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May 27, 1999
Cautious in peace, intrepid in battle
Both men responsible for India's air strikes over Kargil are known for their extreme caution and meticulous planning.
And when army chief of staff General Ved Prakash Malik and air force chief Air Marshal Anil Yashwant Tipnis get together, they are even more careful.
Yet, it is these two men who have masterminded the Indian force's use of airforce power over Kashmir today. In an operation characteristic of both their working styles, the strikes were comprehensively planned.
General Mallik has had command of the army, a force of an estimated 1.1 million, since October 1997. He has actually been in the action in Ladakh before, during the 1962 war, and is known to have an understanding of the terrain that was pounded by Indian Air Force jets. What is more, his experience of 1962 made him realise just how crucial the road-link to Leh was.
Analysts say, that was the issue that preyed most on his mind during the planning of Operation Vijay. At the defence ministry briefing on Wednesday, officials referred to the possible take-over of the Srinagar-Leh National Highway 1A at Kargil as the principal provocation for the strikes.
General Malik, or "Ved", as he is known, has spent many of his years in service in counter-insurgency operations in the North-East. He was also closely involved in planning the "Maldives operation" in which Indian forces had thwarted a coup attempt in the Indian Ocean islands.
And, in the best traditions of the defence forces, he is the son as well as the proud father of an army officer. Another little known fact about him unlike most army wives, his spouse has been pursuing her medical career with the family's full approval. It is normally very difficult for army wives to be able to manage a career.
While General Malik is widely respected for his careful approach to battle situations, it also raises fears that he may actually err -- seriously -- on the side of caution.
Although the air operation is seen a success, he still has the hard task of explaining just how Pakistan-backed insurgents could claim such crucial positions on the Kargil ranges. One former army general, for example, referred to the fact that the insurgents' success as "a command failure as well as failure of our intelligence".
While some critics blame the delay in the operations on the fact that General Malik is unwilling to act in haste, the fact is that he was away on work in Poland until last Friday. When he returned, he immediately recommended the action, and it is rumoured to be only after his persuasion that the air force personnel were deployed.
Air Marshal Tipnis, the other half to this operation, is considered, if possible, even more cautious than the army chief. He is described by many as an extremely "unostentatious man", who does not like the limelight at all.
He was commissioned in 1960 as a fighter pilot. He has since then gained more than 4,000 flying hours and has the experience of a whole range of aircraft, including Mirage 2000s and SU-30s, During the 1965 war, he flew with the first MiG-21 squadron. The recipient of several bravery awards, the air marshal is known to have a weakness for new aircraft technology. "Give me any new plane," he grinned when he assumed command of the air force, "And it soon becomes my favourite. That is, until a newer one comes along."
Like General Malik, Air Marshal Tipnis has also gained experience in Kashmir, where he served as commanding air officer. He later went on to take charge of the IAF's western command.
Both officers are reputed to have advised restraint in Kashmir until events in the Kargil region proved intractable. Then they devised the plan together (another perception that the army and the air force are consistently at loggerheads seems to have been proved to be a myth) and went into action.
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