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May 27, 1999
Pak gambled and lost, says former air chief
Michael Gonsalves in Pune
Pakistan's gamble in sending infiltrators into India had backfired, a retired air chief marshal said.
"It is a risk and a gamble. Pakistan had taken assuming that the caretaker government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee would not immediately retaliate since the Congress and other political parties would oppose the move," said Air Chief Marshal (retd) H Moolgavkar.
"But the Vajpayee government took the right decision in launching air strikes to neutralise intrusion in the sensitive areas," he said.
Air Chief Marshal Moolgavkar, who, as a wing commander, managed the No 1 Operation Wing at the Kashmir air force station, said India had every right to flush out terrorists and prevent incursions on Indian soil.
Asked about the failure of military intelligence to identify infiltration in the area, he said, "It is definitely a matter of concern, but not the time to discuss the issue."
Ruling out any human rights violation by mounting air strikes in the region, the former air chief said none could deny the right to protect the country's sovereign territory.
Justifying the air strikes at the right time after detecting the infiltrators by the Indian army, Air Chief Marshal Moolgavkar said Pakistan-aided Afghan mercenaries were occupying the important ridges at the height of 16,000 to 17,000 feet, overlooking, commanding and dominating the road from Srinagar and Leh.
"If these infiltrators are not flushed out, the important communication line from Srinagar to Leh via the Drass sub-sector of Kargil will be destroyed," he said. "Which means you cannot move your military force, equipment, ammunition and weapons, supplies and stores," he explained, adding even fuel could not be transported to the farthest Leh air base.
If no air operations were conducted, the infiltrators could advance further into Indian territory, resulting in the destruction of the 50-year-old Line Of Control.
He said if Pakistan aircraft flew into Indian territory at this juncture it would amount to aggression that could escalate into a full-fledged war.
"It is up to Pakistan now to de-escalate and cool down the situation," he said, adding that Pakistan had miscalculated by thinking this was an opportune time to infiltrate, believing the caretaker Vajpayee government might not be confident enough to take major decisions to counter Pakistan's adventure.
Air Chief Marshal Moolgavkar felt the latest "misadventure" had once again confirmed the continuous power struggle between the Pakistan army and the ISI on the one hand and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief on the other.
Asked if the air strikes could be construed by Pakistan as a provocation for war, he said India was doing her duty of defending the lost areas from this side of LoC. Pakistan could consider anything as provocation, he remarked.
Air Chief Marshal Moolgavkar said unlike air operations over the plains, flying aircraft into the difficult Kargil terrain was fraught with danger since identifying and attacking enemy targets called for very skillful pilots.
Asked if there were alternatives other than aerial attack, he said that air strikes were the right choice since ground forces could not reach the entrenched enemy without suffering mass casualties. "Our air force is not for merely colourful flypasts," he quipped.
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