July 27, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/ General Ved Prakash Malik

The Rediff Interview/General Ved Prakash Malik
'Pakistan thought the Indian Army's back was broken'

Part I: 'Crossing the LoC would have had other implications'

In the second part of his interview with Chindu Sreedharan and Josy Joseph, General Ved Prakash Malik, army chief during the Kargil war, talks about the unexpected conflict. He is honest about India's weaknesses as he recalls of his fears and disappointments. But he also describes his elation as the tide began turning in India's favour:

Could you share the highlights of the war with us? How it was fought and won?

We had prioritised the different sectors. Drass was very important to us because that was where the maximum interference could take place... on the (Srinagar-Leh) road. Similarly, there was Batalik on the other side.

We took a little time to reorganise ourselves, for the units to get in, for logistics to build up. We also had to correct the initial setbacks we suffered when the troops were deployed without acclimatisation or adequate equipment.

Once that was done, we started our attack. Our first target was Tololing, the most important feature in Drass, which was bang on the road. That battle lasted almost six days. I must take my hat off the boys who clung to each rock and made that victory possible.

The victory at Tololing was first turning point in the war. We lost some very brave officers in the process, but it boosted our morale. I was able to face the people and the press. By then, we had demolished the Pakistani claim that there were only militants there. We were able to justify what we were saying by showing the world the regular Pakistani army weapons and their documents.

Earlier, in the first week of June, I faced some anxious moments when the Pakistani foreign minister came to India. I was very worried because, on the ground, everything was against us. I feared that, if an agreement was reached, it would show the Army in a very poor light.

I also worried about the effect of these kind of political negotiations on the troops. On June 5, as I was returning from Jammu and Kashmir to New Delhi, I decided to issue a signal saying that talks were on. I also explained that our aim had not changed; it was not necessary for us to bother about these political developments.

Then came Tiger Hill. After almost 10 days of preparation, we made an attempt to capture the peak on July 4. I could not sleep that night. By then, Tiger Hill had taken on a kind of symbolism in the media. For me, personally, that date was very important because, that very evening, the Pakistani prime minister was to meet the US president.

I could not sleep that night.

By about 8.30-9 on the morning of July 4, the battle for Tiger Hill was over. We had captured the peak. I immediately informed the minister. We wanted the world to know what we had achieved before (then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz) Sharif met (then US President) Clinton.

It was a tremendous achievement because we were making simultaneous attacks for Point 4875 and Tiger Hill. The fact that we had succeeded in capturing Tiger Hill gave us courage.

Even while the focus remained on Drass, we started pushing the Pakistanis at Batalik. Our initial attempt to attack from the western flank failed. So we attacked from the east; the Ladakh Scouts played a major role in this battle. This time we were victorious. By July 9, we were able to recapture a large chunk of the area.

Once Tiger Hill was captured, it was clear to everyone that our victory was a matter of days. We were determined to win and our morale was high. I now expected the war to end well before the onset of winter.

How hopeful were you when you started Operation Vijay?

I was 50 per cent hopeful of clearing that area and of keeping the war limited to that area. If we hadn't done so, it would have carried on for a much longer period. It was a difficult job, a difficult terrain and you had to take certain risks. You needed logistics. After Tololing, though, the odds shifted in our favour.

Before the ceasefire was announced, we had cleared almost 90-95 per cent of the Batalik area. We had cleared all the major features overlooking Drass.

The war is almost won... and then the government goes for a cease-fire.

It is always a very hard decision, particularly for a military man. I did discuss this with the prime minister, the fact that you have lost so many people and when victory is in sight...

The decision had to be taken in the larger interest. If we had carried on fighting, there would have been more casualties. The military, after discussions, agreed to the ceasefire. I have no doubt that some people still think we should have carried on.

Do you belong to that group?

No, I don't. After all I was party to the decision... Yeah, there was a bit of disappointment and we discussed that. My difficulty wasn't my own. I had to think of my commanders, of the troops on the ground. I knew some of them would be unhappy about this decision.

Can you clarify the controversy about Point 5353, which has reportedly been taken over by Pakistan?

That is not true. The 1972 letter clearly shows, both on the map and in writing, that the LoC passes through 5353. Some of the Point's features are occupied by them and some by us. But the fact is that if you want to attack Point 5353, you would have to come via the Pakistani side. It is not with us. We had never occupied it. Point 5353 had been vacated by them for a while when the talks were going on. Then they reoccupied it, that's all. I don't know how this controversy started. But I saw the hand-sketched map in which somebody had put 5353 right next to Tiger Hill. That is wrong!

So, post-Kargil, the LoC has not been realigned anywhere?

No, I don't think so.

Brigadier Surinder Singh, who was in charge of Kargil, claims to have warned you about the possibility of such an invasion. Please comment.

The briefing he gave me in August 1998, during the short while I was in Kargil, was the normal briefing any brigade commander gives his chief. I visited that area for one-and-a-half hours. I took him along with me -- the corps commander was there, the division commander was there, everyone was there. From there, we went to Drass. All this took place in that one-and-a-half hours. The tour notes of my visit are available.

Now, to say after all this time that I warned the chief in 1998 makes no sense at all! Subsequently, he said he had no clue that this kind of an intrusion could take place in his sector. More importantly, as per our system, the brigade commander and the division commander give a certificate every month to their superior that there is no intrusion in their sector. And the brigade commander had been giving those certificates.

Was there was nothing out of ordinary in the briefing he gave you?

Nothing. Look, I do not, as chief, wish to be involved in a controversy with a brigade commander. A brigade commander's superior is a division commander, then comes the corps commander, then the Army commander and then the chief. So, for a brigade commander to say he warned the chief two years ago... what about his own superiors?

Is it true the Army had initially planned to move both the brigade commander and the division commander?

Some of these things did cross my mind. But moving both would have created more problems for us. So we took the decision to side-step the brigade commander.

Was the Kargil conflict militarily motivated? Or was it political?

I consider Kashmir to be more of a military agenda in Pakistan. It was obvious to us that the Pakistan military had initiated Kargil before the Lahore talks. The question is whether they took political clearance or not. They say they did.

But, to a military man, that raises many questions: What kind of clearance? Did the political leadership understand what the military was trying to convey? Were the implications of such an operation made clear to the political leadership?

What about the arms haul at Turtuk during the conflict? Some 25 villagers were trying to cut off the five villages captured in the 1971 war and rejoin Pakistan. How serious would that have been if it had succeeded?

The fact that we did not know this kind of thing was happening was a weakness in our counterintelligence. You cannot afford to have this kind of subversion of people living on the border. In fact, this is one of our weaknesses all along the border. You have to look after the border people more carefully, you have to win their minds and hearts.

It could have become very serious. If they had succeeded in coming through Chorbat La, they would have cut off the whole area known as sub-sector Hanif. It would have been very difficult for us to recapture this area.

How do you rate the Kargil Committee's recommendations? Are you satisfied with the way the inquiry was conducted?

The KRC comprised of three very well respected people -- K Subrahmanyam, Lt General K K Hazari and B G Verghese. We were clearly told we had to co-operate; nothing was to be hidden from them. There was total transparency.

They were allowed to interview people at every level -- from sepoys to second lieutenants to captains to me. I have gone through their report, including the parts that have not been published because of security reasons. And I agree with whatever they have said.

I also endorse almost every recommendation they have made. The 25 or 26 points they are talking about are glaring weaknesses in our armour. We were aware of them but, unfortunately, we had not been able to resolve them. I hope something constructive comes out of this whole exercise. We can't afford to bury this report.

You said you agree with almost everything. What are the points you don't agree with?

When I said almost, I meant everything. There may be a degree of difference, but it is not worth talking about. People have said they have not blamed anyone, but that is not my problem.

What would you say are the factors that led to the Kargil conflict?

Most of those have come out in the KRC report. There have been surveillance and intelligence failures. The enemy also knew we were heavily engaged in internal security operations. So they thought the Indian Army's back is broken.

For instance, in an article published in the month of February or March, their ex-DG ISI General Javed Nasir had written that the Indian army is not strong anymore and can be taught a lesson. This misperception led to wrong deductions and actions on their part. Mainly, they thought they could get away with it.

I also think our reactive attitude has added to the problem. Militarily, we are never pro-active. This affects both our people and those on the other side. In the long-term, it has a harmful effect.

Part III: 'Kargil was a good wake-up call'

You might also like to read:
Kargil: The complete coverage

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