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June 4, 1999
The Rediff Special/ Lieutenant General Kuldip Singh Brar (retd)
'Soldiers are not expendable commodities. We cannot have a soft approach towards the intruders'
Pakistan's gameplan is to destabilise India. First they tried this by supporting insurgency in the Punjab. Having failed there, their attention was drawn to Jammu & Kashmir in the early 1990s. With a 99 per cent Muslim population, the Srinagar valley was ideal for them. On the assumption that Muslims were discriminated in India, they started encouraging the Kashmiris against the Indian State, supported militant groups and called it Jehad.
They concentrated along the Jhelum river -- the Srinagar, Baramullah, Uri area -- and succeeded to a large extent. Till 1997, 1998. By then, the infiltrators had suffered heavy losses due to the relentless pressure by the security forces. The local population had suffered immensely in the long battle. Like in the Punjab, they were fed up with the curfew, loss of livelihood, education and life.
Insurgency cannot survive when locals stop supporting terrorism. It happened in the Punjab and is happening in Kashmir as well. One must remember, that unlike the Sikh, a Kashmiri is not a fighter. Though militancy has continued longer in Kashmir, it was suffering heavy losses and local militants had given up the idea.
Pakistan then started planting Afghan mercenaries. This too brought only marginal success for them. They were paid to fight. They didn't understand the people or respect the culture and local militant groups didn't like the idea of foreigners coming and taking command. They received little success and support resulted in many of them returning to the other side of the LoC.
The Srinagar valley was saturated with troops. The militants then started targeting the very mountainous and rugged terrain south of the Banihal pass. In the Rajouri, Poonch, Doda region which had a considerable Hindu population. The army then had to concentrate both in the Srinagar valley and the Jammu-Doda region. Because their attention was focused here, the Kargil sector was neglected. The region is so inhospitable that we could not have anticipate that intruders would take advantage of this difficult area.
Moreover, Kashmiris had polled in the last election and an election is again round the corner. It is evident that the democratic process will continue and Pakistan had realised this. So wise people that they are they started another front in Kargil.
Their operation in Kargil is a well planned one. There are 700 to 1,000 militants. Trained and heavily armed. They couldn't have set themselves up overnight. They have logistic bases in Gilgit. It is reported that the Pakistani army chief visited Gilgit in February and May. What the hell was he doing there and why couldn't we have picked up that information?
The area is snow bound from October to end of May. It must have taken them at least two months to build themselves up. Their pattern of battle tells us these are not militants but special forces trained by Pakistan for mountain warfare. They are now firmly entrenched. The government says it is not an intelligence failure, then what failure is it. Surely something has failed somewhere.
We have started bombing the area occupied by the infiltrators. America with all its might are bombing Kosovo, have they succeeded? Air strikes alone cannot flush out militants from those mountains and ground action cannot succeed unless the area is softened by our strikes. So it has to be a combination of both.
Here the advantage lies with the guys well entrenched. We are attacking from lower slopes, in full view of the militants. That is why we have to suffer casualties, but the militants cannot continue for a long duration under a sustained Indian attack. In Amritsar, during Operation Bluestar we had suffered heavy losses. Many of our soldiers died because they were holed inside and we were exposed. This happened even when we had superior weapons and were better trained.
The guerilla is an invisible guy. He shoots and quickly changes positions. We have to clear them by the middle of September before it gets snowbound again. We need to finish this problem. Another Hazratbal kind of behaviour towards them will be a show of weakness. The '71 war is a lesson -- instead of a unilateral cease fire, we should have carried the war to its ultimate end. If we had, this problem would not have occurred.
We lost our men in Operation Blue Star. Successive governments apologised to the Sikhs for storming the Golden Temple, but did they apologise to a single soldier? Soldiers are not expendable commodities. We cannot have a soft approach towards the intruders. That would be disastrous and would lead to further adventurism by Pakistan.
To prevent a recurrence in Kargil, we will have to maintain a force there permanently. It will cost us crores again, which in turn will affect the modernisation of India.
Lieutenant General Kuldip Singh Brar (retd), the distinguished army commander, spoke to Archana Masih.
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