In defence of Kargil – I

By Major General (retd) Syed Ali Hamid

“Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan”, a saying popularised by John F. Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs invasion. It has its roots further back in time. Tacitus remembered as Rome’s greatest historian stated that “It is the singularly unfair peculiarity of war that the credit of success is claimed by all, while a disaster is attributed to one alone”. It has become fashionable to criticise the Kargil conflict. A retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army on a TV channel referred to it as a debacle. I would like to believe that we live in a free society and have a right to express our opinion so I would like to be one of those who swimming against the tide of criticism and present a case in support of Kargil.

At the outset, I would request the reader to disassociate himself from the media images of Indian troops assaulting Tiger Hill, or Indian air strikes on our posts. An extract from an article written by Lt. General Mohinder Puri, who was the GOC of 8 Mtn Div at Batalik, may help you in separating fact from fiction. “Employment of air per se was a morale-raising factor for our troops and conversely it had an adverse effect on the enemy. But its effectiveness was questionable. Like us, the pilots were not acclimatised to fight in this type of terrain and did not have the right ordnance to deliver on the target. When they did use the laser guided bombs, their effectiveness improved marginally, but not enough to have an impact on our ground operations or the enemy.”

Like the Bay of Pigs, Kargil could be classified as a limited conflict. Limited conflicts are defined as a war whose objective is less than the unconditional defeat of the enemy. But Kargil was on a much smaller scale, more in the category of a border conflict. Some analysts consider total wars as a legacy of the past. In the environment of the 21st century, nations will find themselves caught up in limited conflicts like low intensity conflicts, insurgencies and border conflicts. From this perspective, it is important to understand the dynamics of the Kargil conflict that were very different from fighting a war.

For military commanders and staff, fighting a total war is in many ways much easier. Hostilities are formally declared by the government, full mobilisation is ordered, contingency plans are implemented, civil transport is requisitioned, reservists are called up, the armed forces move into their battle locations as per plan, air bases are activated, war stocks start flowing to the battle front, the national war effort goes into full drive, the exterior manoeuvre is launched, etc. The same is happening on the other side and ultimately, both sides engage through manoeuvre and counter-manoeuvres in all three dimension of combat; air, land and sea, till through a combination of superior strategy, will and correlation of forces, one side is the victor, the other the vanquished. Paradoxically, a border conflict like Kargil is much more difficult to plan and execute. The government’s and military’s freedom of manoeuvre and action is constrained by the environment which in turn limits the political aim and objectives.

What was the political aim of Kargil? Wikipedia, the biggest free-content encyclopedia on the Internet has a fairly objective article on Kargil that states: “The aim was to sever the link between Kashmir and Ladakh, and cause Indian forces to withdraw from Siachen Glacier, thus forcing India to negotiate a settlement of the broader Kashmir dispute. Pakistan also believed that any tension in the region would internationalise the Kashmir issue, helping it to secure a speedy resolution. Yet another goal may have been to boost the morale of the decade-long rebellion in the Indian Administered Kashmir by taking a proactive role. Some writers have speculated that the operation’s objective may also have been as retaliation for India’s Operation Meghdoot in 1984 that seized much of Siachen Glacier.”

During the 10 years preceding Kargil, Pakistan’s Schwerpunkt or point of main effort in the Kashmir region was neither Siachen nor the LoC. To launch Kargil as retaliation to an Indian operation in Siachen 15 years earlier was meaningless. From 1990 onwards, the main manoeuvre was the insurgency in the Indian Held Kashmir that ten years down the line was reaching a stage of exhaustion. To re-energise the mujahideen, Pakistan needed to display a direct commitment to the cause. The diplomatic manoeuvres in support of the insurgency had not succeeded and the only other option was a military action as a supporting manoeuvre to the main effort.

I have explained this to establish that, obviously, Kargil was not conducted in isolation, nor as some analysts have stated a misadventure by the Pakistan army. It was executed as part of a larger canvas and in support of an on-going insurgency that every political government was aware of and supported since 1990. Consequently, it had its linkages in the decision-making circles within the government, its agencies and the military.

When a government decides to engage in a military conflict the instructions to the military take the form of a war directive. The war directive lays down the aim (i.e. what are the end expectations of the government), the manner in which the operation is to be conducted and particularly in the case of a limited conflict, limitations imposed on the military in the shape of scale of operation (time, space and quantum of forces), the area and duration. These “limitations to the aim” are essential to ensure that the conflict is restricted to achieving the specific aims and does not spiral out of control.

The military transforms the war directive into an operational plan that converts the political aim into a military aim, identifies the military objective, the strategy to achieve aim, distribution of forces and a host of other details that need to be addressed. Obviously, no formal war directive was issued but the military planners of Kargil had the professional acumen, experience, and knowledge of the operational environment to understand what were the effects to be sought and the limits to the military operation. In the absence of a formal war directive, the military would most likely have constructed a political aim from which the rest would have flowed.

How do I know that? Was I involved in the planning process? No! But that is exactly how the Pakistan army does all its planning. That is how through an intensive process of training it approaches all strategic and operational problems and why should they have done it any differently for Kargil? Lt. Gen. Tauqir Zia who was the Director General of Military Operations at GHQ at the time of Kargil had been my instructor at the National Defense College and had taught us exactly this, as I (and many before and after) taught the same process at the College. Following a structured thought process is part of our military culture and if everybody was not privy to the planning for Kargil, it is wrong to conclude that it was based on a whim and a song. The general perception that one morning the army commander rolled out of his bed and said, “Hey boys! Let’s go and take Kargil”, is based on a total lack of understanding of the military planning process.

(to be continued)


Leave a Reply