A three-month-long bitter war fought between India and Pakistan in the icy heights of Jammu and Kashmir’s Kargil region, claiming the lives of several hundred soldiers on both sides, is perhaps a fading memory for most Indians today. But recent revelations by a retired Pakistani top general, backroom negotiations between opinion-makers of the two sides and last month’s tension along the Line of Control show that the political and military establishments in neither India nor Pakistan have been able to fully exorcise the ghosts of Kargil even after 14 years. One reason for this is that the nub of the problem, which prompted the Kargil operation, stays with us as a live issue: the Siachen glacier.
‘Operation Badr’—as Pervez Musharraf, who was then the army chief of Pakistan, had codenamed the Kargil operation—was aimed at severing India’s supply lines to Siachen and force it to vacate the glacier and enter into negotiations with Pakistan on the fate of Kashmir.
The revelations of Lt Gen Shahid Aziz (see interview) show how close Pakistan had come to meeting its objective by stealthily sneaking in its soldiers inside the Indian territory in the garb of Afghan and Kashmiri mujahideen and how the Indians were caught napping before getting into rearguard action to throw out the infiltrators.
So, how should one see Shahid Aziz’s public disclosure of Musharraf’s Kargil operations? There is no unanimity in India about the timing of his disclosure. “Much of what he has said was already known to us,” Lt Gen (retd) V.R. Raghavan of the Chennai-based Centre for Security Analysis told Outlook. “But the disclosure of someone of his rank on some of the details on Kargil is definitely significant.”
Like some others, Raghavan feels that Aziz’s public pronouncement could be a reflection of the existence of various factions within the Pakistani military establishment and their attempt to dissociate themselves post facto from the embarrassment of the misadventure. “Let’s not forget that the US pressure, forcing Pakistan to withdraw troops from Kargil, was a very humiliating experience for many in the Pakistani army establishment,” says Raghavan.
There are yet others in India who feel that Aziz has decided to wash Musharraf’s dirty linen in public to stop him from staging a political comeback in Pakistan. With impending elections in the country and no clear leader, Musharraf may have fancied his chance of making a re-entry into the political theatre to offer himself as a future democratic leader.
But there is no doubt that what the former Pakistani general has revealed is significant and is likely to shape India’s stand on Pakistan, and particularly its decision on whether troops should be withdrawn from Siachen. For, among other things, Aziz makes it clear that all those who took part in the Kargil operation were regular Pakistani soldiers and not mujahideen, as Musharraf and the Pakistani government had claimed. He also stresses that the entire planning of the operation was done by Musharraf in complete secrecy by taking only four senior army officials into confidence. Thirdly, Aziz emphasises that the operation was aimed at cutting off Indian supplies to Siachen and forcing its troops to withdraw from the glacier.
“There is no peace dividend in going for a troop pullout from Siachen. There is no justification for it. After Kargil, it has become difficult and the latest developments make it almost impossible. A goodwill gesture has no place now as things stand in the present ambience,” says Raghavan, pointing to last month’s tension along the LoC with the subsequent beheading and mutilation of Indian soldiers by the Pakistani side as a cautionary note.
Though optimistic, strategic affairs commentator and former Indian army brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal also advises caution in dealing with the Siachen issue. “While the demilitarisation of the Siachen conflict zone is doable, the political climate is not right at present,” he told Outlook. “The government cannot afford to alienate people during an election year.”
Interestingly, though Aziz claims that he all along thought Musharraf’s ambitious operation was doomed to failure, he also points out that the weakness of the Indian intelligence-sharing mechanism was one of the key elements that had allowed Pak troops their initial success in Kargil.
The armed conflict that engaged the two sides in the summer of 1999 had managed to catch the attention not only of Indians and Pakistanis, but also that of the world at large. For this was a conventional war being fought by two countries barely a year after they had conducted a series of nuclear tests and declared themselves nuclear powers.
Enemy fire Pak troops firing at Indian troops in Dras sector. (Photograph by Reuters, From Outlook 18 February 2013)
The months of condemnation that followed the twin nuclear tests of May 1998, with demands that both India and Pakistan dismantle their nuclear programmes, had stopped only in the early part of 1999. In February of that year, Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had boarded the peace bus to Lahore to hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, and sign the Lahore Declaration to normalise bilateral ties. Ominously, Musharraf, the then Pakistani army chief, probably busy in hatching the Kargil operation, remained absent from all the meetings of the two prime ministers. Within months, the peace initiative between the two sides was reduced to tatters as it became known that Pakistani armed infiltrators had managed to sneak in and take control of key peaks in Kargil, in the area through which the important NH-ID highway linking Srinagar and Leh runs. The vantage position that the Pakistanis succeeded in controlling had made it extremely difficult for the Indians to launch a counter-offensive to dislodge the intruders.
Irrespective of where the blame lies, Gen Aziz’s current revelations have diminished the chances of India thinking of a possible troop withdrawal from Siachen quite a bit. Sections in the Indian establishment were always divided on this contentious issue and there are indications that in 2006—when the Indo-US nuclear deal negotiations were at a crucial stage—the Indian leadership was seriously weighing the option of demilitarisation in Siachen, something that the George W. Bush administration in the US was keen on. However, following strong resistance from the armed forces and some of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s close aides, the plan was abandoned.
Retired Indian army chief Gen Shankar Roychowdhury told Outlook, “I don’t know the fate of my proposal to build a parallel road out of Pakistani artillery range.” In fact, he says, a secondary road does exist but he is not sure whether it can take the weight of regular military traffic. But, he adds emphatically, “There is no question of demilitarising Siachen—our Saltoro ranges to be precise. We hold the advantage over Pakistan and that’s the way it should remain.”
Is it goodbye then to any future negotiation on demilitarising Siachen? Former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal remains cautiously optimistic. “It is doable only if Pakistan agrees on an agreement to extend the LoC to formally acknowledge the Indian position on Siachen.” But he too hastens to point out that the Aziz revelations have exposed “Pakistani duplicity”, making it difficult for the Indian leadership to seriously think of withdrawing troops from Siachen in the near future.
14 Years Ago
Grinning general V.P. Malik tells media of Op Vijay’s success. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook 18 February 2013)
Lessons The New Admissions Teach Us
By Pranay Sharma in New Delhi with S.N.M. Abdi in Calcutta
A few things regarding your cover story on Siachen (A Glacial Intent, Feb 18). A.B. Vajpayee was the head of a ‘caretaker’ NDA government at the time, which was responsible for a totally unnecessary Pokhran-II, evoking six nuclear blasts in retaliation. The subsequent bus ride to Lahore was a total eyewash—it didn’t stop the intrusion in Kargil a few months on. You could also have mentioned the plum gubernatorial and diplomatic assignments General V.P. Mehta later cornered to put things in perspective.
Ashoke P. Mahtani, Calcutta
In 1948, when Pakistan attacked Kashmir, they said it wasn’t army regulars but Razakars; they repeated the bogey in 1965 with the mujahideen. In retaliation, when India opened the Lahore front, Pakistan claimed it was Indian aggression. Pakistan’s logic is simple: any incursion along the LoC is not a violation since it is not an internationally recognised border. In view of this, there is no way India can trust Pakistan on the Siachen issue.
Abbas Rumani, Kuwait
Very brave of Lt Gen (retd) Shahid Aziz to admit that Kargil was a debacle.
R. V. Subramanian, Gurgaon
The designation accompanying the mug and name of Gen S. Roychowdhury said “former cabinet secretary”. Since when have army officers started occupying the post of the seniormost civil servant?
Maj Gen (retd?) V.K. Singh, Gurgaon
If global warming can act as a diplomat, India will give either Pakistan or China the Siachen Glacier, because the glacier will either be in Pakistan or China. It might be, that it might travel to Tibet, over mountain slopes.
To make a thought, troops need not be on the glacier, but a bit lower below the glacier. Is this possible? It appears, when troops are on the glacier, then it makes both sides of the border interact about the glacier. I think, it would be better, if India gave a suggestion, where hostilities would not commence by either side, and Siachen was not used hence, to any advantage, over the Pakistan border.
hostilities would not commence by either side,
hostilities would not commence by either side,
This might work in some alternate reality, but not in this one. As they say,
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Following that logic, we should hang our heads in shame for ever considering how many times we have been taken for a ride.
In 1948, when Pakistan attacked Kashmir, they said, it is not Pakistani regular army, but Razzakar, in 1965; they attacked along LOC in Kashmir Area, but with same bogy that it is mujahidin. In retaliation when India open Lahour front, they claimed Indian aggression. Pakistan logic is simple; any incursion along LOC is not a violation since it is not an internationally recognized border.
In view of this how INDIAN can trust Pakistan on Siachin issue? Let say both sides agreed to demilitarize the Siachen, what guarantee is there that Pakistan will not use so called mujahidin to capture it? In such senorio we all know what will they say. They will simply say it is not Pakistani army who has violated the agreement and are occupying Siachen. It is Kashmir mujahidin and we have no control over them
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