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June 5, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ Air Chief Marshal S K Kaul

'Pakistan does not have the guts to get into a direct confrontation with India'

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Former chief of air staff, Air Chief Marshal S K Kaul, has little doubt in the ability of the Indian Air Force. ''Nobody should ask me a question like this. I know each and every officer of the Indian Air Force is capable of accomplishing the task assigned to him. You have to be alert like a tiger, have the eyes of a hawk to spot bunkers while flying at the speed of 850 kph in a terrain like Kargil,'' said Kaul.

Speaking to Onkar Singh, ACM Kaul, like other former officers of the Indian Air Force and army, refused to believe that the intrusion in Kargil could have been organised in a short time without the Pakistan government's express approval. ''They may have started preparations while Prime Minister Vajpayee was visiting Lahore. Or may be even earlier," he said. But he had little doubt that the Indian defence forces would rise to the occasion and teach the enemy a suitable lesson.

Sir, you belong to Jammu and Kashmir. How do you feel when the Pakistanis send in armed intruders in the state to create problems?

I do belong to J&K, but we migrated from the state sometime back. Pakistan has been from time to time creating problems here. In 1948 they sent in armed intruders with a view to annex the state of J&K but they failed in their designs. Then they tried in 1965 and paid a heavy price. Since the liberation of Bangladesh they have been frequently indulging in these activities. My reaction to the intrusion is the same as that of any Indian. I am an Indian first and a Kashmiri later. My reaction is the same whether they attack Jammu or a part of the Valley or any other place in the country -- I feel indignant.

Some people believe that Pakistan deliberately selected Kargil as there are fewer Muslims in the area. Also, they probably wanted to cut off Ladakh from the rest of the state. What is your own assessment?

I don't think they would have selected Kargil as their target of attack because there are lesser number of people of one sect here. You are perhaps aware that Ladakh is connected to the rest of the state via a road that connects Srinagar to Leh. Drass, Kargil and Batalik are fairly close to the Line of Control and the area is inhospitable. They have been creating problems in this region because of its strategic importance. Their main intention is to cut off the link between Ladakh and Kashmir. Earlier they used to shell and try and push militants into the Valley. But this time it seems a well planned operation.

According to you when precisely was this operation planned, and what was their target?

Well if one goes by the number of the intruders -- which is close to 1,000 as per press reports -- then I would say that preparations might have started when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in Lahore, may be even earlier. It takes time to train 1,000 men to stay and operate in an inhospitable terrain like Kargil. Certainly this did not happen overnight.

Their main objective, I presume, was to cut off the Srinagar-Leh road and disrupt communication links. They wanted to change the LoC, something which they had been trying to do for a long time. Fortunately, they could not succeed in their designs.

When I say they may have started preparing at least six months in advance, I am saying it on the basis of experience. If you want someone to stay on those heights then you got to support them. And we know how difficult it is to support our troops.

Would you say there was an intelligence failure?

I would not say there was an intelligence failure. But we may not have made the correct assessment about the number of armed intruders who were sent across the border by Pakistan. By the time we started reacting we realized that the intrusion was much more intense than our original estimates.

Is this the first time that we have used air power since 1971?

Air power in the form of providing support to the ground troops in the North-East has been going on off and on. But the use of air power in a combat operation has taken place for the first time since 1971.

How much time would our defence forces take to dislodge the enemy from the positions they are holding now?

It would be difficult to give any time frame. I am not aware of the day to day developments. My information is limited to what I read in newspapers and watch on television. Since I have no information about the kind of bunkers the enemy has built or their location, it is very difficult to say whether it would take one week, one month or more to dislodge the enemy from its positions.

Do you think Pakistan will venture into a full-scale war?

I don't think so. Pakistan knows it is not going to gain anything by launching a war against India. It fought a war in 1948 in its bid to take the state of Jammu and Kashmir. But the venture proved costly. They tried again in 1965 and failed miserably.

Why is Pakistan resorting to a proxy war?

Because it is much cheaper and also because Pakistan does not have the guts to get into a direct confrontation with India.

Defence Minister George Fernandes has given a clean chit to the Pakistan government and the ISI. Do you agree with him?

I would not like to comment on George Fernandes. All l can say is that it is difficult to believe that the government of Pakistan and their much-talked-about intelligence agency the ISI had no role in sending the armed intruders into the Kargil sector.

Do you think such a man should continue as defence minister of India?

I have no comments on this issue. I am a serviceman and not a politician. I would like to stay away from this controversy.

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