February 19, 2020
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Not The Whole Picture

The army headquarters' denials have only raised more questions about the security failures

Not The Whole Picture
Serious attempts are being made to discredit the shocking revelations of security negligence that have come to light following disclosures of the warning letters of Brig Surinder Singh, the Kargil commander, printed in Outlook and other newspapers. It's a pity that instead of looking at the mounting evidence that clearly substantiates the charge of failure at the highest level, the government and the army top brass are out to sully the name of the brigadier and to obfuscate the whole issue of national security through contradictory and misleading statements.

Despite denials from army headquarters on the reports printed in Outlook concerning the warnings by Brig Singh on the increased threat perception along the border, the magazine stands by its story.

A petition filed by Brig Singh in the Punjab and Haryana High Court which came up for hearing on August 20 clearly brings out the fact that warnings had been given by the Kargil brigadier. "The petitioner does not wish to mince words in stating that after taking over the charge of the Kargil brigade, during the various briefings which he had conducted with senior officers, including the chief of army staff (coas), the threat perceptions were correctly projected," the petition notes, adding that "all these were well documented in the form of written briefs and letters. The projections were not rightly appreciated and he was termed as alarmist in casual conversation."

Sources close to the family who are in touch with Brig Surinder Singh told Outlook the following on the morning of September 3:

  • Brig Surinder Singh stands by whatever has been reported by Outlook in its various Kargil write-ups.

  • The lawyer, R.S. Randhawa, who denied the existence of the November 12 letter to a section of the press, had not spoken to the brigadier or his family. Family sources said the lawyer cannot deny the existence of the letters.

  • The former brigade commander, who has already been transferred six times in the past three months, has been threatened with a court martial and other disciplinary action.

    Significantly, the writ petition Randhawa filed on behalf of Brig Singh in the Punjab and Haryana High Court concerned only the matter of his frequent transfers. While it mentioned without any details Singh's various warnings, it pertained largely to the harassment he faced on account of the transfers. It does not have the November 12 letter.

    Outlook has seen the writ petition and the annexures. The only documents appended are the various transfer/movement orders and telegrams asking the brigadier to report to various locations. They did not have any of the so-called 26 annexures the brigadier had attached in his final letter to the coas. Neither were any notes and briefings attached.

    But the petition notes that despite submissions and requests regarding threats from across the border "to the higher authorities including the coas and the general officer commanding of 3 Infantry Division no corrective measures were taken to check the situation leading to the Kargil episode." As for the latest army headquarters denials, they are a marked departure from the earlier posture that there were no warnings and that Singh was a "disgruntled" officer who was merely using the media to push a case which had no basis. Even the briefing given to the chief at Kargil on August 29, '98, was being denied. Now army headquarters seems to be accepting that the briefing did take place. But it still denies that the file pertaining to the briefings was ever sent to Gen Malik.

    To come to the army headquarters' denial point-by-point:

  • The August 25, '98 File: (HQ 121 Inf Bde letter No. Brief/coas/124/gsd/vif/dg)

    The army headquarters says that no such letter was received by the coas secretariat. However, the fact is that the file in question was initiated by Brig Surinder Singh on directions from his immediate boss, Maj Gen V.S. Budhwar, on August 25, '98.

    According to Budhwar's instructions, Singh was to outline the threat perceptions in the sector and the resources required which he was to present at a briefing to the army chief. The briefing took place on August 29, '98. Gen Malik then asked Singh to send the main points to him in a written brief. The August 25 file, which outlined the threat perception and the additional resources needed, was sent to the army chief bearing the reference number of the file already sent to Budhwar.

    This explains the discrepancy between the date of reference on the file and the date of the actual briefing.

    The army headquarters' denial says that in his briefing to the coas, Brig Singh made no mention of immediate or enhanced threat from across the LoC. Outlook has reconfirmed that the enhanced threats at various points had come up for discussion and Singh had made his demands for additional resources.

  • Letters No. 106/GS (Ops)/Brief/coas/124/ gsd/vif dated September 1, '98 and 186/GS/ Ops dated December 17, '98:

    Army headquarters has conveniently denied that the coas secretariat has not received these letters. The fact is that the magazine's report very clearly said that these letters were addressed to Maj Gen Budhwar. Therefore, there was no question of these letters reaching the coas.

  • The army headquarters states that during his briefing to the coas on August 29, '98, Brig Singh did make a demand for allotment of weapon locating radars and remote-piloted vehicles.

    This is exactly what we reported. While the army headquarters accepts that Brig Singh did ask for remote-piloted vehicles and weapon locating radar systems as mentioned in our report, it conveniently denies that he pointed out the likely points of infiltration/incursions during the briefing.

  • The do/rog/coas dated November 12, '98, is the crucial letter from Brig Singh to the army chief which the coas secretariat denies it had received because Brig Singh was not authorised to write to the chief.

    The fact of the matter is that a non-statutory rog (redressal of grievances) was sent by the brigadier which is his right. There have been many instances when junior officers have written directly to the coas. The non-statuary rog route provides a channel for an officer to bypass the chain of command and appeal to the army chief. This mode of communication is meant for those who have complaints against their immediate superiors. One of Singh's main problems, as spelt out in the rog, was his professional differences with his superior, Maj Gen Budhwar.

    Interestingly, a serving general is now reportedly heading an inquiry to establish whether Brig Singh played a direct role in leaking this letter and other "demi-official" (DO) notes. If no such letters existed, why is the inquiry on? In fact, a contingency plan seems to be already in place whereby the army authorities could take the plea that the DO letter was lost in transit.

    Army headquarters also says the letters quoted in the Outlook story haven't been included in the annexures attached to Brig Singh's letter No. 29734/SS/Conf dated June 28, '99.

    Indeed, these letters may not have formed part of the annexures. But Brig Singh wrote not 26 but over 50 letters to various higher officials between August '98 till he was removed from command in June '99. All these were not annexed to the letter dated June 28, '99. It must be noted that this magazine's report is not based merely on the June 28, '99 letter.

    There seems to be a systematic effort to confuse the issue. The army headquarters has been orchestrating reports in the press through an unofficial briefing to senior mediapersons. Based on this August 26 briefing, The Times of India reported in its August 27 edition: "The sources said the forces were equally miffed by the attempts being made by certain political formations to level charges about the conduct of the Kargil conflict by relying on documents which should not have reached them in the first place (since they were confidential) and which in any case were written with dubious intent." Clearly, the army was accepting that letters were written by Brig Singh.

    Exactly a week later, after this magazine's cover story on the Kargil letters, the army top brass in its various official as well as unofficial briefings now denies the very existence of these letters. Moreover, army authorities are totally silent on the question of the destruction of ammunition worth nearly Rs 500 crore in Kargil, which was reported in the same issue. The report had detailed how the Kargil brigade's warnings on the threat of enemy artillery rounds falling on the ammunition dump in Kargil were ignored. A huge quantity of additional ammunition was instead rushed in which became an easy target for the enemy.

    Clearly, several questions remained unanswered. Going by media reports, the army headquarters' latest ploy is to divert attention from the army chief. Surinder Singh may have sent out warnings, but not to the chief. The warnings themselves are being ignored. In short, they are shooting the messenger, not the message.

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