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July 26, 1999


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

20 questions on Kargil

India has won the Kargil war, its second successive victory after the liberation of Bangladesh.

The triumph on the scraggy pinnacles of Kargil is militarily more outstanding than the capture of Dhaka. Liberating Kargil, the jawans were fighting an extraordinarily well prepared, equipped and motivated Pakistan army at a time a place of its choosing, ironically on our territory. The war started with both the balance of initiative and military advantage heavily weighted in Pakistan's favour.

The size and scale of aggression, the contours of which were neither fully deciphered nor understood had the Indian army initially groping. Unfortunately for Pakistan, it could not pull through a grand commando operation. For Kargil was a mountain too far and the recharged Indian army by then, unstoppable.

The immediate agenda after Kargil is to place the military and diplomatic victory in perspective and focus on the achievements of the jawan. It is time to reassure him that he is neither expendable nor disposable. Why can't a nation salute its soldiers when he is alive, not just when he is dead?

But instead the knives are out, the witch-hunting on. In the name of accountability one should be wary of falling into the who-is-to-blame trap right now. This will sour and sully a hard-earned victory. Of course, there is need for a white paper on Beyond Kargil, ensuring the sanctity of the LoC and lessons from the war. As part of its after-action report, the army has already started an enquiry on the failure to detect the intrusions in time. Here are 20 questions to mull over:

What are the immediate tasks for the military in Kargil?

Once the intrusions are sanitised, the 27-year-old gaps between defences in Kargil have to be plugged -- by surveillance and occupation. This does not imply establishing a string of posts but blocking routes of infiltration and preventing encroachment. The glaciated areas and those that are snowbound in winter are to be kept under air and ground surveillance. Early warning radars and other technology aids to detection, yet to be tested for these altitudes, if operable can be deployed.

There is absolutely no difficulty in selecting a new grid of posts closing the existing gaps. However, three doubts remain in people's mind. That Kargil is Siachen, a large high-altitude force will be required, and it will cost Rs 100-150 million a day. All these are unfounded exaggerations. The only doubt is about certain posts that will have to be vacated in winter. The rules on vacation of posts have been changing over the years. Our holding additional posts will force Pakistan to do the same on its side. It will also stimulate the development and economy of Kargil. The additional deployment will be no more than three to four extra infantry units, not brigades as mentioned.

What about action outside Kargil?

The security of the LoC apart, the preventive deployment of armed forces -- which has acted as a strategic weight against Pakistan -- along the rest of the LoC and international border should continue till winter and election. This will deter Pakistan from indulging in proxy war and upping the ante in insurgency in the valley later this year. A comprehensive counter-insurgency campaign to root out guest militants and local accomplices is overdue. Indian strategy should force Pakistan into respecting the LoC by raising political, diplomatic and military costs of repeating Kargil.

Is the jawan armed and equipped to fight along the LoC?

The state of defence preparedness is related to the actual and potential capacity of the adversary. The victory in Kargil has conclusively proven no conspicuous shortcoming. At the same time, more sophisticated equipment would have reduced time and casualties to some extent. In the high mountains, the man-machine mix is weighted on the side of a fitter, agile and motivated soldier. Technology is a force multiplier, unlike in the plains where it is a battle-winner.

Unfair comparisons have been made about the state-of-art weapons and equipment used to selectively arm 2000 Pak soldiers holding the Kargil heights. No army can immediately respond to such a situation unless contingency plans have addressed such aberrations on the LoC. A large-scale breach of the LoC and the rush of troops to Kargil were both unexpected. Therefore, high-altitude equipment had to be ordered or bought off the shelf after the war started.

The long-standing demand for low intensity conflict equipment and upgrading the armoury of the jawan have moved woefully slow. The Defence and Research Development Organisation is culpable for this. Military equipment goes through tortuous acquisition procedures. These were waived during Kargil. The lesson is not only in modernising equipment but also streamlining systems. Readiness is a round-the-clock and calendar military necessity.

Was the war a consequence of declining defence budget?

Many experts would agree with this formulation and also attribute to it the dilution of conventional military deterrence, which encouraged Pakistan to do a Kargil. This sequential view is only partly tenable, as neglect in defence allocation is a decade-old phenomenon. The anomalies in the budgeting and expenditure systems are endemic.

Kargil has highlighted the grave deficiencies in the management of defence funding, of risks in depressed allocations in favour of populist measures. Every finance minister has poetry in his budget speech but there is no poetic justice in the one-liner, 'Additional needs of defence will be met if required.'

How effective has been the higher management of war?

The higher direction of war by a caretaker government and its interface with military high command has been commendable. All this despite a warped higher defence organisation, a wonky National Security Council, an ill-fitting intelligence apparatus and not the best of civil-military relations. The unwieldy military machine lost valuable time reviving up.

But then it delivered. The credit for this must go to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee heading the Cabinet Committee on Security which met regularly, at times every day. It gave the armed forces a simple unencumbered task: to evict the intruders without crossing the Line of Control. There was no political interference and pressure of time on the conduct of battle, which was left to the service chiefs headed by the chief of army staff who is also the chairman chief of the staff committee. Even in hindsight, the decision not to cross the LoC was wise.

How serious are the charges of subversion by the natives of Kargil and rest of J&K?

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