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June 10, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ Lt Gen (retd) I S Gill

'Divide Kashmir, that is the only solution'

Lt Gen (retd) I S Gill, director of military operations in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, doesn't like the current Kargil trouble being compared to the war he fought. He is of the firm opinion that the Kargil crisis has been blown out of proportion.

In this free-wheeling interview with Shobha Warrier, he says there is only one way to end the hostilities in the valley, and that is dividing Jammu & Kashmir equally between India and Pakistan.

Hundreds of infiltrators have made their way into India and it is widely believed that it is due to a lapse on the part of our intelligence agencies. Do you agree?

For the last six or seven years, it (infiltration) has been happening constantly. Yes, it has not happened in this particular area. And, how do we come to know about it? When the army takes some action.

So are we making a major fuss about a regular anti-insurgency operation?

I don't know whether this is unnecessary. An apparent reason why we should be making such a fuss about this particular ingress as opposed to the ingresses which have been constantly happening over the past seven or eight years is because this interferes with our maintenance route to Leh. It's a serious matter. We have already reopened an alternative route, which is through Manali. It is a longer road and it also means keeping another road open.

So, you feel it wasn't exactly a lapse on our intelligence agencies' part?

No, no... I am coming to that. Obviously there has been a lapse. But then these lapses are common everywhere? Take an outside example. Take a small place like Kosovo, which is more or less an open terrain. NATO, which has surrounded Kosovo, has no intelligence about what is going on inside Kosovo, except what they see from an airplane. That shows the difficulties in obtaining accurate intelligence. In this sort of terrain (Kargil), it is even more difficult.

In winter when the whole area is snow-bound, the troops sitting on these heights are brought down not because we want to pamper them, but because it is very difficult to survive in those conditions.

How come, then, people from the enemy camp move about easily?

It is difficult to be there for a long time. It is difficult and expensive to maintain troops. They must have brought all their maintenance with them.

Is it going to be an uphill task for the Indian army to drive the infiltrators out from the high ranges?

It is literally an uphill task, because we are fighting uphill. It will take time. Once a group of people get into a position on top of a mountain, it needs tremendous amount of effort and manpower to get them out. It was reported in the newspapers that sixty men were killed and 257 wounded. Knowing my organisation as I do, that is probably an understatement.

We have lost a large number of men even before getting ready for these operations. The main attacks are still to come. We are going to lose a lot of men. But we are used to this. This is a great tamasha as far as the country is concerned. As far as the army is concerned, it is not an alarming situation.

You call this a tamasha?

How shall I put it? Let me put it this way. It has been blown out of proportion as far as we are concerned.

You mean the trouble in Kargil is nothing extraordinary?

Nothing extraordinary in the sense that the presence of these people here only interrupts our lines of communication with Leh and Ladakh. Otherwise, it is not of any sensational consequence. The same situation prevails all over Kashmir.

Are the losses greater now or has it been like this for the last 8 to 10 years?

These are more concentrated losses and also let us face it, the army is being pressed, pressured into doing something faster than we would do normally. What do we see now? Big tamashas when Lt Col X's body is brought back home, Major Y's body is brought back home. It can be repeated hundreds of times and the public will get tired of it. What I am trying to get to you is, this is a stunning thing for the civilian population. We do this all the time.

Is it not because of satellite television that civilians get to see these things?

Certainly. This situation applies not only to India but all over the world. Any disaster, any tragedy, literally everything is brought to your drawing room.

You said the army has been doing these kinds of jobs all the time and now they are pressured to work faster. Why do you say that?

You can see this in the newspapers. When I say pressure I don't quite mean to say that the chief has got a directive from the prime minister to solve the problem in two weeks. You should understand what "pressure" means. What is said in the newspapers, what is said on television, the constant inquiries about the progress of the operations. Questions like: Is it not possible for you to do the job faster? Would you please do it faster because I am having pressure put on me by people like Fernandes? All this adds to the pressure.

You feel if there were no pressure, the army would have carried out the operation at their own pace like they had done earlier.

Yes, of course. These kinds of pressures are not there all the time. This particular thing has become a tamasha.

Had you been in the army, would the statements made by the defence minister have affected you? You hear several voices from the government too.

The defence minister is an irresponsible rascal. There is no other word for it. He should be sacked immediately.

You don't quite mind me quoting you?

Not at all. Quote every word I said. It is amazing. The prime minister should not have got this unstable man into the government at all. Look at his record -- the Baroda dynamite cases, his war with Coca-Cola. All the stupid things that he said in the past year are actually dangerous for the country. He should be immediately removed. I don't quite think that my comrades in the forces pay any attention to his statements.

You are saying that unlike what others say, these statements will not have a demoralising effect on the defence forces at all.

Yes, that's right.

What according to you are the differences in the atmosphere that prevailed during the war in 1971 and now?

In 1971, I was the director of military operations in the army headquarters. So, I will tell you, there is no resemblance, whatsoever. This is a local skirmish, a local situation, that's all. There is no war here. The governments of both the sides have said that they are not interested in a war. So, where is the connection between the two?

Not only the media, but the ordinary people of India are talking about serious consequences now that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers.

There won't be any serious consequences. You being a nuclear power means nothing at all. You please remember that the erstwhile Soviet Union is not an erstwhile nuclear power. They have about 20,000 nuclear warheads in their possession and the means to deliver them. I don't quite think India and Pakistan consider themselves in the same league. In spite of having all this nuclear weaponry, what is Soviet Union's voice in the world today? What is their voice in regard to Kosovo? It has no voice at all. Why? Because they have no money.

It isn't nuclear bombs that lend power to a country, it's the economy. And the sooner we realise this, the better for us. There is no use jumping in the air and rolling about with glee because somebody has let off a nuclear phataka! It doesn't do us any good. It brings us no power, it brings Pakistan no power.

Do we see another Siachen-like situation developing?

Nobody understands why they came to Siachen. Do you know the history of Siachen? As far as the demarcation of the LoC is concerned, we have an Indian side and a Pakistani side. General (P S) Bhagat led the Indian team and I was his assistant. We delineated the LoC up to a point which was about 25 miles north of Kargil. The LoC was delineated, I stress the word 'delineated' -- that is, it was only marked on a map. These babus have been confusing the issue with demarcation. Demarcation means marking on the ground. There was never any intention to demarcate as far as we were concerned.

Is it possible to demarcate on such heavy snow-bound areas?

Only if you have plenty of money and you are mad enough to attempt it. The basis of delineation of the LoC was either military or civil administration's presence on both sides. When we get to this northernmost point which lies south of the Siachen glacier, there is no administration on either side on the north of that, nor was there any military presence on either side. In other words, there was no basis for delineating the LoC there.

It is quite true that it should have struck us that a situation may arise later on. Now that we are meeting in order to delineate the LoC, we ought to consider a basis for extending this LoC right up to the border. We didn't do that then. That was in 1972.

By the end of the seventies and the early eighties, we observed that Pakistan had been making free and loose with that area. In fact, they were licensing mountaineering expeditions and collecting fees for going to these areas. Then we speedily went up and occupied the Siachen heights and thereupon the Pakistan army also came up. And we have both been pouring our money down the drain for 15 years. It is such a waste of money. It is a terrible waste of national resources.

Does that mean these kinds of skirmishes may occur quite often?

They have been happening all the time. Not only here but in the North-East too. What about Nagaland? What about Mizoram? We are so used to these things that news items like '18 jawans killed in such and such a place' are back-page stuff now. You get this (media attention) out here in Kashmir because it is closer home and the band has been played along with it. It's a bad situation but there is nothing to get alarmed about.

We had militancy in Punjab but we could control it and bring normalcy back to the state. Why is it that we cannot do the same in Kashmir?

Let's be quite clear about it. We are not very popular with a very large number of people in Kashmir. I am not going to discuss whether we have to be popular or not. But it is a fact. And a large number of people in Kashmir tell both Pakistan and India: 'leave us alone to get on with our lives.'

As far as Punjab was concerned, there were not many sympathisers of militancy. Militancy was confined to only certain areas. And of course, it has subsided there. But regrettably in Kashmir and -- I must emphasise -- the North-Eastern states, it has never subsided. And you have a state of virtual insurgency in the north-east for the last 47 years! And people in India forget that. We don't even think about them. It is so far away.

How difficult is it to operate in Kashmir when the local population is not very friendly?

It does not cause us any difficulty in the operations. You asked me first about intelligence. A sympathetic local population is the most valuable source of intelligence. Because whoever they are sympathising with, they will pass on information about the enemy and its movements.

How long do you think the problems in Kashmir will continue?

Until it is divided. In my opinion, the only method of solving the Kashmir problem is to divide it.Aadhaa tera, aadha mera. Quite simple. There is no use saying, this is impossible. What is impossible? If it is impossible, there is no solution.

It has to be partitioned. Jammu and Kashmir state has to be partitioned. Now let us sit down on the basis of this understanding and decide exactly where the line of partition is going to be. When there are two parties wanting the same thing and neither will agree to go away, what is the solution? Don't say war. That doesn't solve anything. Neither of us have the capacity to sustain a war. We are too dependent on outsiders. Our Master's Voice is outside. So is Pakistan's.

You mean the USA.

Yes. Now there's only one master.

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