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June 11, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/Major General (Retired) Afsir Karim

'Pakistan does not have the infrastructure to launch a major offensive in Kargil'

Having served in three different capacities in the the border state of Jammu and Kashmir, Major General (retired) Afsir Karim is much sought after for his views on the ongoing Kargil crisis. Apart from having a thorough knowledge of the region, he has also authored a comprehensive book on Kashmir and one on counter-terrorism which takes into account the Pakistan factor. Then followed a book on Sri Lanka.

The general edited the Indian Defence Review for five years and now edits Akrosh, a journal on national security affairs and related issues. In this interview to Tara Shankar Sahay about the intricacies of the conflict and what ought to be done to discourage Islamabad's devious designs on Kashmir.

What do you think are the real factors responsible for the ongoing Kargil conflict?

The Kargil conflict is the result of the activities of those Pakistani forces which had unleashed insurgency in the Indian side of the Line of Control. These forces gradually realised that the insurgency was not having the desired effect.

They realised that they had not been able to do much in ten years and the Kashmiri people had become fed up of the insurgency. The Kashmiri people were aggrieved that the insurgency masterminded by the Pakistani forces had ruined the lucrative tourist industry in the state, apart from spoiling the chances of local employment.

Thus, the Kashmiri people put their foot down and told the Pakistani forces that insurgency would not be allowed any more. Besides, there was pressure from the international community on the Pakistani forces to end their nefarious activities. But these forces knew that they had to keep the Kashmir problem alive so that there could be some sort of international intervention in Kashmir.

That is why the Pakistani forces launched an attack in the Indian side of the LoC. I think this is not an infiltration but an attack. I am very clear about it. But the attack was made on uninhabited areas and not on our positions.

What do you think about the criticism from some quarters that the conflict came in the wake of the failure of proper intelligence assessment by the government regarding Kargil ?

It is clear if there was no intelligence assessment failure, the Pakistani aggressors would not have been able to occupy our positions in Kargil. The failure is at various levels and it ought to be rectified but not at this juncture because we are engaged in driving out the Pakistani forces from our territory. But it should be undertaken later with due analysis and perspective.

You recently commented that Pakistan does not have the capability to launch a major offensive in Kargil because of very difficult logistics. Can you elaborate?

Pakistan does not have the necessary infrastructure to launch a major offensive in Kargil. It has no roads for the purpose. Its supply line starts from Islamabad to Gilgit and goes down to Skardu. It is very lengthy and open to the vagaries of weather.

This supply line is vulnerable to Indian air strikes and cannot be sustained for long. This is one reason.

The other reason is that our positions in the high reaches are very strong. For example, if we have five persons manning a position then Pakistan will need at at least ten persons to counter us. Thus it becomes very difficult for Islamabad. Also, we are in a good position to have reinforcements unlike Pakistan. So the advantage is with us.

Could you underline the reason why the Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz is rushing to Beijing before coming to New Delhi for talks to de-escalate tension on Kargil?

Obviously, Pakistan is feeling isolated, especially after the international community including the US has unambiguously pointed out that the Pakistani forces have occupied Indian positions by crossing over the LoC in Kargil and that they must go back.

The Pakistan foreign minister is going to plead with the Chinese leadership to give Islamabad some support for its position on the Kargil conflict. But China has kept quiet on the issue. During the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars too, China had not given support to Pakistan. One has to remember that China is a big country and has its own share of problems.

How do you perceive the Pakistani move to project the Afghans and other mercenaries hired by Islamabad as Kashmiri Mujahideen fighting for the state's independence?

Pakistan has been indulging in this exercise ever since its inception. First, in 1948 it said that "frontier volunteers" had taken to fighting in Kashmir. Then, during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, Islamabad termed the presence of the mercenaries in Kashmir as a Kashmiri uprising.

Pakistan wants to give the impression to the world that Kashmir is a disputed territory. Gradually, Islamabad has begun believing its own concocted theory about an independence struggle in Kashmir.

You have written in your book on Kashmir that the Americans want to get a foothold in Kashmir under any pretext. But now, the US has unambiguously said that Pakistan has occupied Indian positions and it must withdraw its forces from Indian territory. To what do you attribute this American change of mind regarding Kashmir?

I think the earlier US contention on Kashmir was motivated by the compulsions of the Cold War period when Washington had to contend with the Russians and the Chinese for global supremacy.

Today, the Americans are on good terms with both Russia and China and the earlier compulsions no longer exist. Besides, satellites enabled the US to know exactly what was happening.

Could you elaborate why you think that the possibility of a conventional war between India and Pakistan has receded?

This is because both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. And if nuclear weapons by both these countries are used, conventional wars will end. And if, by chance, a conventional war between them becomes protracted, the possibility of both using nuclear weapons increases.

What do you think about Pakistan Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad's apparent attempt at nuclear blackmail when he said that his country would use any weapon in its arsenal if provoked?

Pakistan cannot resort to nuclear blackmail. Let us suppose for a moment that if Pakistan first uses nuclear weapons against India, a similar and inevitable retaliation by the latter is too fearsome to be contemplated.

Pakistan will be wiped out. Pakistan, on the other hand, can never fully destroy India considering its massive size. I don't think Pakistan will be foolish enough to mount a nuclear attack against India.

How can India counter the growing Chinese influence in the South Asian region?

The Chinese interest in South Asia is different from Beijing's interest in the Pacific. China apparently wants to ensure that India does not become too strong an adversary in the region and that is why Beijing from time to time keeps encouraging and supporting our enemies.

Are you satisfied with the Indian diplomatic offensive on the Kargil conflict?

Satisfaction depends on the success of the propaganda you mount. I think we are weak on this score. It should improve drastically including in the related technological field.

What do you think of Islamabad's frequent rushing to the Organisation of Islamic Conference countries for enlisting support on the Kashmir issue?

You should not forget that India too has good relations with the OIC countries. They might give a patient hearing to Pakistan but they have not created hurdles in India's path on Kashmir and other issues.

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