Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Kargil Inquiry is a must: Friday Times

Kargil inquiry is a must
By Shafqat Mahmood
The Friday Times, Lahore: August 1-7, 2004

In his book, Pakistan’s Drift Into Extremism, author Hassan Abbas quotes the following conversation between General Zia ul Haq and his Director General Military Operations (not General Musharraf):

Zia: When we take Kargil, what do you expect the Indians to do? …I mean, don’t you think they will try and recapture it?

DGMO: Yes sir, but we think that the position is impregnable and we can hold it against far superior forces.

Zia: Now that’s very good, but in that case, don’t you think the Indians will go for a limited offensive elsewhere along the line of control, take some of our territory, and use it as a bargaining chip?

DGMO: Yes sir, this is possible, but…

Zia: And if they are beaten back there also, don’t you think they will attack across the international frontier, which may lead to a full-scale war?

DGMO: That’s possible, sir.

Zia: So in other words, you have prepared a plan to lead us into a full-scale war with India!

I am no admirer of General Zia and consider him responsible for much that is wrong with our country but in this case his logic is razor sharp. Any plan of attack on Kargil risked a full-scale war with India.

Our new and short-term prime minister, Ch. Shujaat Hussain has been at pains to point out that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was fully aware of the plan. Nawaz Sharif denies this. But does it really matter. A flawed plan is a flawed plan. Who or what or when is irrelevant. The generals who prepared it and then launched it should have known better.

Two issues get mixed up in the debate on Kargil. One relates to civilian control of the military and the other to the efficacy or effectiveness of the plan.

On the question of civilian control, the issue is: Did the operation take place with the approval of the prime minister? If it did then procedurally there is no problem. The civilian leadership was consulted and gave its approval. If there was no approval or, if the PM was kept in the dark about the extent of the operation, then clearly the military leadership was out of line.

Interestingly there is a sub-text to the civilian-control debate. Without saying so, it has become ‘share the blame’ game. If the prime minister knew, he is equally to blame. If he did not, then only the generals are at fault.

Obviously, this entire argument presupposes that the Kargil venture was a failure.

The second issue, which is overpowered by the noise generated by ‘who knew and when’ debate, is whether it ever was a good plan. Clearly, it was not. For one the Indian reaction was totally misjudged. It shouldn’t have been, given the dialogue quoted above between Zia and his DGMO. If one military commander can see flaws in a plan others should too.

The other serious problem with this plan was that the international fallout of the operation was not anticipated at all. This is strange, considering that by 1999 both India and Pakistan were overt nuclear powers and any potential conflict between them just could not be ignored by the international community.

As it turned out, the Indian reaction was furious. They brought in their heavy guns, air force, and elite troops to dislodge what they considered to be invaders.

The story at this point becomes murky. Some people claim that our military position by then had become untenable. Nawaz Sharif’s dash to Washington on July 4, 1999 and meeting with Clinton was supposedly a face-saver to salvage an operation gone bad. It is also said by the Nawaz camp that the trip was made because General Musharraf implored him to do so.

Others believe we could have, and should have, held on a little longer. They say that the retreat ordered by the prime minister was a disaster as we lost many lives in the process. It is also said that General Musharraf was told of the trip only on the last day. He was in Murree and came down to be briefed before the PM’s departure. Until then he had no idea, so it is said, about Nawaz’ trip to Washington or its purpose.

These are all weighty matters and need to be investigated because we lost a lot of lives in Kargil. One report says that more people died in Kargil then in the 1965 war. We also lost a great deal of prestige and goodwill internationally. The world at large saw us as aggressors and was not ready to countenance the so-called freedom fighters story that we put out.

The operation also dealt a deadly blow to the Kashmir cause because the line of control became sacrosanct. It started to have the same legitimacy as an international boundary thus negating the status of Indian held Kashmir as disputed territory.

Kargil is an important event in our nation’s history and has had a significant impact domestically and internationally. It is not something that should just be brushed under the carpet. There is a need for a full-fledged inquiry into its background, planning, execution and retreat. Its military, political and strategic aspects need to be fully probed and blame or credit assigned.

Not all inquiries are conclusive. The 9/11 commission report in America and earlier the intelligence failure inquiries in the US, the UK and Australia have tried to paper over some of the problems. But enough has come out for these nations to do better next time.

What is our hesitation in not pursuing an inquiry? Don’t we need to learn from our mistakes?

[The writer is a former member of parliament and a freelance columnist based in Lahore.]


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