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By KAUSHIK ROY in Kargil
  • Published 29.09.06

Kargil: From surprise to victory
By V.P. Malik,
HarperCollins, Rs 596

In mid-May, 1999, the Indian Army discovered that a large number of infiltrators had seeped into India’s side of the border from Pakistan. Initially, India’s political and military establishment considered these infiltrators to be jehadis. Soon it was found out that they were actually Pakistani soldiers in the garb of jehadis. India was shocked because the prime ministers of both the countries had signed a Memorandum of Understanding at Lahore not very long ago. On May 17, India started an operation against the infiltrators which came to be known as the Kargil War.

Many books and articles have been written on the Kargil conflict. The strength of the volume under review lies in the fact that it’s author, V.P. Malik, was the chief of army staff and the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee during the Kargil crisis. Naturally, his account sheds better light on various dimensions of the struggle between India and Pakistan.

Malik accepts that India was surprised by the date, timing and scope of intrusion. Both the army officers and politicians initially underestimated the danger. George Fernandes, the defence minister, made public statements that the intruders would be thrown out within 48 hours. In reality, it took two months.

The preparation for operation Badr (infiltration across Kargil) started in November, 1998. In April, 1999, Pakistani troops crossed the line of control in the Kargil sector. The brigadier in charge of that sector gave a false report that no infiltration had occurred in his area of responsibility. The research and analysis wing also informed that any intrusion by Pakistan was unlikely. Later, the brigadier was dismissed on grounds of being incompetent. But the bureaucrat in charge of RAW was not punished. In fact, the other civil servants attempted a cover-up. This reminds us that while Krishna Menon was punished during his term as defence minister,the defence secretary was spared. Some things in India do not change.

By the last week of May, it was Pakistan’s turn to be surprised. The Pakistanis assumed that the caretaker government was ill equipped to rise up to the challenge. However, India’s mobilization of the three branches of armed forces surprised Islamabad. The use of air power and heavy artillery finally turned the tables on the Pakistani soldiers cooped up on the Kargil ridgeline.

According to Malik, Nawaz Sharif’s claim that the Pakistan army had initiated operation Badr without informing him is unacceptable. Probably, Pervez Musharraf, then the COAS, did not describe the details of the Kargil intrusion to Sharif. When Sharif tried to back out after things went wrong, the Clinton administration turned their heat on him. It is then that he tried to escape by putting all the blame on Musharraf. The result was a breakdown of civil-military relations in Pakistan and another military coup.

The author warns that Pakistan might indulge in other misadventures in the coming days. He says that Pakistan would try to deter India from responding by lowering the nuclear threshold. The only way to counter this would be to use modernized rapid strike forces, backed up by a nuclear deterrent.

Malik deserves credit for a frank and refreshing analysis of the first limited war fought by two nuclear powered states. His theory about the possibilities of further conflict would go a long way in shaping India’s military strategy.