The Skeletons of Kargil, Revisited

"Too many careerists have been promoted as Generals since the 1971 war and today it is a cabal of careerists swarming higher echelons...our sleeping Generals are very good at committing tactical blunders."

The Skeletons of Kargil, Revisited

“No wonder Kao (RN Kao the founding father of R&AW) is believed to have said —General Malik (General Ved Prakash Malik, the former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of the Indian Army during the Kargil conflict in 1999) went into a happy deep sleep into the winters. He is now blaming the intelligence agencies for not preventing him from sleep.”

—— Vikram Sood, ex R&AW Chief, on Page 222 of his book The Unending Game

Former R&AW Chief's Take Shots at the Former Army Chief

Vikram Sood has quoted RN Kao in the context of General VP Malik’s observation in his book Kargil: From Surprise to Victory in which Gen. Malik had written that intelligence agencies had failed to detect Kargil intrusion by Pakistan.

Gen. Malik had pointed towards the deficiencies in collecting, collating, interpreting, and assessing the capabilities of Indian Intelligence agencies. This had been contested by Vikram Sood and even former R&AW Chief AS Dulat in his book Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years.

According to Sood, this was a clumsy attempt to pass on the blame for the General’s acts of omission and commission. Intelligence agencies had been passing on the intel about the build-up in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) to all the agencies concerned.

In fact, an article published in Newsweek after the Kargil fiasco had stated that the Pakistan Army’s drive to purchase high-altitude and Extreme Cold-weather Clothing (ECC) was on the radar of the Indian intelligence agencies since June. Even then former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when asked after the Kargil conflict stated that there was no intelligence failure. Therefore, this negates Gen. Malik’s allegations.

In fact, Vikram Sood contends that it was military intelligence and the top Generals who had refused to accept warnings from civil intelligence agencies. He brings out a real reason for the Kargil intrusion.

It is a known fact that prior to 1982, forward posts in the Kargil-Dras region were occupied by the Border Security Force (BSF). Even during extreme winters at heights above 4,200 meters, BSF never withdrew its troops.

However, once the Army took over the responsibility in 1982, it introduced the practice of withdrawing in the winter. This fact was very well known to the Pakistan Army. There is a lot of truth in this, as I would narrate from personal experience in the Keran sector of Kashmir.

Vikram Sood further states that the policy of withdrawing troops in winters continued even when in April 1998, there was a report of some 350 ‘irregulars’ having infiltrated from the Pakistan side of Kargil.

This practice of withdrawing troops in the winters had become a routine with the Indian Army and a practice with the Pakistan Army to quietly occupy some of these tactically important posts. But the Generals and Army maintained stone silence on such losses and the nation never came to know. In the Keran sector of Kupwara of North Kashmir, there is a Pakistani post called ‘Guthur Forward’ by India but ‘Ramzan' in Pakistani lexicon.

This post was once an Indian outpost on the Line of Control (LoC) but it was lost to Pakistan in the winters of 1990. The same is true of ‘Lunda Forward’ in the ‘Gurez-Dawar’ sector. Pakistan has been quietly nibbling at some of the Indian posts on the LoC in the winters, but the Generals suppressed this information.

One is reminded of the Kayian Bowl (Nagaon sector) incident of May 1972, when the lie of a Commander led to two of the finest infantry battalions (4 Mahar and 9 Sikh) being butchered. He also tricked his boss and got him sacked. But he himself rose to be a Lieutenant General and occupied the coveted post of QMG at Army HQ.

The point I am making is that too many careerists have been promoted as Generals since the 1971 War and today, it is a cabal of careerists swarming higher echelons. If only Pakistan had not been so greedy to grab the entire Kargil-Drass area in 1999 and slowly eaten a few posts, the Indian Army would have silently ignored this. Perhaps, Pakistani Generals are worse than their Indian counterparts.

Top Brass Sleeping on the Job

Anyway, our sleeping Generals are exceptionally good at committing tactical blunders. When the going is good, they would hog the credit. If things go wrong, they shamelessly blame subordinates. This is what happened post the Kargil fiasco when the Kargil Brigade Commander was made the ‘scapegoat’.

Take the case of the construction of the Upper Neelam Valley Road (UNVR) by Pakistan in the mid-90s. Today, the UNVR is a lifeline for Pakistani troops deployed opposite Kargil. But in the early 1990s, it was not so. It is a 22 km shunt, taking off from Chak (Athmuqam) in the Neelam Valley to the village of Dakhan Kot, where it rejoins the Lower Neelam Valley Road (LNVR).

This shunt was constructed when the Indian artillery guns, suddenly and rather mysteriously, fell silent. What is shocking is the fact that interdiction was stopped during the heydays of militancy. Why did it happen? The answer lay with the Generals of the time, who commanded 15 Corps, Northern Command HQ, and also, the AHQ.

The UNVR was constructed by Pakistan, some 4-5 km away, westwards from LNVR, to avoid the Indian posts’ small arms fire interfering with LNVR. It must be acknowledged that before UNVR was constructed, Pakistan largely depended on LNVR for logistic support to troops in the Gulati-Kotli area.

LNVR takes off from Muzaffarabad in PoK and runs along the Neelam River (called Kishan Ganga on the Indian side). It was easily choked and blocked by small arms fire.

The Indian Army not only allowed the road construction but also high embankment on the road. It was a tactical blunder by sleeping Generals to allow this.

In magnitude, this was equal to dismantling of the Technical Support Division (TSD) at the Army HQ in 2012-13, which had made a big success in Counter Insurgency and Counter Terror (CICT) operations in the Kashmir Valley (would be discussed under detail in Part Two). Suffice to say that it was falsely accused of eavesdropping on politicians and therefore dismantled.

Indian Generals were sleeping, while Pakistan was fully entrenched in Kargil in April-May 1999. The snow had melted in April 1999. There was no hurry to occupy the posts but shepherds of Kargil started moving around. They broke the news of Pakistan’s intrusion, while the Indian Generals were busy in other extra-curricular activities.

In the first week of May 1999 Gen. VP Malik was planning to visit Poland, that’s when the news of Kargil infiltration had started pouring in. A journalist had questioned Gen. Malik on this visit, while Kargil was flaring up. He retorted, “I am Chief of the Army. It is a formation-level event. For such small things you mean, I cannot go to the bathroom,” or words to that effect. As later events turned out, he had grossly misjudged the situation.

What about commanders at the HQ Northern Command? It was perhaps in a deeper slumber. Surprisingly, Lt Gen. Padmanabhan was shifted from Northern Command to Southern Command at a crucial time when the snow had begun to melt. His successor Lt Gen. HM Khanna had no time to grasp the situation when the issue of militants' intrusion had caught the eye of the nation.

As his sleeping staff had briefed him, he boasted of throwing out the intruders in the next 48 hours. But when he realised the gravity by the end of May 1999, he rushed to Pune to consult Gen. Padmanabhan.

It seems after the ‘Lahore Bus Yatra’ held by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee on 20 February 1999, not only the Generals but also the entire Indian Army officer corps was in a holiday mood as if India had found a ‘mantra’ for lasting peace. It was more evident in Srinagar, Kargil, Leh, and Kupwara.

At Leh and Srinagar, Garden and Flower competitions were organised in May 1999. Besides many Queen beauty pageants that were held in the officer messes of Kargil and Leh. At Kupwara, as late as 26 June 1999, the Husband’s night function was held. At the same time, at Srinagar Badami Bagh Cantonment, there was a Golf tournament going on, while body bags were arriving from Kargil and Dras. George Fernandez, the Defence Minister at the time, had seen this and fumed with anger.

Over and above all this, the Indian Security Forces in the Kashmir Valley were involved in winning the hearts and minds of the people through Operations ‘Sangam’, ‘Sadbhavna’ and ‘Maitreyi’. There was everything else other than a professional job by the Army.

Therefore, it was silly to think as to why Kargil did happen? The question should be: Why should not have Pakistan done this, when it found everybody was in a holiday mood and sleeping across the LoC?  It is a different matter that they goofed it up.

Scapegoats and a Post Fiasco Award Frenzy

What did the Army do post the Kargil fiasco? First thing it did was to liberally give gallantry awards, so as to hide the incompetence of the Generals. Some 265 awards were given, which included 4 PVC and 9 MVC and 53 VrC —- which was a record for “Half -a - War”. No previous war had fished out so many gallantry awards. The dead cannot speak and award winners had silence written all over their faces.

The whole blame for Kargil was shifted to the Kargil Brigade Commander and he was sacked. None of the higher-ups were touched. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) the infantry division was asked to simply go home.

The Corps Commander at Srinagar got a coveted appointment of Quarter Master General (QMG) at AHQ. He went home honourably. Kargil Inquiry, at both, the national level and in-house, cleared everyone else. The climax was as happy as the ending frame of a Bollywood movie.

Then, strangely, the AHQ issued a ‘strategy paper’ called ‘Important Issues and the Case of Brigadier Surinder Singh.’ The gist of it was published in The Tribune of 15 September 1999 and Kashmir Times on 16 September 1999.

The two main points of the strategy paper were: first, that the Media was trying to make Brig. Surinder Singh a hero and painting Gen. VP Malik as a villain, and second, directly blaming the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for not properly assessing R&AW reports.

What was the point? It was a sure admission that the intelligence was there with the Army, but it failed to properly interpret it. The sickening part was that a General was blaming his subordinate, Brig. Surinder Singh, who was four rungs down the ladder. What a shame? (!)

Hereafter, the story becomes more interesting. I will deal with it in the following two parts of this three-part series. We have had not only sleeping giants but also pliable and scheming grandmasters on our rolls...

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')


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