News Find/Feedback/Site Index
February 28, 2000


Search Rediff

E-Mail this interview to a friend

The Rediff Interview/K Subrahmanyam

'Ultimately it's the Cabinet and successive PMs
who are responsible'

The initial response to the Kargil inquiry report from strategic affairs expert K Subrahmanyam, policy analyst B G Verghese and retired Lieutenant General K K Hazari has not been too enthusiastic. Critics say it is bland and fails to blame anyone for the lapses that allowed the Pakistani incursion.

K Subrahmanyam justifies his report, insisting that the aim of the inquiry was not so much to blame individuals as to pinpoint the systemic failures that could avoid a recurrence of the event. The only way to deal with such threats is to have in place a policy for reprisal so as to deter planned misadventure, Subrahmanyam told Amberish K Diwanji and Josy Joseph:

You have said that should Pakistan try a Kargil again, India must be willing to strike back at a place and time of its choosing. Can you elaborate?

For the last 15-20 years, the Pakistanis have been under the impression that given the nuclear capabilities and the way in which, through terrorism and a proxy war, they have tied down our forces, they can do anything anywhere. We have got to communicate to them that no, it cannot be done and there will be costs to them. So our policy has got to be clear that while we are talking about the fear of escalation, the other person also has to have a fear of escalation. He cannot be allowed to have a free run, or that he can get away with murder as has been happening so far.

You have also said that Pakistan has blackmailed us on the nuclear issue. Could you be more specific?

The present Pakistani foreign minister, Abdus Sattar, the previous foreign minister Agha Shahi and Air Chief Marshal Zulfikar Ali Khan, who was air chief in the 1970s, have written a joint article called 'Securing Nuclear Peace' in which they said Pakistan decided to go nuclear in 1972 to acquire deterrence against India's superior conventional forces. According to them, on three occasions Pakistan's nuclear capability deterred India. The first was in 1984, then in 1987 during Operation Brasstacks, and the third in 1990 when the Kashmir terrorist campaign started.

In the Kargil report, we have pointed out that in 1987, the then Pakistani minister of state for foreign affairs, Zahid Noorani, sent for the Indian ambassador, S K Singh, and told him that if Pakistan's territorial integrity was threatened, Pakistan would be able to inflict unacceptable damage on India, a way of conveying a nuclear threat.

Again, in 1990, Sahibzada Yakub Khan came to India and spoke in a language which both V P Singh and I K Gujral interpreted as a threat. Even now, in Kargil, Pakistan said they have deterred us, so what does that mean?

Your Kargil report also states that successive Indian governments have not taken the people into confidence. How has this affected the development of our nuclear policy?

It has affected our policy development in the sense that Pakistan conveyed these nuclear threats, but the country was not told about them. All the time people in this country think that it is we who took the initiative on the nuclear explosions and the Pakistanis responded, whereas the truth is the other way round.

The country was not told that the Chinese have been helping the Pakistanis systematically; the country was not told that the United States connived at it while knowing all about it, which American documents now clearly reveal. Even now, when the US come and preach non-proliferation to us, we don't ask them what did you do when Pakistan was becoming nuclear, why did you support Pakistan with military equipment and financial assistance.

By keeping these facts secret, we have created problems for ourselves. Worse, while in Pakistan the people and the armed forces were told by their leaders -- by Benazir Bhutto who said the bomb was made behind her back, by Nawaz Sharief, by General Aslam Beg, our people and armed forces were not told. Hence, if there is tension, if our troops feel that they have the bomb but we don't, is that a good thing?

But India did explode the bomb in 1974, and hence we all were aware about it.

We had the technology, but in 1978 [then prime minister] Morarji Desai declared in the [United Nations] General Assembly, "I give it to you in writing, we have abjured the bomb."

Now that both countries have the bomb, don't you think it is necessary to impart training to civilians on how to cope?

It won't work. The US tried it for years and found that even with all their resources, it cannot work. Hence it cannot work in our country.

Your report speaks of intelligence failure as one of the factors for the Kargil intrusion.

No, the Kargil intrusion is not because of all these things. The Kargil intrusion happened because the Pakistanis decided to do something irrational. It is like having a skylight on your roof. You think no one will break through it and jump into your courtyard because that would be a stupid thing to do. But somebody decides to be stupid, jumps through the glass and then gets beaten up!

In this particular case, we have got it on record, all the former chiefs of staff and directors general of military operations have said that it was utterly idiotic. As it happened in Kargil, the Pakistanis were running out of water. Therefore, what they did was a totally crazy act and finally paid a price for it.

We did not think they would be so crazy. In intelligence, we try to anticipate a rational act on the part of the other person; you can't anticipate an irrational act! There is no end to irrational actions. In this case, no intelligence agency could have anticipated this action.

Second, they came in and lost about 30-40 people in avalanches. If we want to patrol these areas, we too would have lost an equal number in avalanches. That is why Brigadier Surinder Singh said he did not patrol these areas and it was a correct decision. We have said so.

Yet, your report does fault Brigadier Surinder Singh to an extent.

No, we have not blamed him for his conduct. We have said that according to his best judgment, he decided not to send patrols. What we have said is, when he said he anticipated enemy threat, why did he not act accordingly? Singh said it would have resulted in casualties. Which means you did not think the threat was serious enough to incur the risk. That is all we have said.

A criticism is that your report is not blaming anybody, that it is too vague.

What would you blame the generals for?

But surely there is a chain of command and collective responsibility for what happened?

But what is the action for which you blame the generals?

Well, for one there was a lot of movement and mobilisation across the Line of Control.

There is movement all over occupied Kashmir. They [the Pakistanis] are continuing to train people. And mind you, every year in Kashmir, 2,000 people, mercenaries, come in and we are not able to stop it. You have not done enough to stop it. This, our report has pointed out; that in the last 10 years the government has not done enough to stop these incursions. We know very well where the mercenaries are being trained and that they will come in. We should prepare for that.

The army had actually earmarked the 70 Brigade to come in [to Kashmir to stop infiltration] and the 70 Brigade was doing so when this [the Kargil intrusion] happened. The 70 Brigade was immediately moved to Drass. Therefore, what was anticipated, the army took action.

When the incursions occurred the Pakistanis came in and held the area for months. For this, the invading troops carried supplies and equipment, all of which meant a logistics command behind them. Surely our intelligence should have noticed such a huge operation taking place. This was no mere infiltration.

First, when people infiltrate, they come in from the valley and carry a few days' supplies. Within that period, once inside, they merge with the local population. In this case, they moved in within January [1999] within a mile or so of the Line of Control, and set up some supplies. This could be done because of the snow conditions and they were wearing the right kind of equipment. Then they advanced another mile, took in more stocks. In March, there was heavy snowfall, and they lost people. In April, they advanced much further. Thus they did it in three stages.

Now, if we want to go up and check the place, we should be ready to incur casualties, which no one wanted. No one thought the risk was so great and no one thought such a thing would happen. This is all that happened.

Yet, there have been reports of divisions within the army on how the situation was handled, and whether it could have been handled better.

Our clear brief was to inquire into why the Kargil intrusion happened, not on how the army responded. For the latter, if the government wants it, they can set up another committee of retired generals -- one from the infantry, one from the artillery, and a third -- to see what was done right or wrong.

Our report states that once the intrusions were detected, the army responded very effectively. In fact, two battalions that had just come down from Siachen, and were therefore acclimatised, were rushed to the LoC to tackle the situation.

Yet, is no one to be held responsible at the highest levels of the army and the government for allowing Kargil to occur? Or does one just blame systemic failures?

It is a systemic failure. We have said that for 10 years Pakistanis have been tying down the army and wearing down the soldiers, yet we did not develop a strategy. Who should be held responsible for that? Not a particular general. You have to hold the government responsible, the Cabinet responsible, and the prime minister responsible for it.

Then the report says the Pakistanis have been operating under this nuclear umbrella, yet the government did not share information. Who's responsible for this? Then we have been cutting down the defence budget, most of the budget goes for administrative costs, the army is involved in civil operations and our paramilitary has not been upgraded, who's responsible for all this?

Everyone says someone should be responsible. Yes, ultimately it is the Cabinet of the government and successive prime ministers of India who are responsible for all this.

We all know that the government has failed us, but at a specific level, are not others also responsible? Is not the Research and Analysis Wing responsible for the intelligence failure, which your report does mention?

But there are reasons for it. For instance, take intelligence reports, for which we have blamed RAW. But the answer is, RAW would say we wanted more money, it was not given. And second, our report asks who is supervising RAW?

Actually it points to responsibility in every case, but our people cannot look at it organisationally or structurally. They just want to cut off someone's head, which is the worst thing to do.

It does appear that Brigadier Surinder Singh is being singled out. Even an internal army report blames him.

I don't know about the army report, but our report does not blame him. It only says his threat perception does not match up to what he did on the ground.

Do you see your report finally being used or will it just lie in the files?

All I can say is that if you had asked me a year ago whether such a report would have been commissioned, my answer would have been no. The very fact that such a report was commissioned is a positive step. The government now says it will take action on our report. What that is going to be, we don't know, but if they appoint a special body of professionals to look into the matter, then one can say they are doing something. Otherwise, one can say they are doing nothing.

Join him for a discussion on Kargil on March 1, Wednesday, at 1530 IST.

The complete coverage

The Rediff Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview