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May 26, 1999
Kargil action will not escalate into full-scale war, says NSC adviser
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
K Subrahmanyam, the National Security Council adviser, has said while the situation in Kargil is serious, it will not escalate into a full-scale war.
"The Pakistanis took an uncalculated risk. They have done so thrice before in 1947, 1965 and 1971, and having been defeated on all those occasions, I don't think they will risk another war," he said.
This is the first time the Indian Air Force has been pressed into action after the 1971 war. So far, India had not even used helicopter gunships in its battle against the foreign mercenaries and terrorists who had infiltrated the valley over the past decade to help secessionists in the state.
Yet, despite the gravity of the situation, Subrahmanyam said the risks and costs of a war today are unacceptable to both sides. "Moreover, Pakistan and India both know that the balance is in India's favour and in the light of this fact, I expect Pakistan to cool down," he said.
He said Pakistan had taken a gamble by seeking to capture certain mountain heights on the Indian side of the Line of Control, which attempt had failed. "I expect them now to pull out in the night and soon everything will return to normal."
Incidentally, Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz, speaking in Islamabad, called for calm and said Pakistan is not involved in the crisis. He said Islamabad would give a "fitting reply" only if Pakistani territory is invaded. And the Indian side has been at pains to point out that all operations conducted so far have been on this side of the border.
"Since all the operations carried out so far have been on our territory we have the legal ground. And since the air strikes are against militants backed by those against us, we also have the moral edge," the NSC adviser said.
Yet, it is worth recalling that in 1965, militants aided by Pakistan had intruded into Kashmir and the Indian action against such intruders had escalated into a full-fledged war along the entire border.
The situation today does bear a resemblance to 1965. Then, Pakistan irregulars and soldiers in disguise had attempted to capture the key Aknoor road linking Pathankot in Punjab with Jammu. This road was the most important link from the Indian plains to the Kashmir valley. Its capture would have given Pakistan virtual control over the valley.
"This time, the attempt was to capture the Srinagar-Drass-Kargil-Leh road. The Pakistanis evidently thought they could come in, cut off the road, and station sufficient men along the heights. This would have given them an edge along the LoC," said Subrahmanyam.
The plan was foiled when Indian border patrols noticed the intruders and reported them to their seniors, who rushed troops to recapture the heights.
The Indian troops were helped by the early arrival of summer, which cleared the Srinagar-Kargil road allowing the army to move heavy artillery and equipment up the mountains.
The crisis has occurred in the aftermath of the famous Delhi-Lahore bus trip which saw the two countries' premiers agree to improve ties. "It only shows that the Pakistani premier has no control over the Pakistani army," said Subrahmanyam. "It is the Pakistani army's way of telling the PM that it is they who call the shots as far as ties with India are concerned."
He said the air strikes would end once the infiltrators were wiped out or they withdraw, which might take a few days. But he refused to comment on how long the entire operation might take.
"One point worth noting is that the Pakistani army division involved in Kargil is the same division that mans the Siachen glacier and thus has good mountain-warfare experience. This division's headquarters is at Skardu, just beyond the LoC. Since they are trained for the mountains, flushing them out will not be very easy," he said.
Subrahmanyam pointed out the latest incident shows that Pakistan is now selecting higher mountains to sneak in infiltrators and has also moved its operations further east along the LoC.
He doubted if Pakistan would be embarrassed by the turn of events and so seek to escalate the crisis. "Pakistan will say that these militants are Kashmiri freedom fighters, that their human rights have been violated, and make a lot of noise. Yet, all this will allow the militants to withdraw and the situation to return to the status quo," he added.
The NSC adviser pointed out that last year too there was heavy artillery firing across the LoC in the Kargil sector, but the situation soon calmed down. "The same will happen this time. The air strikes prove our willingness to spare no effort to hold our territory and I now expect the respective directors-general of military operations on both sides to talk to each other on the hotline and resolve the issue," he said.
Subrahmanyam dismissed any link between the military event and the political crises in both countries. "This is a fashionable theory which has never been proved that insecure leaders seek war to improve their domestic standing. It has never happened. Situations build up for other reasons and one should not blame politicians alone," he declared.
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