THE KARGIL WAR

India Today - - THE LEGACY OF VAJPAYEE - Gen V.P. Ma­lik was army chief (1997-2000) dur­ing the Kargil war By Gen. (retd) V.P. Ma­lik

ef­fec­tively re­versed all the gains from Va­j­payee’s La­hore bus diplo­macy. And com­mit­ted though he was to the idea of an en­dur­ing peace with Pak­istan, he did not baulk at the prospect of a war when Pak­istan un­pre­dictably re­vealed its ag­gres­sive in­tent to oc­cupy In­dian ter­ri­tory

Pak­istan’s Kargil in­tru­sion in May 1999, so soon af­ter prime min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee’s visit to La­hore and the sign­ing of the La­hore Dec­la­ra­tion, came as a big sur­prise to ev­ery­one, no one more so than Va­j­payee him­self. Even as he led us dur­ing the war, Va­j­payee kept try­ing to un­der­stand Nawaz Sharif’s and Pak­istan’s mo­tive. As late as May 17, 1999, he sent his in­ter­locu­tor R.K. Mishra to Is­lam­abad to com­plain to Sharif about the in­fil­tra­tion; Mishra even ac­cused him of know­ing about the Kargil plan when sign­ing the La­hore Dec­la­ra­tion.

Af­ter my brief­ing and by the launch of the tris­er­vice-led Op­er­a­tion Vi­jay on May 23, 1999, he was con­vinced of Pak­istan’s per­fidy. He de­clared “the new sit­u­a­tion was not in­fil­tra­tion but a move to oc­cupy In­dian ter­ri­tory. All steps will be taken to clear the Kargil area”. He also rang up Sharif and told him that “we will not al­low any in­tru­sion... we shall clear our ter­ri­tory by force”.

In the first week of June, Va­j­payee made a pub­lic state­ment (for the sec­ond time) that In­dia will not cross the in­ter­na­tional border or the LoC; a term of ref­er­ence given to us. This state­ment im­plied a fore­clo­sure of our mil­i­tary strat­egy. I raised this is­sue and re­quested that the PM not make this state­ment in pub­lic. I said that di­rec­tions stip­u­lated by the Cab­i­net Com­mit­tee on Se­cu­rity (CCS) were be­ing fol­lowed. How­ever, in the event that we are un­able to throw out the in­trud­ers, the mil­i­tary would have no al­ter­na­tive ex­cept to cross the LoC. If we came with such a re­quest, what will be your an­swer, I asked. Va­j­payee did not re­spond then. But in the evening, his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor Bra­jesh Mishra ar­ranged an in­ter­view with a TV chan­nel. In it, he stated, “Not cross­ing the border and the LoC holds good to­day. But we do not know what may hap­pen to­mor­row.”

July 8, 1999, was an event­ful day. The prime min­is­ter called me to his res­i­dence. He told me that Pak­istan had agreed to with­draw its forces to their side of the LoC and wanted to know my re­ac­tion. My im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was that this can­not be ac­cepted. I told Va­j­payee that the armed forces had suf­fered many ca­su­al­ties. Now that events had swung in our favour, why should we let the en­emy es­cape?

A few hours later, there was an­other call ask­ing me to visit his res­i­dence. This time he asked me how much time we would take to clear the rest of the Pak­istani in­tru­sion. I said it may take two to three weeks. He then men­tioned that we had suf­fered heavy ca­su­al­ties, should we suf­fer more? I told him we were fight­ing a war ini­ti­ated by some­one else. Our ef­fort al­ways was and would be to min­imise the dam­age but some more ca­su­al­ties could not be ruled out. In any case, I had to con­sult my COSC (Chiefs of Staff Com­mit­tee) col­leagues on the is­sue. Be­fore I left the PM’s res­i­dence, Va­j­payee also told me that, as per con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ment, the coun­try had to go through par­lia­men­tary elec­tions and that time was run­ning out.

Mean­while, I called my col­leagues in the COSC, the Vice Chief of Army Staff and Direc­tor Gen­eral of Mil­i­tary Op­er­a­tions (DGMO) for an ur­gent meet­ing. We dis­cussed the var­i­ous im­pli­ca­tions while the DGMO spoke to the North­ern Army Com­man­der on the phone. Sev­eral ques­tions were raised: should we ac­cept the with­drawal of the Pak­istani forces? If so, what would be its po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary im­pli­ca­tions? How would the Pak­istani forces con­duct them­selves dur­ing the with­drawal? What con­tin­gen­cies could we face dur­ing this pe­riod and how should we pre­pare our­selves to meet them?

By now, there was a per­cep­ti­ble shift in the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. If we car­ried on, we could lose the in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic sup­port we had been able to muster. Also, there was lit­tle chance now of our be­ing per­mit­ted to cross the LoC. In a war, when a given po­lit­i­cal aim has been achieved, it makes lit­tle sense to con­tinue with it. How­ever, we did have se­ri­ous doubts on whether the Pak­istani army would with­draw. They sim­ply could not be trusted. Af­ter lengthy dis­cus­sions, we agreed that we could ac­cept a phased with­drawal of the Pak­istani forces, as per tim­ings and pri­or­i­ties given by us.

When I was called to the prime min­is­ter’s res­i­dence—for the third time—that evening, I con­veyed our rec­om­men­da­tion and con­di­tions to him. He ac­cepted them in full.

Stand­ing tall Va­j­payee with his de­fence min­is­ter Ge­orge Fer­nan­des (1), Gen. V.P. Ma­lik (2), then J&K gov­er­nor G.C. Sax­ena (3), Fa­rooq Ab­dul­lah (4) and sol­diers at an In­dian army po­si­tion in Kargil

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