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August 18, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Major General Ashok K Mehta

'The method followed at Siachen is irrelevant in Kargil'

Kargil has revived two dormant issues: counterinsurgency, CIS and defending LoC in Kargil. The first feeds on the second. The diversion of troops from the valley to Kargil disturbed the CIS grid carefully set up over the last ten years though the Rashtriya Rifles, RR have filled some of the voids. Pakistan used Kargil as a diversion to pump in large number of Taliban into J&K.

The daring three in a row attacks in two days in Kupwara sector last week are the fallout of the thinning out of troops from the valley for Kargil. These attacks are unprecedented. For the first time militants have dared to attack a regular army (RR post), a brigade headquarter and ambushed a commanding officer's column killing him and his subedar major.

It is also the first time after three to four years that militants have confronted the army instead of going for soft targets. Previously militants had targeted army camps in Rajouri forcing the deployment of an additional division there last year. The militants have reorganised themselves with the majority of fighters being Afghan Taliban supported by local militants. They have revised their tactics: confrontations short of assault on isolated posts instead of hit and run operations.

The message is clear. Pakistan will not allow the Kargil momentum to peter out, rather insurgency dormant in the valley for a couple of years, will be rekindled and brought to full steam. Pakistan has to focus international attention on the freedom fighters and the potential nuclear flashpoint of J&K.

This time around, Pakistan will engineer serious and spectacular incidents involving in local population which will deter the holding of elections in the state. The attacks on security forces on J&K in conjunction with the ISI-sponsored arson and insurgency in the Northeast is likely to put the spotlight on deficiencies in internal security at the time of elections.

The victory in Kargil snatched from the jaws of defeat is both remarkable and a blessing in disguise. It has shown up operational deficiencies and preparedness of the armed forces, the fragility of the LoC, the failure of early warning and the true face of Pakistan. It has equally vividly demonstrated the need for a war-like response including the use of air power to the new face of insurgency. It is also clear that constructive steps have to be concurrently taken in the political and diplomatic areas.

The immediate priorities are a vigorous CIS campaign and a sound plan for manning the liberated areas of Kargil. It would appear that RR along with BSF, CRPF and state police will be used to defeat the insurgency now that the army may be freed from this role. Whatever the composition of the force, a unified intelligence and operational command is a must for its success. Eventually RR should take over the responsibility of internal security tasks in J&K. A similar framework pivoted on Assam Rifles for the Northeast is necessary. This is part of the old plan where DGs of Rashtriya and Assam Rifles would take over CIS duties from the army. The bulk of the insurgency in the valley must be eliminated this winter without carrying over its traces into the new millennium.

The second problem is defending the LoC in Kargil. This task had been exaggerated to levels of fantasy by an uninformed media. Many breathtaking models have been suggested for defending Kargil. Pakistan is being credited with having Siachenised the entire mountain wasteland between Zojila and Turtuk tying down at least two, even three, divisions! These judgements betray incomplete knowledge of terrain, manning norms and Siachen.

To start with, the politico-military connotation of Siachen on Kargil is misleading. Kargil lies within the territorial limits of the LoC whereas Siachen falls in its undemarcated zone. Three battalions deployed on the glacier along with the Saltoro watershed contest the disputed Pakistani interpretation of the extension of the LoC. The glaciated posts east of Shyok river are altitudes ranging from 18 to 20000 feet, permanently snowbound.

In Kargil each sector is different from the other. Mashkoh valley, Drass, Kaksar, Chhainikund. Shingo, Batalik, Chorbatla and now the new Hanif (after Lt Hanifuddin) sub sectors stretch across 140 km averaging 14 to 16000 feet. Before the Kargil war, four army and one BSE battalions occupied posts throughout the year but with wide gaps between brigades as well as between battalions. During summer, snow will thaw in most of these areas.

For example, the gaps between the Siachen Brigade and Kargil (Batalik) and Kargil and Gurez brigades (Mashkoh) were as large as 30 km. The inter-brigade boundaries are invariably the most vulnerable where encroachments and conflict usually start. These gaps have existed since 1972 because largescale movement of troops in a war situation was not envisaged.

Further these areas in Ladakh were regarded as unsuitable for infiltration due to the Shia and Buddhist profile of population enroute, though some intruders were intercepted in Mashkoh in 1993. Most of the gaps which have to be plugged are as different from Siachen as Mount Kilimanjaro is from Kanchjanga.

Besides the objectionable statement on Siachenisation, the other illusion is about more Kargils. There is no scope for a Kargil elsewhere on the LoC. Templates suggested for intensified deployment to prevent recurrence of intrusions of Kargil are bizarre. They range from a post every 200 yards to 200 posts held by 20 men to a 1 to 3 model which implies three soldiers are required at the base of support one on the peak. This method followed at Siachen is irrelevant in Kargil. These absurd models have unnecessarily committed two to three divisions in Kargil replicating the three battalions on Siachen whereas the actual requirements is far less -- no more than one brigade.

Surveillance and manning of the LoC is dictated by terrain, weather conditions and domination of LoC and routes across it. The new gridlock astride the LoC will not be encroachment-proof. The most reliable early warning and surveillance systems are aerial and ground reconnaissance complemented by forward and sideways-looking radars, sensors but monitored by a man and a dog. Technology has to be tested on this terrain before induction.

Pakistan held the four pockets of intrusions with 1000 soldiers. They have brought in another brigade to hold posts opposite the area of intrusions. At the very most, the Indian Army will require an additional 4000 troops (one brigade) to plug the violated gaps. The existing brigade sector will turn into an expanded two-brigade divisional area, certainly not into a three-division Corps zone, however much Pakistan would want this to happen. At present Siachen, Turtuk and Leh form part of the Leh division. Batalik and Chorbatla could be added to this as one additional brigade sector.

The cost of additional deployment by India will also have to be borne by Pakistan. It has already said it would man peaks on LoC from where it can dominate Kargil and has therefore inducted fresh troops for this. We need to raise additional battalions of J&K Light Infantry and Ladakh Scouts, which have fought gallantly in Kargil and Turtuk. Their soldiers are locals, well acclimatised and superbly motivated. The cost of defending Kargil has been erroneously estimated as Rs 4 crore a day. This has been compounded by mis-assessing the cost of Kargil as three times Siachen.

Sealing the LoC in high mountains is just not feasible. What is feasible is raising the cost for Pakistan breaching the LoC by strong and swift anti-infiltration and CIS operations. Also by making Pakistan pay diplomatic penalty. But the shelling in Kargil and Drass will go on. The tradeoff lies in the Neelam valley in the Kupwara sector where Indian guns keep doing a Kargil. That may be one reason why Kupwara has been chosen to launch the present phase of insurgency.

Major General Ashok K Mehta

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