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Did Musharraf tell Sharif about Kargil?

June 06, 2008 21:42 IST
Did President Pervez Musharraf, who was the army chief under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before October 12, 1999, inform Sharif about his plans to send the army to occupy the Kargil heights? If not, why not? If so, when did he inform him? What was Sharif's reaction? Did he concur with Musharraf's action or did he not approve of his action? What is the truth?

These questions have assumed importance in the light of two interviews by Lieutenant General (retired) Jamshed Gulzar Kiani on June 2 to the Geo television channel and Dawn newspaper of Karachi. Kiani was a major general in the Inter-Services Intelligence at the time of the Kargil conflict and the subsequent coup against Sharif.

The ISI was then headed by Lieutenant General Ziauddin, a Kashmiri of Punjabi origin from the engineer corps. The differences between Musharraf and Sharif initially developed shortly after Musharraf's appointment as army chief in October 1998.

These differences were due to Sharif's over-ruling Musharraf's objections to Ziauddin's appointment as ISI director general. Ziauddin was a close confidante of Sharif and kept him informed Musharraf's actions. This led to Musharraf stopping inviting him to some of his meetings with the corps commanders.

Kiani ingratiated himself with Musharraf by keeping him informed of Ziauddin's activities. A small coterie of army officers headed by Lieutenant General Mohammad Aziz, the then chief of the general staff, staged a coup when Musharraf was returning to Karachi from Colombo on October 12, 1999, and had Sharif arrested because he dismissed Musharraf and appointed Ziauddin as army chief. They prevented Ziauddin from entering the army chief's office. He was arrested subsequently.

A question often debated in senior circles of the Pakistan army is whether this coterie would have behaved in this manner if Sharif had appointed a Punjabi lieutenant general from a fighting formation instead of an engineer as the army chief. Those who held this view used to argue that the objection of this coterie was not to the dismissal of Musharraf, a Mohajir, who was disliked by many Punjabi officers, but to his appointment of Ziauddin as army chief. It is difficult to know the truth.

A month after taking over power as chief executive, Musharraf promoted Kiani as a lieutenant general and appointed him a corps commander. The two were very close.

When Kiani reached the age of superannuation in 2003, Musharraf rewarded his loyalty by appointing him chairman of the Federal Public Services Commission, which post had a fixed tenure of five years under the law. Serious differences developed between the two when Kiani as chairman of the commission did not do the bidding of Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz, the then prime minister, in respect of some appointments and postings of officers.

Musharraf asked him to resign. He declined. Musharraf had a bill passed by the national assembly in September 2006 reducing the tenure from five to three years. He was replaced at the end of three years.

A bitter Kiani, who felt humiliated, joined a group of anti-Musharraf officers like General Mirza Aslam Beg, the former army chief who succeeded Zia-ul Haq after he died in a plane crash in August 1988, and Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, former ISI DG and has been keeping on a campaign against Musharraf.

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In his interview, he made various allegations against Musharraf regarding the Kargil episode, Musharraf's post-9/11 cooperation with the US and the commando raid on the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July last year.

On Kargil, this is what he said: According to his information, Sharif did not know anything about the Kargil episode. He was never thoroughly briefed. He (Kiani) supported the holding of a probe into the Kargil fiasco. He had briefed Sharif and told him that it was a very sensitive issue and he could not unveil all details to him. In a meeting on May 17, 1999, Sharif gave a green signal to the operation. He assured conditional support to General Musharraf that the government would back the operation when he successfully moved forward. If unfortunately it failed, he would not be in a position to support him (Musharraf).

In his interview to Dawn on June 2, Kiani said: Sharif, the majority of corps commanders and the ISI were kept in the dark about the Kargil operation in 1999. Although Sharif was briefed on the Kargil issue, it was fairly late and the conflict had started by then. It was not a comprehensive briefing that the chief executive should have been given.

Talking to the media on June 3, Sharif demanded Musharraf's trial on treason charges for his illegal November 3, 2007, move in imposing a state of emergency, the Lal Masjid raid and keeping the nation, military officials and the then political leadership in the dark on the Kargil issue. He termed Musharraf's account on the Kargil issue in his book, In the Line of Fire, a pack of lies and said that Kiani's interview upheld his stance that he was not informed about the Kargil operation.

Sharif was being clever. Kiani did not tell either Geo TV or Dawn that Sharif was not informed. He only said that Sharif was informed later and that too not in a comprehensive manner. At the same time, he added that Sharif approved the already on-going operation provided it would be successful.

Who is telling the truth -- Musharraf in his book in which he claimed that Nawaz was on board or Kiani, who claims that Nawaz was informed in passing after the Pakistan Army had moved into the Kargil heights?

The definitive answer to this question is to be found in the archives of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency. In the last week of May 1999, Musharraf had been to Beijing. He was in daily telephonic contact with Lieutenant General Mohammad Aziz from his hotel room in Beijing. All these conversations were intercepted by RAW.

The then government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to release to the media the transcripts of two of these tapes for three reasons. Firstly, the tapes showed that it was the Pakistani Army which had occupied the Kargil heights violating the Line of Control and not Kashmiri Mujahideen as claimed by Musharraf. Secondly, it was the Pakistan Army which had shot down an Indian Air Force plane and asked the Hizbul Mujahideen to claim the responsibility for it. Third, the tapes showed that Musharraf had launched his operation without the knowledge of Sharif, many of his corps commanders, the ISI, the chiefs of the air force and navy and his foreign office. He got nervous after the IAF went into action and there were reports of Indian naval ships moving from the east to the west coast.

Worried over the possibility of the conflict spreading outside Kashmir, Musharraf authorised Aziz from Beijing to brief other officers about the operation at an inter-ministerial meeting chaired by Sharif on May 29, 1999. At this meeting, as reported by Aziz to Musharraf, there were objections to Musharraf's keeping others in the dark. According to the account of the meeting as given by Aziz to Musharraf, Sharif defended Musharraf's action in not informing others as due to the demands of operational secrecy. Sharif claimed that he and other corps commanders were informed only a week earlier. He made it appear that Musharraf's action was understandable.

A careful examination of the tapes would indicate the following:

  • Musharraf launched the operation without taking Sharif's clearance and without the knowledge of most senior officers.
  • When the Indian Army hit back and the IAF went into action, he lost his nerve and informed Sharif first and then other senior officers and the foreign office.
  • Instead of rebuking Musharraf, Sharif went along with it hoping that the operation would succeed. When it did not, he flew to the US and sought assistance in bringing the fighting to a halt.
  • It is clear that neither Musharraf nor Nawaz nor Kiani is telling the whole truth. Each is telling only part of the truth which, they think, would serve their purpose.

On June 14, 1999, I had done a detailed analysis of the tapes as released to the media by then foreign minister Jaswant Singh.

Extract from the 1999 article:

At what stage did Sharif become aware of the Pakistani Army's proxy invasion plans? The CGS, while reporting on May 29 to the army chief (Musharraf) on a meeting held by Sharif says: 'He said I (Sharif) came to know seven days back, when the corps commanders were told. The entire reason for the success of this operation was this total secrecy.'

'Our experience was that our earlier efforts failed because of lack of secrecy. So, the top priority is to accord confidentiality, to ensure success. We should respect this and the advantage we have from this would give us a handle.'

There are two ways of interpreting this. First, as claimed by then defence minister George Fernandes, the army secretly planned and started the execution of this operation and informed Sharif thereafter.

The second interpretation is that at the inter-departmental meeting convened by Sharif, the foreign office representative expressed their unhappiness over the army not keeping them in the picture since they had to handle the diplomatic fall-out.

Sharif tried to soothe their ruffled feathers by claiming that he was informed only seven days earlier in the interest of operational secrecy. This does not necessarily mean that Sharif was not in the picture from the very beginning.

While the Pakistani press and public are expressing their solidarity with their army, one could discern in the comments of some independent analysts gnawing fears that General Musharraf is becoming over-assertive at the expense of the credibility of the elected political leadership and that this operation could ultimately boomerang on Pakistan.

Thus, the News said in an article on May 29: 'It is undeniable that armed men have crossed the line in large numbers, if only because they themselves have admitted their presence and given press statements by satellite telephone. They were not stopped by Pakistan army patrols.'

Azhar Abbas said in an article in the May issue of the Herald, the monthly journal of the Dawn group: 'The assumption here (in Pakistan) is that India cannot respond to this kind of (covert) warfare with a conventional attack on Pakistan...'

'The army appears convinced of the wisdom of keeping India bleeding in Kashmir and in the presence of an effective deterrent (in the form of nuclear weapons in the hands of Pakistan), the temptation to do so would be even greater...'

'Several retired army officers believe that the new army chief is far more assertive than his predecessor (General Jehangir Karamat) and, in the event of the Sharif government taking issue with the new doctrine, is unlikely to bow out as easily as Karamat. This points to troubled civil-military relations in the future...'

The article concludes: 'Sceptics are already warning that in the guise of changing threat perceptions and bailing out the (internal) system, the army may only be searching for a new power-sharing formula after the dissolution of the infamous troika. If the army's new doctrine is, indeed, little more than the quest for a new power-sharing arrangement, it is time for the Sharif government to disillusion the army... If the Government fails to do that, in the words of Dr Eqbal Ahmad (a highly-respected Pakistani analyst), this change of threat perception can cost us, in the long run, our entire future.'

The article was analysing not only Musharraf's perception of India, but also his vigorous justification of the army agreeing to take over purely civilian responsibilities such as running the Water and Power Development Authority. Sharif asked the army to run the WAPDA to end corruption and to improve its efficiency.

After taking over, Musharraf, to Sharif'S discomfiture, is reported to have issued orders that the army would not only be responsible for the day-to-day running, but would also conduct all future negotiations with independent power producers, thereby denying any role in this matter to the political leadership and civilian bureaucrats.

B Raman