In a no-holds-barred interview, sacked army officer Brigadier Surinder Singh talks about how he was cornered by General V.P. Malik and others and made a scapegoat for telling the truth about what happened at Kargil in 1999 and sticking to his guns. Toral Varia Deshpande met him at his home in Chandigarh.
Pakistan’s Gen Aziz has validated India’s stand about the Kargil war being fought by Pak army regulars. As the brigade commander of 121 Infantry Brigade who consistently gave inputs of the intrusion build-up, are you vindicated?
Of course! Pakistan used the mujahideen bluff in 1948, 1971 and then in Kargil. Now their own general is saying they were regulars. If you see the official records, you will see that all the units we came across—NLI, 24 Sindh, Baloch—they were all regular Pakistan army units. You see, when I briefed General Ved Prakash Malik at the end of August 1998, I gave him very specific information regarding Pakistan army movement that (now reading from confidential internal army communication) one extra infantry battalion has come in addition to one battalion which was already there as routine posture and 24 Sindh, which later on showed up in the intrusions as well, was moved closer and one battalion was moved on priority from Sialkot to somewhere in Skardu. Then two artillery brigades have come, smart weapons have come—everything was given in specifics. All these are hardcore army movements.
"I believe my seniors deliberately looked the other way even as I reported Pakistani army incursions."
In a recent interview to The Sunday Guardian, General V.P. Malik said both the IB and RAW misled the army. Do you agree? Especially because you had forwarded specific information consistently through the relevant channels?
Does the brigade commander manufacture this sort of information? This information comes to us through the intelligence agencies—RAW and IB—which send it through army HQ, or the corps HQ or the division HQ. What I see is just what I see with the naked eye. I saw people with black dresses, I saw people digging—that is my information. And it is not manufactured by me! But the other resources are with the division HQ. So, to say those intelligence agencies fooled us...why, then, are we sitting up there—the brigade commander, GOC, corps commander and the chief?
Did General Malik and those above you in the chain of command deliberately downplay the situation?
I believe that they deliberately decided to look away. I remember a briefing where General Malik, and others were present. I was reporting about the intrusions and movements of the Pakistani troops. The first thing goc Major General Budhwar said was, “Look we are constructing a zoo.” Imagine! The enemy was inching closer and he was busy constructing a zoo with the full support and knowledge of the corps commander and army commander. They were more interested in how the birds are being trapped and how the defence stores are being used and how the troops are being used for trapping birds.
So there was no discussion on the troops build-up or a strategy to counter the enemy?
Not as seriously as there should have been. The war started on May 3, 1999. On May 5, the director general military operations had come to see me and I had briefed him in detail too. But they were all in the Delhi-Lahore bus yatra mood. They were all in the political mood. They had left the soldierly vision. There were a bunch of seniors who had resigned themselves to the fact that the bus yatra was happening and that there would be a thaw on the LoC and that nothing untoward would happen.
"I had told them not to move units in Batalik, Mushkoh. They did. It was like we vacated areas for the enemy."
Why do you think they were trying to downplay the issue?
Initially, everything was handled haphazardly. For instance, they asked for attack helicopters from the air force when the actual war started. The air force refused to provide them immediately and asked the army to first inform the government and get a sanction. All this was happening while the chief was in Poland. Now, if nothing was happening, then why would they ask for attack helicopters from the air force? Why did they want to downplay the information? Was it just so General Malik’s plan of holidaying in Poland doesn’t go for a toss?
As the brigade commander who was facing the enemy up close and personal, yours was a dual battle: with the enemy across the border and with your seniors for your men.
Oh absolutely. I was the only one who kept saying there would be a war. They were so shortsighted they didn’t realise how close the enemy had come in. For instance, a 9 Mahar unit was posted in Batalik and a unit of the Maratha regiment was holding our Mushkoh area. I told them to not remove these units but the GOC said, “No, they will be removed.” The moment we moved out of Batalik, the enemy walked in. Ditto with Mushkoh. The first intrusion was in February, then in March. After that came intrusions in Batalik, Tololing, Tiger Hill and then in Mushkoh. It was like we almost vacated the areas for the enemy!
Even though the war was won, do you believe you were cornered and made a scapegoat by the top commanders?
There is an entire hierarchy in place. I am not a one-man army. Above me, there is a divisional commander, corps commander, an army commander and then the chief. They just picked me because I was the only one who kept saying a war will take place. I was not in sync with their mood.
General Malik did not have the moral courage to own up to the mistakes. He was a chief without the moral courage to admit that I was right in my assessment. Instead, I was made the man to blame. First, they removed me to give the impression to the government and the nation that the brigade commander was responsible and he must be removed. They kept transferring me from one place to another. They didn’t let me meet my family. They mentally harassed me. It is clearly the lack of moral courage of General Malik that trickled down the chain.
"Gen V.P. Malik didn’t have the courage to admit the mistakes. Instead, I was made the man to blame."
Who supported you through this?
My men. In my ACR, which was interestingly written after my removal, I have been appreciated for the professional manner in which I fought the war and recaptured positions. That could not have been possible without the support of my men. Every single officer was fighting the enemy like he was a whole battalion himself hammering down the enemy. Otherwise, things were very bad until the troops started coming in.
A Pakistani colonel has claimed in his book that Pervez Musharraf had spent a night 11 km inside Indian territory. Do you think that could have happened?
Impossible. It’s a publicity stunt. There are logical and logistical reasons behind this. But more importantly, this whole operation was based on stealth and surprise. Now the surprise was to be broken sometime in May or June, because Zojila Pass opened in June and Musharraf wanted to consolidate everything before then. Would he be a fool to kill the surprise in December by bringing a helicopter inside and sleeping in front of me???
Do you feel let down by General V.P. Malik?
Like I said, he did not even have the courage to admit that I was the only one who was right in my assessment of the war. General Malik came only after the war had been already underway for over 20 days. And now he talks about swift wars! What is he talking about? How could he stay away for that long a time? And then he makes a statement like “We’ll fight with whatever we have!” It’s very demoralising conduct to say the least.
Threat perceptions: the ene is active in the sec along the LC. The areas where incursions/intrusions are possible are:
Serious professional differences have developed between self and GOC, 3 Inf Div, in matters of op details.
Possible infl along the LC at the areas pointed out in my briefing to you have been ignored. These points have become...