July 28, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/ General Ved Prakash Malik

'Kargil was a good wake-up call'

Part I: 'Crossing the LoC would have had other implications'
Part II: 'Pakistan thought the Indian Army's back was broken'

IIn the concluding part of his three-part interview with Chindu Sreedharan and Josy Joseph, General Ved Prakash Malik (retired) talks of the lessons India has learnt from the Kargil conflict. And gives his assessment of the man who initiated it, General Pervez Musharraf, now president of Pakistan:

Is there any single person, group or agency whom you would hold responsible for the intrusion?

I don't think so. I believe accountability is important and should exist, but I don't want to go into others' affairs. The Army is looking into its own affairs. I hope everyone else will do the same.

You were the Army chief for a year after the conflict. To what extent have the KRC recommendations been implemented?

There were certain things that were easy for us. For example, at the tactical and operational level, we were able to disseminate the lessons we had learnt.

But there were many other things, particularly the points that have been brought out by the KRC, that are at a much higher level. These are issues on which we can only give our recommendations. They look longer; in fact, some of them are happening even as we speak. The government has, as you know, appointed task forces.

Would you say 50 per cent of the recommendations have been implemented during your tenure?

I don't think it will be right for me to put it in that fashion. There are certain things that concern you directly, which you must and can implement immediately. There are other things that are outside your scope. For example, if I were to say we realised the need for more 155 guns… Now, this was something we had been saying earlier, the war only reinforced it. But decisions like these are not in the hands of the Army alone.

When do you see all the KRC recommendations being implemented?

Unfortunately, everything in India takes time. I feel we should be able to implement the recommendations within the next two years.

What according to you is the major bottleneck in implementing the recommendations?

There is always a resistance to change. There are differences of opinion, there are differences among the services, there are differences between the services and the civil administration. Law makers, members of Parliament and other opinion-makers, in particular, need to be educated about national security. Secondly, you need to become more transparent.

Is there any KRC recommendation that you feel will not be implemented for any reason whatsoever?

No, I don't think so. But some of the recommendations -- for example, the integrated command -- will take time. It might even take seven years. But, otherwise, there's nothing that can't be done.

Can you tell us broadly what the Army's internal inquiry came up with?

We had our own review, but I can't talk about the findings.

Do the findings parallel the KRC report?

I think so, yes. There are no disparities.

And the Budget? Is it satisfactory?

The Budget, which is about 2.5 or 2.6 per cent of GDP, is not too bad, though it would be better at three per cent. What is more important is how that money is utilised. In the last few years, we have had the money but we have not been able to spend it!

The first Budget after the conflict was generous towards the military. The subsequent ones, however, weren't. Do you see a trend where military demands once again slip back into their pre-Kargil status?

I hope not. Notwithstanding the reduction in the Pakistani budget, we have to recognise the fact that the security situation on the subcontinent has deteriorated. You cannot take chances, you must always remain prepared.

You must also realise it takes a long time to convert your money into weapons and equipment. If you spent money today, or get money today, it doesn't mean you will be better prepared tomorrow. It takes time.

Do you think India is slipping back again?

If you permit the Budget to go down in the next two years to below what it is today, it is going to have an impact on your preparedness in the years to come. As it is, there are shortcomings. You have to rectify them first.

What would you say are the most important lessons of Kargil?

I would put them under two headings -- operation and strategic. As far as our operations are concerned, there were a number of lessons. Things like patrolling, attacking objectives in the mountains from different directions, things of that nature. There were a large number of such lessons and they have been disseminated.

The most important lesson was on surveillance. We don't want to be caught out again in the manner that we were.

The other lessons that were more relevant to me are at the strategic level. The most important thing your credibility. Your adversary must not get the impression that you are weak, that you will not strike back, or that you will only react and not take a pro-active stand. A consistent reactive policy can convey the wrong impression. This needs to be corrected.

In terms of collation, assessment and dissemination, there were major weaknesses in our intelligence at the strategic level. The joint intelligence committee did not function properly. All those weaknesses have now been noted.

There are other lessons. For example, we must always be conscious of the fact that terrorist operations and militancy are part of a conflict spectrum. It can escalate and shift into a conventional war quite easily. It happened in 1947, it happened in 1965 and it happened in 1999.

When we are looking at the spectrum of conflict, we should not isolate these incidents. We should not see them as just a law-and-order problem. Today's law-and-order problem can turn into a war tomorrow. We need to monitor the situation carefully and be prepared physically and mentally in case it escalates.

Also, though India and Pakistan are nuclear nations, it is not true to say there cannot be a conventional war between them. Kargil proved that. There is a threshold under which a conventional war is possible.

The actual ground position line, the LoC and the IB are all linked today. If something major happens in one part, it can impact the other areas. Now, it is difficult for both India and Pakistan to make major boundary changes.

Speaking strictly from the military point of view, do you think the conflict was good for the Indian Army?

War is never good. But, purely from the point of operational readiness, effectiveness and training, Kargil was a good wake-up call and a morale booster. Fighting an operation of this nature after so many years brought out our good points, as well as our weaknesses.

What do you think was its single most important contribution?

Bringing out the spirit of nationalism in the country. It brought together a whole lot of people, not only within India but within the Indian diaspora as well. The kind of support the armed forces and the government got during the war... I don't think it has happened earlier.

There was a flurry of modernisation drives right after Kargil, which seems to have slowed down now.

Everybody has realised that our procedures are not helpful. The system we have developed over the years for procurement has to be streamlined considerably. Now, we are making an effort to do so.

Everyone has registered the fact that we need to speed up our modernisation process. At the moment, procurement of weapons and equipment in India takes its own time, which is much longer than any serviceman would like it to be.

UAVs -- or the lack of it -- was had caused much concern during and after the war. Have we acquired any?

Yes. They were in the pipeline. They are being used now.

As a general overseeing the operation, you knew many of your soldiers would die. Were there any instances where your military self was in conflict with your personal, emotional side?

I was not an operational commander. I didn't go into the details of the operations to be able to assess how many casualties there would be.

But, yes, these are hard decisions. In war, there are bound to be casualties. To think we should go to war and not suffer any casualties is a harmful attitude. But, with experience, when you do your operational planning, you can make out how cost-effective it will. Besides, every commander has to take a decision where to yield and where not to yield.

Did the Army do the needful when Lieutenant Saurabh Kalia's patrol went missing? Wasn't the local unit slow in tracking him down?

These are tactical matters at the unit level. The Army chief does not have any role in these matters. However, our subsequent inquiries revealed that a proper search was initiated. The second patrol found that the area where Kalia's patrol went missing had been occupied by the Pakistanis.

An accusation against the now dismissed brigade commander of Kargil is that he vacated the Bajrang post without proper assessment. Are the two incidents linked?

The patrol went missing near Bajrang post. The matter (of vacating the post) was not known to any of the higher ups.

What changes has Kargil made to the relationship between the Indian and Pakistani armies? What was it like before the war?

During Kargil, we made sure the DGMO lines were never blocked. They even met each other on one occasion during the war. We also exchanged bodies in many places. On all those occasions, the relationship was by and large cordial. There was this incident where some of the bodies returned to us were mutilated. It was evident that they had been tortured. That did bring about some bitterness. Nobody expected that the soldiers would be tortured and killed in this manner.

Other than that, the conversations that took place on the telephone or while exchanging bodies were civil. These are part of the CBMs. We had good CBMs before the situation in Kargil. But they were eroded as jehadi terrorism increased in the valley. There is a need to strengthen them again.

Post-Kargil, I would recommend we have more channels, more CBMs. They are very useful during periods of tension and, as we realised, during wars. The CBMs were one of the reasons why we were able to limit the war.

Is the military to military relationship between India and Pakistan better or worse after Kargil?

I can only speak till the time I retired. I don't think there was much change. By the time I retired, which was a year after, there was a fair amount of bitterness on both sides. Now that more time has elapsed and I am not wearing the uniform, I feel there is a need for greater interaction and more CBMs. At that time, things hadn't improved much.

The war has left a lot of bitterness in many soldiers, especially those who saw their colleagues die. What measures are in place to check such emotions from spilling over and leading to skirmishes or trans-border attacks?

Our command and control structure at the unit and formation levels are fairly strong. Nobody will, just for the heck of it, create a situation that can escalate into something bigger. The Army's discipline and ethos is very well established in such matters.

What is your reading of General Musharraf as a military man and now as the president of Pakistan?

I found the man ambitious. He wanted to prove himself. He undertook this unconventional task probably because of his background in the Special Services Group. The operation was proactive, ambitious and achieved success as long as the element of surprise and deception lasted. But it also had serious logistics shortcomings, poor strategic perceptions and lacked a proper assessment of India's military strength. The operation was not thought through to the end. It failed in its aims, resulting in considerable political and military cost to Pakistan.

Are you happy with preventive measures India has taken post-Kargil? Would you rule out the possibility of another Kargil?

One should never rule out such a thing. This is the lesson we have learnt. One cannot afford to be complacent along the border. Talks, no talks, summit, no summit, the fact is the man on the ground has a responsibility to remain alert.

Part I: 'Crossing the LoC would have had other implications'
Part II: 'Pakistan thought the Indian Army's back was broken'

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

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