Grand Hopes And General Failures
Giving the lie to the myth of Nawaz the peaceable, Nasim Zehra lays bare the absurd assumptions that led to Kargil
On May 17, 1999, the prime minister was given a detailed operational briefing on Operation Koh Paima (Op KP). It was held at the Inter Services Intelligence’s (ISI’s) Ojhri Camp office, only a few miles away from Islamabad, against the backdrop of Indian press reports claiming that Mujahideen under fire cover provided by Pakistani soldiers had infiltrated along the Line of Control (LoC)…
The Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Tauqir Zia gave the detailed presentation. The entire Kargil clique, including the army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf, the Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Aziz Khan, Commander 10 Corps Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmed, and Commander Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) Brigadier Javed Hassan, was present. Key men from ISI in attendance included the DG ISI Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt, director analysis wing Major Gen Shahid Aziz, and ISI’s point man for Afghanistan and Kashmir Maj Gen Jamshed Gulzar, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, accompanied by the Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz, the Finance Minister, the Minister for Northern Areas and Kashmir Affairs Lt Gen (r) Majeed Malik, the Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad, and his principal secretary Saeed Mehdi.
This was the first interface of the prime minister and his cabinet members with the planners and implementers of the Kargil Operation…
DGMO Zia began the presentation with the words: “Sir, as per your desire we have made a plan to upgrade the freedom movement in Kashmir.” It would be a five-phased operation and the first phase had been completed, he explained. He then proceeded to show, on the map, scores of positions that had already been taken. However, military maps without any text were used for the briefing. Nothing was written and they only had symbols on them. Normally, even military men receiving briefings on such maps, with only symbols, first require orientation to understand what these maps represent. For example, the LoC was not clearly demarcated on the map. Hence, during the presentation, when Pakistani and Indian positions were pointed out to the prime minister, he was unable to fully comprehend the locations of these posts. Instead, for him, the main focus of the briefing was the achievements of the Pakistani troops. There was no mention of Pakistani troops crossing the LoC, nor of the Pakistani troop build-up five to 10 kilometres beyond the LoC. One of the retired generals recalled, “I saw scores of positions across the LoC in the IOK [Indian Occupied Kashmir] area.”
India-held Kashmir is spread over three areas: the Jammu sector, Pir Panjal Range to the [Kashmir] valley, and the Leh and Ladakh sector. The entry from Jammu to the valley is through the Manihaal Pass and from Leh and Ladakh the entry is through the Zojila Pass. The DGMO explained that, in phase two, “We will infiltrate freedom fighters into Leh and Ladakh, who will start the insurgency in the area.” In phase three, the general predicted that, when pressure was applied on the Indian forces from the flanking sectors through the operations of these infiltrating groups, the Indians would start bringing their troops to Ladakh and Jammu, leaving the valley virtually drained of troops. In phase four, the DGMO explained, Pakistan would rush in large numbers of freedom fighters into the valley and block the Manihaal and Zojila passes, thereby isolating the valley and occupying the area. The general predicted that in phase five, the final phase, the Indians would be on their knees begging for talks and Pakistan could dictate its own terms.
Assumptions and presumptions
The DGMO proceeded to share the four assumptions which, according to its planners, guaranteed the success of the five-phase Op KP. First, each post being held was impregnable. Second, the Indians did not have the will or the determination to take on Pakistan in a fight and would not make any serious effort to regain the heights. Third, as far as the international context was concerned, Pakistan need not worry because there would be no external pressure. Fourth, that the army recognised the economic crunch faced by the country and therefore the government would not be asked for any extra resources for operation; the army would use its own sources to fulfill the financial requirements.
The main thrust of the presentation was to inform the elected leadership of the army’s “achievements” along and across the LoC. The impression given was that the strategic heights lay somewhere in the un-demarcated zones. The DGMO informed the participants that Pakistan’s troops had occupied strategic heights that Indians would now find almost impossible to reoccupy. The army chief emphasised the irreversibility factor and said that, based on the wisdom and experience of his entire professional career, he could “guarantee the success of the operation.”
The thrust of the briefing was to inform the civilian participants that, because of the operation, the tempo of “jihad” would increase, that only the Mujahideen were conducting the operations and Pakistan was only providing logistical support, and that militarily the peaks taken by the Mujahideen were impregnable. The architects of Koh Paima were confident that India would first “create noise, then respond militarily, but the fighting to follow would be restricted to the operation’s area. Finally, India would be quiet, the participants were told, and tell its public that it had retaken the peaks.
This flawed assumption by the Koh Paima architects was, in fact, a wishful extrapolation from what had mostly been Pakistan’s own response pattern to major Indian incursions across the LoC. Especially after India launched a major operation in 1984 to occupy the Siachen glacier, Pakistan under the military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq had remained mum. No response from India, the architects concluded, would provide Pakistan with bargaining chips over Kashmir.
Flattery was in abundance. The CGS piled on more, “Sir, you will go down in the history of Pakistan as the PM in whose tenure Kashmir was resolved.”
Clearly, the masterminds of Kargil were not seeking permission for the operation they had already launched. The prime minister was presented with a fait accompli. With the cover of Op KP having been nearly blown and diplomatic pressure imminent, the Kargil clique was seeking political and diplomatic cover for the operation. The prime minister was pointedly asked if he and his team could politically and diplomatically leverage their ‘unassailable’ military achievements to promote and project the Kashmir cause.
There was a divided response from the civilian participants. The DGMO pointedly asked Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad if the Kargil situation could be utilised to “feed into our effort to project Kashmir.” The general was keen to know if diplomatic advantage could be derived from this military operation. Noncommittally, the Foreign Secretary indicated that it might be possible. Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz, however, expressed his reservations on two counts: one, that it was incongruent with the spirit of the Lahore summit [held in February the same year] and, two, that the U.S. would not support the operation.
Sartaj Aziz pointedly asked his PM whether the plan the army had made was not contrary to the undertaking in the Lahore Declaration. “Sartaj Aziz Sahib, can we ever take Kashmir through paperwork? We have here an opportunity to take Kashmir,” was a relaxed Nawaz Sharif’s response. By contrast, his foreign minister was perturbed. He was clear that this operation would not help Pakistan get international support for Kashmir.