General Pervez Musharraf has threatened another Kargil if India does not engage his government on Jammu and Kashmir. That is the crux of his now famous and recent interview to a television channel. His subsequent denials, clarifications and obfuscations do not minimize the impact of his statement. He has followed up this statement by saying that he cannot hold back the militants indefinitely if India does not start a dialogue. In short, the general is portraying south Asia as being on a short fuse.
Why did Musharraf make these statements' Was it with an eye on his four-nation tour, including the United States of America' It is well-known that he has been trying to get received by George W. Bush at Camp David, as a stamp of the US approval of his support in the war against terrorism. Was the statement directed against Indian leaders who had recently met leaders of major states' Or, was it to satisfy the right-wing partners in his government who are not pleased with Pakistan’s support to the US-led operations'
The important issue is that the statement, even if an unguarded one, confirms what is known in informed circles. Pakistan’s military leaders have an abiding faith in their army’s ability to inflict a military defeat on India. Surprise and shock action in the form of a rapid military strike is considered by Pakistani military leaders as their forte. This is what they tried in Chhamb and Akhnoor in 1965 and 1971. They believe that cutting off the road axis to Jammu and Kashmir will force the Indian army to seek terms due to supply lines being cut.
Even in 1999, retired Pakistani generals were exhorting Musharraf to hold on for a month more, for Indian forces to vacate their positions in Siachen. Professional armies like the Indian army plan for such contingencies and do not turn and run because supply lines are cut. In modern war, air supply and long life supply stocking take care of unforeseen situations.
Western analysts have researched and written of two unique characteristics of Pakistan’s military leadership. The first relates to what is called, “cultural discounting”. This habit disregards ground realities and believes that cultural superiority will always prevail in a military encounter. We in India have long heard of the boast of one Pakistani being equal to ten Indians. Cultural discounting dangerously colours military judgment as well as war plans. Pakistan’s lost wars against India are examples of the consequences of the false sense of superiority.
The second characteristic analysed by political observers is of the Pakistan military leadership setting aside advice given by their foreign and internal affairs ministries. The two characteristics have combined to bring about irrational military adventures with disastrous consequences to Pakistan in the past.
Can Pakistan attempt another Kargil or a similar military adventure' General Musharraf and his corps commanders apparently continue to believe that Kargil was a military success. According to them, it was political mismanagement by Nawaz Sharif which allowed the Indian military to escape a military defeat. The facts were different and Musharraf knows it. He and his team refuse to see the writing on the wall, in keeping with their characteristic of disregarding advice and ignoring ground realities. They believe that Kargil internationalized the Jammu and Kashmir issue. The general is unwilling to accept that Kargil in fact had the opposite effect. Internationally, Pakistan was seen as a dangerous and irresponsible nuclear weapons state. Its actions consolidated the line of control as an inviolate entity. It galvanized the Indian military system to undertake a serious appraisal of its weaknesses.
As a consequence of Kargil, there are more forces in the Kargil sector than ever before. The Indian army has put into place an all-weather, all-seasons deployment. A new corps headquarters has come up in the area which has improved command and control. Technology has been utilized to substantially improve surveillance. Finally, the success against heavy odds in the Kargil operations of 1999 has raised Indian national and military morale to high levels. Pakistan can thus neither attain surprise nor gain military success in the area.
Pakistan must therefore seek military gains, even if small ones, elsewhere. It will, as it has in the past 50 years, continued to look for weak spots, gaps, lower levels of alertness, and make its offensive plans. It will not rest until it gains some military success. One possible area for such an attempt would be the Siachen area. A small-scale operation there can succeed with some considerable luck and the advantages of poor weather and terrain. Pakistan can also attempt a covert operation through its mujahedins and irregulars. The Hilkaka enclave in the Poonch sector, which was cleared after months of being in play, if repeated on a larger scale, can be a military embarrassment to India.
Indian armed forces are not waiting for Pakistan to act. They are improving and fine tuning their response for a possible military response. Such a response would be swift and sure and with enough force to make it succeed. There is better politico-military coordination at high levels. War and battle procedures for speedy response have greatly improved. Musharraf — given the military culture in Pakistan — will continue to believe that another Kargil can be attempted. The outcome will ultimately be the same. A military disaster with even greater international ostracization will result. Peace initiatives on Kashmir will be set back and peace dividends will be delayed for another decade.
Musharraf is currently visiting the United Kingdom and the US. He is taking a strong position on the military imbalance between Pakistan and India. The imbalance is being leveraged to justify a nuclear force structure which threatens many global interests. The US is about to scramble to keep the general happy with additional arms supplies and economic packages. In the interim, there was talk of F-16 aircraft being sold to Pakistan. The US is faced with a dilemma. It needs to back the general to obtain his continuing support against the taliban and al Qaida. It also needs to keep India on its side for its larger global strategic needs. Musharraf is playing hard-to- get through his rhetorical ingenuity and threats.
The Pakistan military’s fixation with Kargil and other unworkable military options should warn policymakers in India and in major capitals. Peace is not going to happen by merely urging India and Pakistan to start a dialogue. It will require considerable political pressure and economic leverage to make Pakistan’s leadership give up on military options. Until that happens, Kargil will be a continuing refrain from Pakistan.