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August 4, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/Lt Gen P N Hoon (retd)

'The Pakis were supposed to be one km away from the LoC. They haven't implemented it'

Lt Gen Prem Nath Hoon General, where are you from," General Zia asked me. I paused and said: "From here." The following day Gen Zia again asked me to elaborate on his query. On knowing that I was from Abottabad, NWFP, he arranged to have me flown from Islamabad to my ancestral home for a visit. Though it looked so different, I was happy to see my home.'

Lieutenant General Prem Nath Hoon (retd) PVSM, AVSM, SM was commissioned in the Indian army two years after Partition forced him to leave Abottabad. As a child he had seen Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi visit his home and like many Indians, still has painful memories of the home he left behind.

Having served as a frontline soldier during the Chinese Aggression, the 1965 war against Pakistan, Lt Gen Hoon commanded Operation Meghdoot which captured 7,500 sq km of strategic Indian territory, illegally occupied and gradually being ceded to China by Pakistan in 1985. He was director general of military operations and retired in 1987 as General-Officer-Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command.

Quoting from the manuscript of his forthcoming book on the military and political equations during his tenure Unmasking Secrets of Turbulence, Lt Gen Hoon eloquently discussed Operation Vijay and India's defence establishment in a conversation with Archana Masih.

There is a strong belief that the battle in Kargil was a fallout of an intelligence failure and complacency on the army's part? Why do you think the situation in Kargil was allowed to fester before it was too late?

To answer this question it is very important to know what intelligence is and how the inputs in intelligence come in. Intelligence encompasses a very large area. How do you get intelligence for the country? I am talking about national security. You get it through the Intelligence Bureau. Through RAW. Satellite imagery. Aircraft. Helicopters. Through instruments that monitor areas. Patrols. Through mountaineering expeditions. Shepherds. Foreign embassies and military attaches. So intelligence gathering is a very complex procedure. I would say in this case everything failed. Every single thing failed.

But how can such a failure happen in such a sensitive area like Jammu and Kashmir, where troops have been on the alert for over a decade?

Complacency. Ineffectiveness.

Why was this complacency allowed to set in? Was it because of the Lahore bus ride?

There have been a large number of reasons. One of which you have mentioned. When a government starts thinking of peace, and I am not only talking about this government... I think even the Gujral government did the same thing. We have been talking about this since 1989. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have peace. I don't say we shouldn't make friends with our neighbours, but we started bending backwards. I think the bus diplomacy was wrong.

The PM goes in a bus and the three service chiefs in Pakistan refuse to salute him! They call him a Hindu bigot. They call him an enemy PM. When dignitaries were coming for the banquet, they were stoned. See the mood! Also see the mood of the people here. Tendulkar was run out when he accidentally hit a Pakistani player, there was an uproar. The public didn't allow the match to continue. Pitches have been dug etc. So the mood of the people was very clear to a ordinary person. Then why this euphoria? Once you do this, you refuse to believe that really there is a threat.

Even the armed forces. Even if they put up something (resistance), which I have no doubt they must have, sometimes it may not be taken seriously because there is so much talk of friendship. 'Do not talk about war. We are in the new millennium. There is a 'We-want-peace-kind-of-attitude.' So this feeling percolates down. Then not only is there a stoppage of flow of information, but whatever information is coming in gets diluted until it is thrown out.

Diluted? Do you think it is ignored?

Yes. Because it is not believed.

But it is hard to believe that the Indian army/ intelligence, which has been suspicious and aware of Pakistani designs, will sit back and allow this to happen?

Action in Kargil I take you back. How does this feeling percolate into the armed forces? As far as the men are concerned, the junior officers and the men are the bravest that you can find anywhere in this world. Disciplined and the bravest. But when this sort of thing comes, where does it start off? George Fernandes during the early stages of the war put out something in the electronic media where he showed a conversation between Parvez Musharraf and his chief of staff. He started saying that the PM wasn't involved. The ISI was not informed.

The point is: What was the defence minister conveying to the nation? Let me tell you this (the tapes) was nothing new. If anything, we have dried up our sources by showing this. Everyone hears everyone's conversation. He was trying to say that in India, we have the top brass of the armed forces on leash. And he proved it in the Bhagwat case, where the government not only did not want the public to know in spite of the fact that they said the conditions are scary. That he is (Bhagwat) a threat to national security. He is indisciplined. But still they (government) were not ready to court martial him. They were not ready for an inquiry. Because of which a government fell. The power of parliament is derived from its people. Information should be shared with the people.

Fernandes was trying to say something about Pakistan which is totally false and untrue. They (Pakistan) had planned this when Vajpayee was in Pakistan. When he was in Lahore, certainly the plan was on the anvil. And lately Brigadier Surinder Singh has brought it out. Now the people of India are aware, and to increase this awareness I have started an Armed Forces Public Awareness Forum. So I am certain that there was information, but it was not taken heed of because of the Lahore euphoria. We were even ready to buy electric power from Pakistan. I think it is the most foolish thing to do! Tomorrow if there's some misunderstanding they will cut off the power.

How does this absolve the army of the lapses?

The Indian army should not be used for internal security duty. The army is trained to kill and die. That's not internal security duty. But in the last 10 years, the army has been so involved...whether in Bihar, Arunachal, rest of the North-East... Anywhere, anyone sneezes and the army is out. They are getting detracted from their main task. I believe that some troops had been pulled out from Kashmir. Ten years back I had submitted a paper saying that the army should be withdrawn from J&K and put on the borders. Fencing etc is all nonsense. Even in Punjab, we spent crores and are spending crores in repairing the fence every year.

In a terrain like the mountains and riverines, the rivers change course and the fencing gets washed away. And they say we want Rs 30 crores. Where does the 30 crores go? I am sure it is not in that fence. Instead of that, what have I have been suggesting throughout is that in J&K -- the villages that are right on the LoC -- those people should be pulled back and a kilometre or a kilometre-and-a-half of no man's land created. The villagers should be rehabilitated. After which the border should be totally sanitised.

Sanitising means -- anyone crossing the border, whether a bird or a man, just shoot. If there is an infiltration across the border, just shoot and bury. But no one is interested. That's why I say that everything is politicised -- Punjab, Kashmir... the army. Stop politicising the army. If you politicise the army, national security is in jeopardy.

In your opinion, with the Lahore Diplomacy and the Bhagwat case, the armed forces is already politicised...

Like the police force. In spite of the Dharam Vira report, it is completely politicised. So are we going to do the same to the army. At your peril!

If vital information has been ignored by the army then it spells a very critical situation. India has lost nearly 500 of its men -- its youth. In the subsequent euphoria that has followed with the victory, do you think these lapses in the higher rungs of the army -- the intelligence could be overlooked?

The guns boom in Kargil Firstly, let me tell you it is no victory at all. Someone has crossed into your territory and your troops are not allowed to cross over. The terrain is such that troops can proceed in a single file at heights over 15,000 feet. That is why a lot of young officers died. Then there was the nonsense of giving safe passage. We have given them safe passage! We stopped firing at the enemy for 12 hours so that they could vacate. Then it was for 48 hours and it carried on. In that period what happened?

The jawans say our men were lying there injured. Dead. Their bodies came back mutilated. And here we could see the intruders cross over and the officers did not allow us to shoot them. Agreed that was a government decision, but did the government think what effect it would have on the morale of the jawan?

Even when the Pakistanis left they planted mines. So we had another 70 to 100 casualties after that. The DGMO said we have vacated the areas which were occupied by the intruders, and I take his word. But Pakis are still on certain heights. They are engaging our troops and after the ceasefire there have been 70 casualties. The Pakis haven't even fulfilled the promises of the DGMOs when they met in Wagah. They were supposed to be one km away from the LoC. They haven't implemented it. The border is delineated on the map, it is not demarcated on the ground like the international boundary.

So maybe Uncle Sam will be required to come and see where the LoC runs. So there is no question of we not internationalising the situation, it has already been internationalised. It is okay if we have the G-8, ASEAN, USA on our side, but please remember why has America gone whole hog to back India? They themselves are rattled by Bin Laden and will go all the way as far as militancy and Islamic fundamentalism is concerned. But recently our petroleum minister has given some aid to Iraq and America has taken strong exception. They are there for their own interest, and quite rightly so. Every country should have its own interest.

Coming back to those who have been responsible for what has happened in the last couple of months, who is to blame?

I think it is for the people of India to decide. There has been an inquiry ordered by the government. I know all the three directors that are there. They are very good friends of mine. They are very good people, but I think nothing is going to come out of it. It is not under the Inquiry Act where they can ask anyone to come and give evidence. I think the government is saying it is going to go into the lapses that happened 40 years ago. Look after what has gone wrong now! 40 years ago, whatever Operation we have fought, except for 1962 -- which was botched up -- was discussed in Parliament and the mistakes were accepted by the PM.

Even then there was political interference. 1962 happened also because of political interference. Krishna Menon in 1961 wanted to promote certain officers in the army. He wanted B M Kaul to be elevated. Thimayya was the chief. I believe Krishna Menon as defence minister was always going to the PM and telling him all sorts of things. So Kaul was promoted, just like Harinder Singh. See the similarity?

After Kaul's promotion Thimayya resigned. Parliament was in session, Thimayya was called. Look at the sagacity of the man, Jawaharlal asked him to withdraw his resignation and Thimayya agreed. The 1962 war broke out, Kaul was the corps commander -- he went with his troops and there was a total debacle. Why are you blaming the army? Why are you blaming the politician?

Once a political decision is given whether it is Sri Lanka, Siachen -- (earlier) what clear directions used to come because I have dealt with the PMs. I was surprised to recall that when I was in Ladakh briefing the PM (Indira Gandhi) about Siachen, I couldn't remember who the defence minister was. Because he never came into the picture.

The PM came four times, we had discussions and she gave the orders to go ahead. So if I fail there, why should I blame her? It's more a military that have to take the decision. Even in Blue Star. I don't blame the politician. They said in 1962 the morale of the armed force wasn't affected, I know it was. And we didn't have a Thimayya in the others to resign.

So in light of this and the Kargil crisis, what kind of a chief has General Ved Prakash Malik been to his men?

General Hoon's photograph: Jewella C Miranda

'If we give away our territory we are going to run into trouble tomorrow' The General Hoon interview continues

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