you about the state of our technology. We do have a satellite but it is not dedicated for defence. As far as the aircraft, these too do not have the kind of smart weapons which we see being used in Kosovo.

But having said that, let me add, in the mountains, air strikes are generally not effective because of the weather and the difficulty of the terrain, no matter how sophisticated the equipment. However, air power has one positive advantage. It is a great morale booster for our own troops. So therefore I agree that we should not risk precious human lives in evicting the intruders, in the mountain, physical eviction is the only course of action at present.

Babu (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:1 IST)
Can we believe that the infiltrators lost some 500 of their men?

Major General Ashok Mehta (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:20 IST)
Babu: Your contention is correct. The tendency is for both sides to exaggerate the casualties inflicted without corroborating that with any evidence. In this case, assuming that 1,000 infiltrators came in, there is no way that 500 would have been lost. A more reasonable figure would be 150 to 200.

patroit (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:4 IST)
How long will it take to win?

Major General Ashok Mehta (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:23 IST)
patriot: It is going to be a long slanging match. The problem is at present, we are not completely sure of the disposition of the intruders. As we keep closing in, we keep getting more information on the strength and nature of the defensive capacities of the posts set up by them. In any case, in the mountains, it takes a long time to prepare, plan, and acclimatise soldiers for fighting at altitudes of 16,000 to 17,000 feet. Assuming there are roughly 50 to 60 posts, and one can't be sure about this figure, I would say that it could take anything from two to three months provided the intruders do not decide to vacate on their own.

sravan (Wed Jun 2 1999 7:55 IST)
Is there a chance of a nuclear war?

Major General Ashok Mehta (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:28 IST)
Sravan: The short answer to your question about a possible nuclear war is no. Because both sides are aware of the horrible destruction that can be caused by the use of nuclear weapons.

In any case, these weapons are meant not for use but to prevent a conventional war. India and Pakistan have not fought any war since 1971, especially since 1990, when both sides were believed to have acquired a nuclear weapons capability with bombs in the basement. This was regarded as an adequate deterrent to war.

Major General Ashok Mehta (Wed Jun 2 1999 8:30 IST)
I enjoyed the session a lot and will be back some time next week. Thank you and good night!

Questions Major General Ashok Mehta didn't answer