June 26, 2020
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A Kargil Fable

It is Pakistan's version of the Kargil war. A new book says they successfully countered India's 'adventurism'.

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A Kargil Fable
A Kargil Fable
You think Pakistan occupied the Kargil hills in the summer of 1999. You believe it was an operation Pakistani generals planned on the sly and then prime minister Nawaz Sharif didn't know about it until the bullets started flying. You're absolutely sure about India emerging victorious and the Pakistani army deeply embarrassed.

Hold on, history can be rewritten. And to know how, read Dr Shireen Mazari's book, The Kargil Conflict 1999—Separating Fact from Fiction, which was launched in Islamabad recently. The slim, 162-page book claims, inter alia: Kargil was an operation planned to counter India's insidious designs; Sharif was aware of it; he failed to convert Pakistan's "tremendous military success" into a politico-diplomatic victory. The book concludes, "Had Nawaz Sharif not dashed to Washington to give in and had the Kargil tactical operation been allowed to sustain itself for a few more weeks (till the end of August 1999), it would have led to an Indo-Pak dialogue."

But just who's Dr Shireen Mazari? Answer: she's more influential than what her calling card—director general, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad—suggests. In the Pakistani establishment, they trust her more than anyone else. She confesses in the preface that the book would not have been possible "without the support and access given by President Musharraf to all manner of data and information".

No wonder, the book's being viewed in these circles as Pakistan's official version of Kargil. Her idea was to explode a few 'myths'. One of these pertained to media reports that there had been a long-standing 'Kargil Plan' but it was never executed because army chief Gen Jehangir Karamat (1996-1999) and then PM Benazir Bhutto had rejected it.

Fine, you accept there was no long-standing Kargil plan (leaving aside one awkward fact: Benazir claims otherwise). So then why did Pakistan decide to launch the 1999 operations? Mazari says there were suspicious movements in the Shaqma sector, north of the LoC at Kargil, in the late 1998-early 1999. The Pakistan high command asked the Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) to evolve a plan to counter possible Indian incursions. Even this defensive planning is dated March '99, and not during Vajpayee's visit earlier in the year, as India claims. "No movement across Burazil Pass was possible prior to mid-March. By keeping two well-equipped Indian brigades at Maskoh/Dras, India possessed the capacity to occupy positions in the Shaqma sector," writes Mazari.

The FCNA did plan a defensive action with its troops. Replenishment was provided only after Indian attacks on Pakistani posts. "This fact alone is sufficient to debunk the claim of a so-called strategic offensive operation planned by Pakistan at Kargil. Any major offensive would, obviously, have entailed some sort of additional troops and logistic build-up...."

Refuting the Indian assertions that Pakistan's operation was essentially planned across the LoC, she says, "If that had been the intent, the Pakistani troops would have attempted to recapture the Marpola and Bimbet posts that were established on the Pakistani side of the LoC by Indian troops in their many incursions across the LoC in 1988. How could Pakistan allow these Indian posts to remain intact even as Pakistani troops bypassed these positions, went across the LoC and occupied vast, inhospitable areas?"

What sparked the Kargil war then? India's adventurism, she says. "India, as per its plan, moved its troops to the watershed on their side of the LoC and initially came across those Mujahideen who were familiar with the terrain and had moved to occupy some of the heights across the LoC to interdict the Indian supply route along the Dras-Kargil road".In other words, the guerrillas had been deployed to nix India's plan.She says the FCNA took defensive measures by "positioning troops on the heights/features, overlooking Indian routes, which in fact had been mostly unoccupied previously. But as a result of the Indian counter-attacks, numerous new posts were established and fighting patrols were pushed ahead for early warning and depth and flank protection." Conclusion: Pakistan was successfully countering India's possible adventurism.

She arraigns Sharif's regime with this line of attack: it wasn't in the battlefield but in the diplomatic arena that Pakistan was worsted. "India managed to portray its lack of success in the military operations as restraint and adroitly played on Western fears of a nuclear war in South Asia. The central line being pushed was that it was Indian restraint that had prevented a nuclear conflict."

Simultaneously, India widened the military operations to Pakistan's disadvantage. She argues, "It got sucked incrementally into a larger military operation by India with the latter's induction of reinforcements, the Bofor guns and the use of the Indian Air Force. Pakistan had not anticipated this since its objective was simply to preempt suspected Indian military actions along the LoC. In any case, from the Pakistani perspective, no grand strategic plan was envisaged because it would have been difficult to employ large-scale forces in Kargil, in a sustainable manner."

The book refutes Sharif's claim that he wasn't briefed on Kargil. She says he was briefed repeatedly in '99, beginning with a session in Skardu on January 29. Mazari writes, "The isi gave him a briefing on March 12, 1999, while the Military Operations Directorate at the GHQ gave him briefings on May 17, 1999; June 2, 1999 and June 22, 1999. On July 2, 1999, at a meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, the chiefs of the army, navy and air force gave a briefing on Kargil. A further meeting was scheduled for July 5, 1999." It wasn't held: Sharif suddenly left for Washington on July 4.

His trip to the US transformed the situation. For, Mazari claims, India was prepared to negotiate with Pakistan around mid-June 1999, courtesy backchannel diplomacy. "Apparently, it was reported on June 27 that an understanding had been reached on the final settlement of the Kargil conflict, which was to be signed in New Delhi by the prime ministers of the two countries. That is why at the time of Sharif's visit to China on June 27, 1999, the Indian side had suggested that Sharif make an 'impromptu' stop in New Delhi on his way back from Beijing. This is probably why Sharif cut short his visit to China.... But once he did this, the Indian offer was suddenly cancelled.... So somewhere between these developments, an external factor came into play which further impacted the Kargil dynamics."

That external factor was the Clinton administration. It interceded on India's behalf. She writes, "Many military commanders, in interviews, insisted that it was the US that prevented India from coming to the negotiating table with Pakistan at the time of the Sharif visit to China. The US administration was of the view that despite repeated warnings not to take any action along the LoC, Pakistan was playing a game of brinkmanship against the American wishes."

Mazari blames Sharif for mishandling the political and diplomatic dimensions of the conflict. He dashed to Washington without even informing his cabinet. Once there, he gave in to US pressure and committed himself to the army's immediate withdrawal. It turned "the whole Kargil episode into a political victory for India, while Pakistan saw a successful tactical operation—albeit one which was not accompanied by a coordinated politico-diplomatic plan—turn into a politico-diplomatic setback." In other words, the battle that had been won was thus lost.
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