Lessons from Kargil War

Op­er­a­tion Vi­jay was a blend of de­ter­mined po­lit­i­cal, mil­i­tary and diplo­matic ac­tions, which en­abled us to trans­form an ad­verse sit­u­a­tion into an em­phatic mil­i­tary and diplo­matic vic­tory

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Gen­eral V.P. Ma­lik (Retd)

ON JULY 16, 2014, In­dia cel­e­brated the 15th an­niver­sary of its vic­tory in the Kargil War, which was forced upon it by Pak­istan. A strate­gi­cally con­scious na­tion com­mem­o­rates such his­tor­i­cal na­tional se­cu­rity events for three rea­sons: to re­mem­ber and pay homage to those who sac­ri­ficed their lives for the na­tion’s future, to re­call lessons that emerged from that event and to pledge for a safer and bet­ter future.

The Kargil War will always be re­mem­bered for (a) its strate­gic and tac­ti­cal sur­prise (b) the self-im­posed na­tional strat­egy of re­straint keep­ing the war limited to the Kargil-Si­achen sec­tor (c) mil­i­tary strat­egy and plan­ning in keep­ing with the po­lit­i­cal man­date and (d) the ded­i­ca­tion, de­ter­mi­na­tion, and dar­ing ju­nior lead­er­ship at the tac­ti­cal level. In fiercely fought com­bat ac­tions, on the most dif­fi­cult ter­rain that gave im­mense ad­van­tage to the en­emy hold­ing moun­tain­tops, we were able to evict Pak­istani troops from most of their sur­rep­ti­tiously oc­cu­pied po­si­tions. The Pak­istani lead­er­ship was then forced to sue for cease­fire and with­drawal of its troops from the re­main­ing ar­eas.

Op­er­a­tion Vi­jay (co­de­name for the war) was a blend of de­ter­mined po­lit­i­cal, mil­i­tary and diplo­matic ac­tions, which en­abled us to trans­form an ad­verse sit­u­a­tion into an em­phatic mil­i­tary and diplo­matic vic­tory. As two Prime Min­is­ters of Pak­istan later ac­knowl­edged, “Kargil war was Pak­istan’s big­gest blun­der and dis­as­ter.”

The war high­lighted, once again, two ba­sic as­sump­tions for war plan­ning: (a) de­spite what­ever ef­fort there may be to pre­vent it, there may be a war and (b) we can­not pre­dict with cer­tainty the pat­tern of war for which we pre­pare our­selves. On the strate­gic front, two ma­jor lessons that stood out were (a) al­though pos­ses­sion of nu­clear weapons has made an all-out war less likely, so long as we have bor­der and ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes (like with Pak­istan and China), Kargil type mil­i­tary con­flicts could not be ruled out, and (b) an ir­reg­u­lar or proxy war could eas­ily es­ca­late into a limited con­ven­tional war.

The war also em­pha­sised that loss of ter­ri­tory, how­ever re­mote or small, is just not ac­cept­able to the public at large or to the po­lit­i­cal au­thor­ity in In­dia. Ev­ery In­dian feels that ev­ery inch of ter­ri­tory has to be de­fended. The strate­gic im­pact of such a no­tion at the na­tional level is that the armed forces can­not trade space (los­ing some here but try­ing to cap­ture some­where else where there is greater strate­gic ad­van­tage!) for ma­jor of­fen­sive ma­noeu­vres else­where. This is a pe­cu­liar strate­gic prob­lem and a hand­i­cap faced by the In­dian mil­i­tary, which in­ten­si­fies in a limited war sce­nario. This im­plies that much greater at­ten­tion has to be paid to in­tel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance, and close de­fence of the bor­ders or lines of con­trol.

The ab­sence of a proac­tive politi­comil­i­tary strat­egy in In­dia had re­sulted in a per­sis­tent be­lief among Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary lead­ers that In­dia can be pushed for po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary ad­van­tages. Since Kargil War, such an im­pres­sion has been fur­ther strength­ened in the Indo-Pak mil­i­tary stand­off in 2001-02 and 26/11 may­hem in Mum­bai. This has se­ri­ously eroded In­dia’s mil­i­tary de­ter­rence. Many de­fence an­a­lysts now feel that an ac­tivist re­tal­i­a­tion pol­icy against Pak­istan has be­come a po­lit­i­cal im­per­a­tive for In­dia.

At an­other level, we have to se­ri­ously con­sider the con­ven­tional and sub-con­ven­tional con­flicts pro­ceed­ing at mul­ti­ple lev­els be­low a nu­clear thresh­old. Th­ese fac­tors have made the In­dian armed forces work on a limited war doc­trine and to con­sider how small or big is the space between a proxy war and a con­ven­tional war?

The Kargil War in­volved a much greater level of in­te­gra­tion of pol­i­tics and mil­i­tary plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion. At mil­i­tary strate­gic level, in­ter-ser­vices plan­ning were ex­cel­lent, pri­mar­ily be­cause all three Ser­vice Chiefs had known each other since their Na­tional De­fence Academy days and also worked to­gether as Vice Chiefs. They had ready ac­cess to the Cabi­net Com­mit­tee on Se­cu­rity and the Prime Min­is­ter. The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser, late Bra­jesh Mishra, was an ideal trou­ble shooter. In the un­pre­dictable strate­gic and con­flict en­vi­ron­ment that ex­ist presently, it has be­come es­sen­tial to main­tain close and in­ter-ac­tive re­la­tions amongst mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ships all the time.

An­other as­pect re­lated to the nu­cle­arised strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment was that even af­ter the diplo­macy has run its course and a

A strong, com­pe­tent and com­mit­ted po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship is required to bring about im­prove­ments in the se­cu­rity poli­cies, Higher De­fence Con­trol Or­gan­i­sa­tion and its sys­tems, in­clud­ing its rules of busi­ness.

de­ci­sion to em­ploy the mil­i­tary is made; the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship sel­dom al­lows au­ton­o­mous con­duct of the war to the mil­i­tary. In prac­tice, there­fore, we are see­ing a con­tin­u­ing ero­sion of the di­vid­ing lines between war and pol­i­tics.

Some other im­por­tant lessons of the Kargil War were: Suc­cess­ful out­come of a bor­der war de­pends upon our abil­ity to re­act rapidly. The new strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment calls for faster de­ci­sion mak­ing, ver­sa­tile com­bat or­gan­i­sa­tions, rapid de­ploy­ment and syn­ergy amongst all el­e­ments in­volved in the war ef­fort, par­tic­u­larly the three ser­vices. A con­ven­tional war may re­main limited be­cause of cred­i­ble de­ter­rence and es­ca­la­tion dom­i­nance. Such de­ter­rence may pre­vent a war; it will also give more room for ma­noeu­vre in diplo­macy and in con­flict. In­for­ma­tion op­er­a­tions are im­por­tant due to much greater trans­parency of the bat­tle­field. The po­lit­i­cal re­quire­ment of a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion and to re­tain moral high ground (and deny that to the ad­ver­sary) needs a com­pre­hen­sive me­dia and in­for­ma­tion strat­egy.

All-weather Sur­veil­lance

The Kargil War had high­lighted gross inad­e­qua­cies in all-weather sur­veil­lance ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Since then, this ca­pa­bil­ity has been made up with in­dige­nous satel­lites and aerial im­agery with syn­thetic aper­ture radar. We have also ac­quired effective un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles, and most im­por­tantly, ac­quired and de­ployed hand-held ther­mal im­agers, sur­veil­lance radars and ground sen­sors along the lines of con­trol. In­di­vid­ual ser­vice and joint ser­vices doc­trines have been re­vised. Some Spe­cial Forces units have been added to the strength of each ser­vice.

Na­tional Se­cu­rity Re­view and Higher De­fence Man­age­ment

Af­ter the war, it was felt that In­dia required a holis­tic na­tional se­cu­rity re­view as well as re-think­ing on the na­ture of con­flict in the new strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment and con­duct of wars. This was done un­der a Group of Min­is­ters. The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Re­view-2002 rec­om­mended sev­eral mean­ing­ful re­forms to im­prove the Higher De­fence Con­trol Or­gan­i­sa­tion, its sys­tems and pro­cesses. Un­for­tu­nately, th­ese were ei­ther not im­ple­mented, or im­ple­mented only cos­met­i­cally.

In­dia now has a Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. But there is no of­fi­cial doc­u­ment out­lin­ing its broad na­tional se­cu­rity (in­clud­ing de­fence) pol­icy and strat­egy. The gov­ern­ment has hes­i­tated in spell­ing it out due to lack of po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus on its poli­cies and the in­abil­ity to ad­dress the cru­cial is­sues of co­or­di­na­tion to for­mu­late and ad­dress na­tional se­cu­rity. There is no pol­icy doc­u­ment or a white pa­per on broad na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy and strat­egy for the near or long term. The ab­sence of a co­her­ent pol­icy tends to make our re­sponses ad hoc and less con­vinc­ing.

The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Re­view-2002 had rec­om­mended cre­ation of the post of Chief of De­fence Staff to pro­vide sin­gle-point mil­i­tary ad­vice to the gov­ern­ment and to re­solve sub­stan­tive in­ter-ser­vice doc­tri­nal, plan­ning, pol­icy and op­er­a­tional is­sues. This is nec­es­sary be­cause in In­dia, turf wars, in­ter ser­vice ri­val­ries, bureau­cratic de­lays and po­lit­i­cal vac­il­la­tion in de­ci­sion mak­ing be­come ma­jor hur­dles in de­fence plan­ning which is tardy, com­pet­i­tive and thus un­eco­nom­i­cal. Due to lack of po­lit­i­cal will and in­ter-ser­vice dif­fer­ences, this im­por­tant rec­om­men­da­tion was not im­ple­mented. Se­lec­tive and cos­metic im­ple­men­ta­tion of rec­om­men­da­tions, with­out chang­ing rules of busi­ness, en­sured a sta­tus quo in the Higher De­fence Con­trol, its de­ci­sion mak­ing pro­cesses and poor civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions.

In June 2012, the UPA Gov­ern­ment ap­pointed the Naresh Chan­dra Com­mit­tee to carry out yet an­other na­tional se­cu­rity re­view. How­ever, till date, its rec­om­men­da­tions have nei­ther been de-clas­si­fied nor im­ple­mented. A strong, com­pe­tent and com­mit­ted po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship is required to bring about im­prove­ments in the se­cu­rity poli­cies, Higher De­fence Con­trol Or­gan­i­sa­tion and its sys­tems, in­clud­ing its rules of busi­ness.

This re­al­i­sa­tion has made the gov­ern­ment or­der yet an­other re­view un­der the Naresh Chan­dra Com­mit­tee. If the rec­om­men­da­tions of this Com­mit­tee—now un­der study in the gov­ern­ment—are pro­cessed and im­ple­mented in the same old man­ner, In­dia may lose yet an­other op­por­tu­nity to make its na­tional se­cu­rity more effective.

De­fi­cien­cies in Weapons/Equip­ment and Mod­erni­sa­tion

When Kargil War broke out, our hold­ings and re­serves of weapons, am­mu­ni­tion and equip­ment were in a de­pleted state due to con­tin­u­ous lack of bud­getary sup­port, te­dious pro­cure­ment sys­tem, and rais­ing of Rashtrya Ri­fles units with­out sanc­tions for their weapons and equip­ment. To the me­dia, I had to state, “We will fight with what­ever we have”.

It is ev­i­dent from the let­ter writ­ten by the for­mer Chief of Army Staff (now a Min­is­ter of State in the NDA Gov­ern­ment) to the Prime Min­is­ter on March 12, 2012 that de­fi­cien­cies in our war wastage re­serves

con­tinue. He com­plained that the army’s air de­fence weapon sys­tems were ob­so­lete, the in­fantry was de­fi­cient of crew served weapons and lacked night fight­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and its tank fleet was de­void of crit­i­cal am­mu­ni­tion, and al­leged that there was ‘hol­low­ness in the pro­ce­dures and pro­cess­ing time for pro­cure­ments as well as le­gal im­ped­i­ments by ven­dors’.

The gov­ern­ment has yet to rec­tify this chronic prob­lem which has dogged the na­tion for decades. As a re­sult mod­erni­sa­tion of In­dian armed forces con­tin­ues to lag be­hind due to in­ad­e­quate self-re­liance, fear of scams and re­luc­tance to pro­cure essen- tial equip­ment from abroad. De­spite a large net­work of De­fence Re­search and Devel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion lab­o­ra­to­ries, ord­nance fac­to­ries and de­fence public sec­tor un­der­tak­ings, we con­tinue to im­port 70 per cent of our weapons and equip­ment.

The gov­ern­ment de­sires that pri­vate sec­tor in­vests in de­fence in­dus­try and ob­tains higher tech­nol­ogy from abroad. But due to vested in­ter­est of the de­fence public sec­tor and its bureau­cratic con­trol, it has failed to pro­vide a level play­ing field to In­dian and for­eign pri­vate sec­tors. The De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil and Pro­cure­ment Board, es­tab­lished af­ter the Kargil War, have not suc­ceeded in speed­ing up pro­cesses for devel­op­ment, ac­qui­si­tion and pro­cure­ment.

There is no point talk­ing about revo­lu­tion in mil­i­tary af­fairs, in­for­ma­tion sys­tems and net cen­tric war­fare if we can­not in­duct rel­e­vant weapons and equip­ment in time. Ef­forts to­wards mod­erni­sa­tion of the armed forces have not borne fruit, pri­mar­ily due to the ab­sence of holis­tic and long-term de­fence plan­ning.


The Kargil War was not the first time when Pak­istan ini­ti­ated a war. And we must not as­sume that it would be the last time. In­dia will re­main vul­ner­a­ble to such threats along its dis­puted bor­ders un­less it builds a cred­i­ble will and ca­pa­bil­ity to de­ter and dis­suade its ad­ver­saries. An en­dur­ing les­son of Kargil War, in­deed most wars, is that for na­tional se­cu­rity, sound de­fence en­ables sound for­eign poli­cies.

The on­go­ing di­a­logue between In­dia and its two ter­ri­to­rial-hos­tile neigh­bours may re­sult in peace­ful, sta­ble re­la­tions. The na­tion and its armed forces can hope for the best; but they must re­main pre­pared for the worst.


Me­mo­rial ser­vice in hon­our of mar­tyrs at Dras

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