Why was the IAF & Navy not Represented in the Kargil Review Committee?

The issues were ‘firstly why was there no member from the Indian Airforce and the Indian Navy and secondly will creation of post of Chief of Defence Staff be of any consequence in future wars?

Why was the IAF & Navy not Represented in the Kargil Review Committee?

The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) comprised of three civilians and one Indian Army Officer. I had the privilege of meeting Mr. K Subrahmanyam, who headed the committee, after the report was tabled in Parliament in February 2000. It will not be appropriate to mention the details of our discussion because he is no longer around. But I will mention two issues that I submitted for his views during our 15-minute interlude.

The issues were ‘firstly why was there no member from the Indian Airforce (IAF) and the Indian Navy (IN) and secondly will creation of post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) be of any consequence in future wars? I will only say; his brief responses to both questions were candid. I call it the Kargil Fiasco and not Kargil War because we were pushed into an unwanted skirmish with Pakistan entirely on account of failure of intelligence (Human Intelligence in particular), poor patrolling and total neglect of use of reconnaissance resources.

Constitution of the KRC on 29 July 1999; within three days of the Kargil fiasco coming to an end on 26 July 1999 was/and still remains the most outstanding executive decision of any government since independence. But in the hurry to appoint a committee the powers that be messed up completely by appointing a committee devoid of air force and naval members.

Was the KRC meant to look into army affairs only? Or was it due to the affliction of colonial mindset where military ‘means’ army; air force and navy being smaller in size do not/did not matter? There is yet another issue, which is of greater concern. Why did the then three Service Chiefs not insist on having a member from each Service, since the terms of reference of the KRC were framed to examine overall national security issues?

The army is not the only service entrusted with national security. No one has been able to give me a direct/indirect answer to this question. In fact, the issue of absence of IAF/IN members has never been mentioned by numerous pseudo military strategists in their intellectual discourse while discussing the contents of the KRC report.

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I found the ‘possible’ answer when I wrote the first article after reading KRC report contesting one of the KRC’s recommendation of creation of post of CDS. But I did not include the ‘possible/probable’ cause of absence of IAF and IN member in my article then. I think time is ripe to express my lingering doubt. Admiral Bhagwat’s dismissal on 30 December 1998 (I remember the date because it is my birthday) was not even a year-old news.

Given the public spat between then Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) on the issue of employment of offensive air power on the Line of Control (LoC), the composition of the KRC sans IAF and IN member (IAF in particular) must have suited the then COAS. If it did not, would the then COAS like to comment on as to why there was no IAF/IN member? The Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) and CAS may have had their own reasons for not raking the issue of inclusion of member from respective Service.

The then CNS had been ‘gifted’ the chair of CNS, hence. The then CAS must have avoided raking up issue due to two reasons; firstly his stand of using air power in an offensive manner to be done only after receiving ‘OKAY’ from the government was vindicated by the government of the day and secondly (maybe) due to the ‘Bhagwat Effect’. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) gave the assent to use offensive air power after deliberating over the issue for 18 days on 25 May, 1999.

Being an IAF officer, I am not speaking for the CAS however when I was a child my father told me ‘When two children fight, one can be right and the other one wrong. But when two parents fight both are wrong, always and every time’. Service Chiefs are our professional parents. The COAS and CAS ought to have avoided it at all cost but it became a public spat. Both were wrong. Dark shadows in the form of mistrust still hang on. However, a rational, balanced and strategically appropriate stand of CAS was lauded in Parliament.

Pranab Mukherjee as Defence Minister while replying in the parliament said that the then Air Chief`s view was that before committing air power, political clearance should be obtained which was finally done after 18 days contemplation. He said that when the total number of casualties during the Kargil war is analysed, there is no proof that a delay in bringing in the IAF caused more deaths. This can be ascertained in the record of discussion in Parliament during United Progressive Alliance (UPA) I regime.

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The IAF did not ‘refuse’ to participate/join the Kargil conflict as has been stated by Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi in his article as well as by Brigadier Mahalingam in his article published by Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF). It was professional slandering at its worst by senior military officers. CAS’s decision to seek government clearance was in the larger national interest and security. We must not forget that the then Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes had even opined to give safe passage to intruders. The Kargil war era COAS and CAS are still around (may they hit a century) and may like to clarify, if deemed fit.

Manoj Joshi’s article of 14 June 1999 says; “But there is another side to Fernandes that has generated enough controversy. Even as the government propaganda machine cranked out enemy images of Pakistan, its defence minister swam against the tide, first by absolving Nawaz Sharif and the ISI of responsibility for the Kargil intrusion and then by suggesting that a "safe passage" be considered for the intruders.”

Mere non-inclusion/absence of IAF/IN members as part of KRC was not the only issue. An extremely important procedural/legal issue was ignored when appointing Mr. Subrahmanyam as the head of KRC. The committee was required to examine in detail the role of the National Security Council (NSC) among other issues. Mr. Subrahmanyam was then a member of the NSC. In addition, KRC was not constituted as per existing rules as contained in the Commission of Inquiry Act, hence KRC had no statutory powers. I am not the first one to raise this contentious issue. It has already been raised in parliament.

Executive summary of the KRC report is available on the internet. Major recommendations viz defence procurement, indigenization, role of Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) and Ordnance Factories have remained as observations/recommendations only. Few might be wondering as to why the issue more than two decades old is being raked up.

It is being placed in perspective to clearly state that the KRC report has nowhere stated that the existing regional command structure was inadequate and never recommended creation of Theatre Commands as is being talked about. KRC merely mentioned about considering creation or appointment of a functional (not titular akin to Queen of England) Chief of Defence Staff.

KRC, almost deliberately avoided/failed to clearly state as to what would be the area of responsibility of CDS. Creation of Theatre Commands is figment of imagination of CDS. With meagre resources available with each service, altering the structure of prevailing regional commands and creating organizationally retarded structure of Theatre Commands is the biggest threat to national security from within.

The KRC would have done yeoman service to India, the military in particular, had it succeeded in convincing the government to make Henderson-Bhagat report public. It is understood that KRC was given limited access to the report. The KRC report, therefore, cannot be viewed as a comprehensive report on Indian military Tri-Service operations.

The executive summary of KRC does not even mention if AOC (J&K) was even interviewed. And if he was, the record of his views should have found mention in the report giving a detailed record of Air operations in such terrain for future reference. What the report says may be relevant, but what it has not said (could not say) is perhaps more relevant/important.

And finally, the KRC report could not prevent another ‘Kargil’ with a different name two decades later. Accountability of the Galwan fiasco rests squarely on the shoulders of former COAS (now CDS), NSA and Corps Commander 14 Corps (during whose tenure the fiasco took place). Or are we looking for another Brigadier’s ‘head to roll’ as in case of Kargil misadventure? ‘We will fight with whatever we have'' will not enable us to win future wars. The KRC report laid little or no emphasis on the defence procurement process.

About the Author

Gp Capt. Tej Prakash Srivastava has served in Iraq and is a graduate of both DSSC and AWC. He was Directing Staff at DSSC and Chief Instructor at College of Air Warfare. He Served at Air HQ, commanded a MiG-21 Sqn and headed the IAF establishment of Strike Corps during 'Operation Parakram'. He has authored a book titled 'Profligate Governance – Implications for National Security'. He has written extensively on international and strategic affairs and Defence Procurement Procedures. The IAF officer graduated from the NDA in June 1970 and trained at AFA with 107th Pilots Course. He can be reached at Email: [email protected]

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