Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pak Army Infiltration in Kargil ; Was it a Blunder by Political and Army Leadership?

Kargil conflict was a regional war, fought from May to Jul 1999 in highest treacherous mountains of Himalayas along northern part of LOC between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. It was an armed conflict which was fought by India to evict Pakistan's Army Infiltrators from Indian side of LOC. Whenever Kargil conflict is debated one question always comes up for discussion and that is "Was Indian Army lax in It's surveillance on LOC which allowed Pakistan Army to infiltrate and occupy dominating positions undetected?

Strategically Indian Army's always gave highest importance to Kargil mountains as it dominates  Sri Nagar Leh Highway. Then what actually went wrong that such dominating heights were vacated well before onset of freezing winters to be occupied by Pak Army? It was said that Indian Army vacated some defensive posts along LOC located at extremely high altitudes before freezing winters as it had no winter clothing and equipment to sustain troops in minus 40 degree temperatures. Apparently it sound logical as Pakistan Army also could not occupy these highest in such extreme winters but question still remains why did Indian Army vacate these defensive posts well before onset of extreme winters? It looks such practice was being implemented for few years which was noticed by Pak Army and exploited to infiltrate.

What were the compulsions of Indian army? It is a well known fact that flanks of Indian Army in Kashmir were turned by Pakistan fueling insurgency in Kashmir in form of a proxy war. Security situation in Kashmir Valley was at its worst compelling Indian Army to deplete troops deployed on LOC and Chinese LAC  and use them for counter insurgency operations but moot question still remains? Should a professional army deplete troops on main defensive line facing enemy for using them in rear areas for  counter insurgency operations? Was situation so desperate? Indian Military leadership surely is not that incompetent to have failed to make realistic assessments. In 1997, I had helped my Brigade Commander in drafting a review of threat assessment of Northern Command. I remember it clearly, we having identified Kargil as a potent infiltration route for Pak Army to make an attempt to capture few dominating heights along Sri Nagar Leh Highway and had recommended no depletion of defenses in this area.  In spite of such clear assessments still defensive deployment was denuded? Why?

We all know that Bajpai Govt under strong influence of then NSA; Brijesh Mishra, deteriorating security situation in J&K and under pressure from USA, was making a weak political pitch to open an dialogue with Pakistan. Bajpai visited Lahore and signed Lahore declaration with Pak PM; Nawaz Sharif and Kashmir dispute for first time after Shimla agreement, was brought as agenda for discussion. Bajpai - Nawaz meeting kicked a deceptive friendly cloud which was used as cover by Pak army to infiltrate in  Kargil to put a political question mark on validity of accepted LOC under Shimla Agreement. Kargil infiltration by Pak army had more political fall out than military. Nawaz Sharif contrary to the claims made, was fully on board in his military's misadventure.

With above political backdrop, was it Indian political leadership which made a wrong assessment of Pak Army not making any hostile move on LOC in such friendly atmosphere and Indian Army could move out more troops from LOC to use them for counter insurgency operations? It looks military leaders at highest levels also accepted the argument. It is a known fact that during peace time any change in active army deployment needs military and political approvals. It was therefore impossible for Indian army to have tempered with troops deployment on main defensive lines with out clear political directives.  Unfortunately Kargil Committee report has not reviewed political directives for CI operations in Kashmir when Bajpai was visiting Lahor. The question still remain unanswered? Being from army and having helped in drafting review of threat assessment of Northern Command, I can say that army was full aware of sensitivity of Kargil defenses and could have not denuded it unless there were political directives to do so? Let us not forget no top army commander has been punished for such lapse? Does it also strengthen the suspicion that  it was political leadership which was responsible to direct army to change its deployment on LOC?

Whatever may be the reason, fact is denuding main defensive line on LOC in Kargil was a serious lapse which gave Pak Army an opportunity to exploit against India to politically raise the pitch of Kashmir dispute. Political leadership of Bajpai may have blundered but Indian army leadership also can not escape the blame as they take oath of allegiance to defend constitution and if political leadership is wrong in any military decision it is duty of military leaders to stand against it within given constitutional space. Early redeployment of troops in Kargil was surely a blunder for which Indian army paid a heavy price.