India Today - - CONTENTS - (Aroon Purie)

The Kargil War ended 20 years ago this month. It was In­dia’s first tele­vised war and one in which the me­dia was given un­prece­dented ac­cess to the front­lines. in­dia to­day cov­ered the war in depth with eight back-to-back is­sues de­tail­ing ev­ery as­pect of the con­flict, from the fu­ri­ous high-al­ti­tude bat­tles, our in­tel­li­gence fail­ure, the in­cred­i­ble val­our of In­dian sol­diers called upon to per­form the im­pos­si­ble and, fi­nally, the be­hind-the-scenes ma­noeu­vring that forced Pak­istan Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif to or­der his army to with­draw from the heights.

The thing about mil­i­tary gam­bits is that they look good as sand mod­els, but of­ten dis­in­te­grate in the face of harsh re­al­ity. This is ex­actly what hap­pened in Kargil. A clique of gen­er­als led by Gen­eral Pervez Mushar­raf grossly un­der­es­ti­mated In­dia’s po­lit­i­cal will and mil­i­tary re­solve to re­cap­ture its ter­ri­tory. The war is a sober­ing les­son in what hap­pens when am­bi­tious gen­er­als call the shots, un­mind­ful of po­lit­i­cal or diplo­matic con­se­quences.

Twenty years later, Pak­istan con­tin­ues to pay the price for a pow­er­ful mil­i­tary. It is a nu­clear-armed state with the world’s fifth largest army, but an eco­nomic bas­ket­case with a third of its peo­ple liv­ing in poverty and with prac­ti­cally ev­ery eco­nomic in­di­ca­tor point­ing down. The Pak­istani ru­pee is in free fall against the dol­lar, in­fla­tion is at its high­est in a decade, the growth rate is plung­ing and the coun­try is sur­viv­ing at the mercy of doles from the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund and wealthy donor coun­tries. Even the prom­ise of Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan as a saviour has evap­o­rated, mainly be­cause Pak­istan, as is com­monly said, is an army with a coun­try.

De­spite the eco­nomic woes, its mil­i­tary has not stopped feed­ing off the peo­ple—its de­fence bud­get this year saw a 17 per­cent­age point in­crease for the army.

Our cover story this week, ‘The Kargil Di­aries’, writ­ten by Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor San­deep Un­nithan, is a flashback to the fourth, and hope­fully the last, war fought be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. It de­tails the doc­u­ments—let­ters, di­aries, pass-books, mess bills—re­cov­ered from the heights by our sol­diers.

The pa­pers show Pak­istan’s North­ern Light In­fantry (NLI) bat­tal­ions on the move in the clos­ing months of 1998, as they scaled the heights into Kargil. This was the au­da­cious gam­bit In­dian in­tel­li­gence missed com­pletely. Other pa­pers re­cov­ered de­tail the metic­u­lous ef­fort that went into plan­ning what Gen­eral Mushar­raf called Op­er­a­tion Koh-e-Paima (Call of the Moun­tains) or Op KP—em­bed­ding ar­tillery of­fi­cers with the NLI units to al­low them to direct fire on to the Sri­na­gar-Leh high­way, is­su­ing code sheets for se­cret com­mu­ni­ca­tion with their head­quar­ters at the rear. De­vel­op­ments the en­tire In­dian

se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence ap­pa­ra­tus seems to have com­pletely missed.

The let­ters from rel­a­tives were poignant and filled with trep­i­da­tion given the breaks in de­liv­ery of the let­ters. A let­ter from Hafiz Ab­dul Qadir Aadil, a school teacher in Dudhniyal, in the Nee­lam Val­ley of Pak­istan-oc­cu­pied Kash­mir, to his sol­dier rel­a­tive, Naik Ghu­lam Ab­bas of the 8th North­ern Light In­fantry, re­flects great con­cern. Wishes like du­aein khair (prayers for well-be­ing) were used seven times in the 400-word let­ter. The fam­ily had re­ceived no let­ters from Ab­bas since Jan­uary 1999. The let­ter was found on one of the dead NLI sol­diers, pos­si­bly Ab­bas, who was killed in ac­tion in Kargil on July 3, 1999.

These doc­u­ments were early in­di­ca­tors that con­vinced the army that they were not fac­ing ‘mu­jahideen’ as early pro­pa­ganda from across the bor­der sug­gested, but the Pak­istan army it­self. In the face of con­tin­ued de­nials in 1999, these pa­pers were what helped the Kargil Re­view Com­mit­tee, which probed the causes of the war and lessons learned from it, re­con­struct a pic­ture of the in­trud­ers and what they hoped to achieve from their doomed expedition.

The lessons from Kargil have man­i­fested them­selves in a huge surge in mil­i­tary per­son­nel and a more rig­or­ous, round-the-year vigil of the re­gion. The big­ger learn­ings— the need for a sin­gle-point mil­i­tary ad­vi­sor, a Chief of De­fence Staff, and closely in­te­grat­ing the armed forces to get more bang for the buck—have not been im­ple­mented.

While we can only hope for good sense to pre­vail in Pak­istan, we must keep our pow­der dry. A dan­ger­ously un­sta­ble coun­try in our neigh­bour­hood run by an army— the only mil­i­tary in the world that di­rectly con­trols its na­tion’s nu­clear weapons—means we need to be eter­nally vig­i­lant. Kargil, and the lessons learned from that war, must never be for­got­ten. They were paid for by the blood of our young sol­diers.

Our July 26, 1999 cover

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