The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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More fodder for Kargil quibble

New Delhi, Oct. 7: Generals who led the Indian forces in the 1999 Kargil war are quibbling even as Pervez Musharraf has claimed a victory when there was none for Pakistan.

Seven years after the mountain standoff, Kargil continues to throw up unanswered questions, and the generals who were in crucial positions during the war and have since retired are stoking controversy by writing memoirs.

In the latest episode, A.Y. Tipnis, the head of the Indian Air Force in 1999, has written that then army chief General V.P. Malik and army headquarters were suppressing information on the intrusions made by the Pakistani army and the mujahideen it was supporting.

Tipnis has made the allegation in an article for the Force magazine. This is the first time that the then air chief has gone on record, writing that “army headquarters was reluctant, possibly because it was embarrassed to have allowed the present situation to develop, to reveal the full gravity of the situation”.

His remarks are heart-warming for other air force officers who have been critical of the army’s role.

Air Marshal Vinod Patney was among the first to speak out against efforts to cast the IAF’s role in the Kargil war in poor light. Patney, like Tipnis one of the most decorated officers in the IAF, was in 1999 the air officer commanding-in-chief of the Delhi-headquartered Western Air Command, whose area of responsibility includes Jammu and Kashmir.

“I agree with Air Chief Marshal Tipnis,” Patney said today. “There was a lack of information, intelligence, in the army (on the depth of the intrusions).”

Tipnis’s article is the latest to highlight the disagreement between the forces during the planning for the war. The first was a report by the Army Training Command two years after the war in which it claimed that air headquarters (meaning Air Chief Marshal Tipnis) was reluctant to use air power. That proved costly in terms of lives lost by the army.

The view was also reflected in General Malik’s book, Kargil: From Surprise to Victory, published earlier this year. Malik said there was lack of coordination between intelligence agencies and also that Tipnis had at first refused to use air power when the army wanted it.

Another air force officer, Air Vice-Marshal (retired) Ashok Goel, who was at the time with the Aviation Research Centre (a surveillance unit), has written that during recce sorties in the weeks leading to the war, he had sighted four Pakistani helicopters in the Mushkoh Valley on the Indian side. This indicated that the Pakistani forces were deeper into Indian territory than previously surmised.

So desperate was the army to play down the seriousness of the intrusions, he said, that it diluted information to the point that then defence minister George Fernandes had claimed that the intruders would be evicted in 48 hours. The war lasted 50 days.

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