Former Lt Gen (retd) Shahid Aziz’s upcoming book has already raked up the Kargil episode and the book is not even about Kargil! From what has so far appeared, there’s nothing he has said that is not already known.
Yet, there’s back and forth between Aziz and Musharraf. This is the problem with avoiding closures. It is somewhat ironic that any mention of Kargil, the operation Musharraf defends with such vehemence, upsets him greatly. It’s almost like he knows that operation is unlikely to place him in the hall of fame. Infamy is, of course, another matter.
The first and the most important issue is whether the civilian government gave a nod to the operation. Musharraf says then-prime minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif was in the know of it. Perhaps, but the question is: when was the PM told about it; or, to what extent? It is one thing for a civilian government to order the army to start a conflict and quite another for a cabal of generals to initiate hostilities and then inform the PM and other services that the bow is bent and drawn.
Available evidence points to the fact that Sharif was given fait accompli and thus placed in a terribly unenviable position — especially if we note that Sharif was already committed to a process of rapprochement with New Delhi and had hosted the Indian PM, oblivious to what the generals had pulled.
Musharraf’s assertion becomes doubtful also because the operation was kept hush-hush to the point where even chiefs of air force and navy were not informed until the Northern Light Infantry — then a paramilitary force — troops and other support elements had occupied some 500 square miles of the area. In fact, the DGMO, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia (retd), was ordered, ex post facto, to come up with a rationale to justify the operation.
If there ever was a classic example of situating the appreciation rather than appreciating the situation, this was it.
If truth be told, they had no plan, neither strategic nor tactical. No thought was given to whether the environment at the regional and global levels was conducive for such an operation. There was no proper assessment of the Indian response and it was assumed, arbitrarily, that India would resign to the occupation instead of mounting a maximum effort to evict our troops. Or what options, if any, Pakistan could exercise in case the Indians decided, which sure as hell they would have and did, to sacrifice any number of men to regain lost positions. How would our troops survive beyond a certain point in the absence of a secure line of communication; what will happen when they run out of rations and ammunition and when casualties begin to mount and the men left to fend for themselves?
Did the plan cater to that? Were we prepared to open another front across the LoC to force the Indians to reorganise and thereby ensure that the mounting pressure on the men we had left trapped on those heights was released? And if that scenario was indeed war-gamed, did the game factor in the Indian response if we chose to expand the zone of conflict? From the conversation between Musharraf and then-CGS Aziz Khan, which was intercepted, it doesn’t seem to me that any of these scenarios were war-gamed. Oh, and that conversation not only gives the lie to Musharraf’s Sharif-knew-it position but also makes a mockery of his great insistence on secrecy, exchange notes as he did on a top secret operational matter on an open, unsecure line. And CGS Aziz’ boasts show how poorly they had assessed India’s response and their own perceived advantage.
Secrecy has levels and Musharraf was not mounting a Special Forces operation which required going in, executing a mission and getting out. Even such an operation would have required political consent.
At some point the Indians would have known about the occupation. If Musharraf and his lieutenants had worked out the scenarios, they would have known that they could not finger India without the other two services onboard and, in the worst-case scenario, preparing the nation for a possible broader conflict.
In his book, in the chapter on Kargil, Musharraf keeps talking about deploying troops to cover gaps along the LoC, why others outside the FCNA and 10 Corps were not informed, why India was in no position to opt for an all-out war and in the same breath talks about India’s use of air force, its disproportionate response and the war hysteria that had gripped India and which necessitated pulling in the CAS and the CNS. The chapter is remarkable for its disingenuousness and inconsistencies.
Brig Shaukat Qadir (retd) in his article for the RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) journal argues that the operation began with limited objectives but acquired a bigger momentum. That is possible, though I can’t see how it could have expanded so much on the spur of the moment. But if it indeed did, that still reflects poorly on the commanders who turned salami slicing into a huge embarrassment for the Indian Army which it just could not swallow.
At the politico-strategic level, Musharraf made no serious attempt to understand the impact of diplomacy being conducted between Islamabad and Delhi. Nor does it seem that he realised how effectively India would combine its local military response with its diplomatic offensive.
His assertion that Sharif lost the war on the political front which he (Musharraf) was winning on the ground is nothing if not dishonest, the bravery of the men on the ground notwithstanding. US General Anthony Zinni, a Musharraf friend, has a different account and informal talks with a number of officers over the years corroborate that account.
Some former officers on internet discussion forums fault Shahid Aziz for not taking to the grave service matters. That’s poppycock. Kargil requires closure not just because we need to honour those who fought like dickens and fell to a harebrained plan as much as enemy fire, but also because we need to identify the structural flaws in decision-making that now threaten to unravel us.
This article was originally published at: The Express Tribune
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.