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The Rediff Special/Jaswant Singh
'Through the travail and fire of Kargil our nation has been renewed'
It is now time to look ahead; to look beyond Kargil. But even in charting our course for the future we have to assess what Kargil 1999 was all about. What were the challenges -- military and diplomatic? What new facets of our total national commitment and endeavour emerged? What lessons for the years that lie ahead? 'Operation Vijay' -- as the prime minister said some days back -- has resulted in 'Vijay' for India. As we re-examine the military and diplomatic challenges that then confronted us, and which were successfully managed, we need to have a preliminary analysis, draw some first conclusions and above all, looking beyond Kargil, draw a route chart for the tomorrows to come.
First, the military dimension. Kargil was a military aggression by Pakistan, with Pak army regulars, across a stretch of the LoC, in four pockets. From the Mushkoh Valley in the west to Tartuk in the Yaldor-Batalik sector in the east. Initially, with the aggressor -- as with all aggressors -- lay the element of surprise. This was soon countered locally. Initially, the terrain, too, conferred some advantage to the aggressor. They had intruded along ridgelines to occupy some key heights and features that dominated a vital road link, between Drass and Kargil. The depth of the ridgelines north of the LoC and their gradients, along with nullah approaches, enabled the Pakistan army to provide crucial logistical and administrative support to their troops.
The Indian army's response to the military challenge was measured yet swift; it was focussed, thus effective. The first task was to contain the intrusion. For this an accurate assessment was necessary about the degree and extent of it. This involved, amongst other activities the drawing of fire. Simultaneously, a redeployment of troops took place. Through a successful containment of the aggressor's intrusion was ensured the inevitable defeat of this misadventure by Pakistan. The element of surprise was countered by the Indian army through the speed and lethality of its response. On May 26, the Air Force swung into action in support of the ground operations.
Our military objective had been clearly spelt out to the intruders -- retreat or the Indian army shall evict you. In any event once the intruder's aim of interfering with the Drass-Kargil Highway had been thwarted, the whole rationale of this aggression had got defeated. A mere holding of heights was militarily a counter productive venture. They were bound to be evicted -- in detail -- one by one; for their occupation served scant military purpose. For India, occupation of territory, south of the LoC, was simply not acceptable both physically and as a violation of a principle. Tactical surprise having been lost early by the aggressor, the military principles of superior force, concentration and firepower were bound to tell. And they did, decisively. This phase of eviction did not, indeed could not be a phase of battles of manoeuver. The nature of the terrain, the adversary's dispositions plus most importantly our self-imposed restraints about the LoC, precluded those options. The battles for the heights thus became classic infantry actions in high altitude, combining mountaineering and fighting, against fixed enemy positions at a higher elevation. They were actions that demanded grit, stamina and dauntless courage. Our troops displayed all these qualities in full measure.
Let us be clear about one other vital aspect. This aggression in Kargil sector was by the Pak regular army, it had the logistic and administrative support of not the Pakistani Army alone but of their total state machinery. Secondly, this misadventure was not aimed at infiltrating into the Srinagar Valley, it was to occupy territory in Kargil and in holding that. This purpose, too, was defeated.
The Kargil aggression is not an extension of the problem of externally aided and abetted cross border terrorism that we have combated up till now. It is an overspill of the 'Afghanistan' disorder syndrome.' That is also why it had to be defeated. In parallel to the military, we also had major diplomatic challenges on our hands. A firm signal had to be conveyed to Pakistan, as also a clear and unambiguous message to the international community. Let us accept that in today's age no conflict, least of all one between two nuclear weapons possessing states can escape global media spotlight. This was an additional and a new factor. Managing all these required a qualitatively new level of coordination between the two wings of the South Block -- the ministries of defence and external affairs. This, too was achieved to demonstrable effect.
Of course, Kargil posed a challenge both to the substance of our foreign policy as also to the conduct of our diplomacy. The prime minister had at the very beginning directed the MEA that the true challenge lay in turning back the aggressor, in defeating all his designs, in reversing the aggression but with the maximum of restraint. The MEA had, therefore, also placed before itself the objective of protecting the international flank of the MoD; so that our operations on the ground and in the air could go on unhindered. This was also achieved in no insignificant measure. The first requirement, thus, was establishing the fact of Pakistan's intrusion and aggression. I would venture to claim that we succeeded in doing so. The next requirement was to spell our objectives with clarity, consistency and candour. This was done early, repeated whenever necessary and can be summed up, sequentially, as the following irreducible minimums. They were:
A. Pakistan's armed intrusion in Kargil will be evicted and its aggression vacated. All Pakistan regular troops and extremist elements under its command and control will have to withdraw. For this purpose, our armed forces will take all necessary action on our side of the Line of Control.
B. Once this intrusion has been cleared, Pakistan would need to reaffirm the inviolability and sanctity of the Line of Control.
C. Dialogue, as part of the Lahore process, which after all, was initiated by us could only then be resumed.
Our diplomatic machinery was geared fully to convey these objectives to the international community, as being valid and worthy of support. Continuous interaction was maintained, with all the major powers, and the rest of the international community through our diplomatic missions abroad, the diplomatic community in New Delhi and through personal interaction. It is a measure of the justness of India's cause that what I have cited above, as the irreducible minimums, found such a large community of countries standing up in support. Principally, let me repeat, it was because India's stand was recognised as just, thus it was acted upon. It wish to also emphasise that the importance of the inviolability and sanctity of the Line of Control, for maintaining peace and tranquility, was totally accepted by the international community, and Pakistan was held as having violated this Line. Its efforts at terming it as imprecise also failed. Even more, the international community accepted India's view that Pakistan was guilty also of transgressing the territory of trust. The international community also concurred with our assertion that Kargil was a manifestation of this medieval malevolence spilling over from Afghanistan, that these were no freedom fighters, thus there was a need to confront such impulses; in the interest not just of our region but of the larger global community.
It is noteworthy that under the leadership of the prime minister the ministries of external affairs and the ministry of defence worked as one, the combined synergy of which demonstrated the true power and effectiveness of the Indian State. This is, of course, how it should be. But it is a matter of satisfaction nevertheless, that this was achieved at a time of trial, a time which tests the mettle of any government's machinery. In this is also a lesson for the future.
There was an added dimension to our total national endeavour. It was the role of our media during the Kargil operations. It was marked by exuberant enthusiasm bordering, at times, on the reckless. These young men and women of the media, who were in Kargil brought the valour of our troops, in the face of great odds, directly into the homes of our citizens. They touched our hearts and eyes with the tales of the bereaved and the families of the fallen. This was our first experience of conflict in the television/information age. We learnt as we went along. It would be no exaggeration, therefore, to say that the role of the electronic and the print media, in fully informing and mobilising public opinion, was an invaluable part of the total national effort to meet the challenge of Kargil.
Why did Pakistan undertake such an ill-conceived misadventure? Perhaps, they thought that they could translate the advantage of tactical surprise into a strategic gain by bringing about a de facto realignment of the LoC in the region, thus rendering the Srinagar-Leh National Highway vulnerable. They were wrong. They miscalculated India's resolve, they did not comprehend the sense of national outrage at this blatant breach of trust, the sheer motivation of the Indian soldiers and the leadership quality of the Indian Army officers who led from the front.
Perhaps, Pakistan calculated on provoking India into an escalation. They were wrong again because the decision of not crossing the LoC was taken early and maintained scrupulously in the face of the high casualties, and even when the decision to employ air power was taken. The area of conflict was not expanded. Pakistan having disowned its troops as 'freedom fighters' could hardly thereafter have opened up a new front, to ease pressure in Kargil.
What of the future? Looking beyond Kargil provides us an opportunity to renew our faith in ourselves, our society, our polity and our nation. It compels us to look ahead in all fields of national endeavour but particularly, in the spheres of national security and foreign policy. One simple message emanating from Kargil is that adequate resources have to be made available for national defence, that the kind of relegation of defence needs that we witnessed in the late eighties and nineties is unsound policy, that technological upgradation cannot be postponed, that the nation must always think of the welfare of those who are in the first rank of its defence.
Kargil has many pointers for our foreign policy and diplomacy too. As in the present instance, we should always be ready to engage with the world as full and responsible members of the international community, but, of course, keeping our national priorities and interests as the guiding principle; we ought to have no reluctance, leave alone fear, in engaging with the world on any issue. Indeed, we serve the national interest when we engage the world on the basis of equality and mutual respect. Such engagement is the very substance of diplomacy. That is not any internationalisation of an issue. Nor does it imply mediation or any acceptance of intermediaries.
Issues have to be addressed bilaterally between concerned countries, and in the case of India and Pakistan, that is what the Lahore process is all about. We would like to renew that process and we would like Pakistan to facilitate a resumption of the process, by reaffirming the inviolability and sanctity of the Line of control. Clearly, a sponsorship of terrorism across the Line of Control, or elsewhere, is a violation of the Line of Control, as indeed of Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration. There is a need, for Pakistan, to abjure sponsoring, aiding or abetting cross-border terrorism. These are not any pre-conditions for dialogue. We are after all, the initiators of this dialogue process and our commitment to it is firm and abiding. But it is only right for our nation, at this juncture, to expect that Pakistan will repair the damage that it has done to trust, that it demonstrates this through concrete and tangible steps. Trust is not built by engaging in dialogue in winter and committing aggression in summer. Continuous calls for Jihad can also hardly be read as messages for dialogue and peace. And it is in this vein that I suggest that high pitched propaganda against India also does not inspire confidence in Pakistan's interest in dialogue.
I would venture to suggest that Pakistan, too, has to come to terms with its history, as indeed with its geography. It has to realise that there simply is no military solution to what it presumes is its locus standi in Jammu and Kashmir. It is, of course, for Pakistan to determine its priorities but fomenting religious fundamentalism can hardly be employed as a tool against want and poverty. India recognises the permanence of the sovereign state of Pakistan and that is final. While India remains ready for dialogue, the pace at which it can move forward will depend entirely on when and how the state of Pakistan, and what it has now become, permits it to do so.
Our foreign policy has not been fixated on Pakistan, but that has been a significant preoccupation of it. We need to re-examine this in detail. Globally, India has to move purposefully towards realising its true dimensions as a major civilisational state, with its own strategic autonomy and strategic space, born out of its economic and political interaction with other countries particularly in the Asia-Pacific community. The real wealth of a nation is its people. History and paucity of appropriate resources prevented us from participating in the economic transformations brought about since the industrial Revolution. In 1820, Asia contributed 58 per cent of the World GDP; today it is at 37 per cent; by 2020, expectations are that it could regain the level of 200 years ago. India has a signal role to play in the coming decades. With our democratic institutions, a large skilled manpower base, geographic location, we must ensure that India rides the crest of this wave.
Through the travail and fire of Kargil our nation has been renewed. The mood though sombre, is confident. National will stands sharpened. The sacrifice of our youth has not and will not be in vain. That is the solemn message of Kargil to the nation and to the world. I remember the poignant words of the memorial at Kohima, that stands tall and proud on a hill, commemorating those who fell in another war.
When you go home
This was the speech External Affairs Minister Jaswsant Singh delivered at the India International Centre last week.
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