The infiltration, which managed to cut off Indian supply lines, took New Delhi by surprise. — File Photo
ISLAMABAD: The men who witnessed the Kargil fiasco continue to spill the beans. Lt Gen (retd) Shahid Aziz, a former chief of general staff of Pakistan Army who has till now kept his peace about what he witnessed in the summer of ’99, says the ‘misadventure’ was a four-man show the details of which were hidden from the rest of the military commanders initially.
This is the first time someone this senior in the military hierarchy of the time has spoken in such detail and with such frankness about the fiasco that was Kargil.
According to him, initially the Kargil operation was known only to Gen Pervez Musharraf, chief of general staff Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz, FCNA (Force Command Northern Areas) commander Lt Gen Javed Hassan and 10-Corps commander Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmad.
The majority of corps commanders and principal staff officers were kept in the dark, says Gen Aziz. “Even the-then director general military operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Tauqir Zia came to know about it later,” says Gen Aziz who at the time was serving as director general of the analysis wing of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
He said that Gen Musharraf worked on a policy of “need to know” throughout his tenure as COAS and later president — in other words, Musharraf would issue orders to only those who were required to implement orders instead of first consulting corps commanders and other military officers.
The Kargil operation began in the summer of 1999 when Pakistani soldiers infiltrated into positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control. The infiltration, which managed to cut off Indian supply lines, took New Delhi by surprise.
Initially, Islamabad claimed that the infiltrators were mujahideen but it could not maintain this façade for long. The Indian response coupled with international pressure forced the Pakistan military to withdraw.
However, the aftermath of the operation served to heighten tensions between Gen Musharraf and then prime minister Nawaz Sharif which culminated in the October coup when the military removed the elected government and took over.
‘Operation was never planned’
“The Pakistan Army did not plan the operation because Gen Musharraf never saw Kargil as a major operation. Only the FCNA was involved in it and perhaps a section of 10-Corps,” says Aziz, adding that it was a major intelligence failure for India. More details of the operation are expected in Gen Aziz’s book which is hitting the bookshelves next week.
“It was a miscalculated move,” he says when asked about the operation, adding that “its objectives were not clear and its ramifications were not properly evaluated”.
At his picturesque farmhouse in Pind Begwal in the foothills of Murree, about 30km from the capital, Gen Aziz was not averse to speaking frankly about the operation.
“It was a failure because we had to hide its objectives and results from our own people and the nation. It had no purpose, no planning and nobody knows even today how many soldiers lost their lives.”
He said he was personally not aware of what information had been shared with then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, but he felt that Mr Sharif “was not fully in the picture”.
He, however, recalls a general telling him that Nawaz Sharif asked “when are you giving us Kashmir?” during an informal discussion. This suggests, says Gen Aziz, that Mr Sharif was not completely in the dark.
Gen Aziz himself first discovered that something was up when he came across wireless communication intercepts from which he could tell that something was making the Indian forces panic.
“The intercepts worried me as I thought we were not aware of whatever was unsettling the Indians. I deputed two officers to figure out what was happening.” The next day’s wireless intercepts were clear enough for Gen Aziz to realise that the Indians’ anxiety stemmed from the fact that someone from Pakistan had captured some areas in Kargil-Drass sector but it was not clear if they were mujahideen or regular troops. “I took these intercepts to then ISI director general Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt and asked what was happening.”
It was then that Gen Aziz was finally told by Gen Butt that the army had captured some area in Kargil.
This, says Gen Aziz, was not right. In his opinion, he should have been told about the proposed operation in advance so that he could have provided his analysis in advance.
A day after this conversation between Aziz and Butt, the latter called Gen Aziz and told him that he had been invited to the General Headquarters for a briefing on Kargil.
During the briefing, which was also attended by all the principal staff officers, Director General Military Operations Lt Gen Tauqir Zia explained that units of NLI (Northern Light Infantry) and regular troops had captured areas in the Drass-Kargil sector.
Aziz feels that even though the briefing was conducted by DGMO Tauqir Zia, it was clear that he had not been aware of the operation from the beginning.
The day after the DGMO briefing, the friction at Kargil operation was reported in the Pakistani media; interestingly, the Indian media had carried stories a day earlier.
This shows that the military leadership was informed about such a critical operation only after it began and by that time information was trickling down to the media.
At the briefing, Gen Zia did explain the ‘objectives’ of the operation — it had cut off India’s supply lines to Siachen because of the closure of Zojila Pass on Srinagar-Drass-Kargil-Leh road.
This, said Gen Zia, would block India from supplying its troops in Siachen and subsequently, India would evacuate Siachen. That this did not happen is now history.
Gen Aziz says this was because the planners “miscalculated the Indian response and overall repercussions”.
At the briefing, Gen Tauqir Zia talked about airing pre-recorded Pashto messages that he hoped would be intercepted by the Indian forces. His objective was that these intercepts would fool India into thinking that the Afghan mujahideen had occupied areas in Kargil.
Gen Aziz says he objected to this plan as “these would get exposed very shortly”. He adds that this led to lengthy discussions and finally Tauqir Zia conceded that the truth could not be hidden for long.
In retrospect, Gen Aziz feels that “even if only NLI men were up there, it would be wrong to suggest that the operation was carried out by paramilitary forces because NLI falls under the military chain of command unlike the Rangers that are headed by a military officer but technically they fall under the control of the ministry of interior”.
The study that never was
But for Gen Aziz the end of the operation did not mean the end of the matter.
After he was promoted as chief of general staff, he says that in 2004 he ordered a small study to inquire into what miscalculations had led to such a huge loss of men and money. He also asked each battalion concerned for details.
But the reaction was swift.
An angry Gen Musharraf called him and asked what the objectives of the study were. “I told him it would provide a professional understanding of our mistakes and losses but Gen Musharraf insisted that this was not the time for such a study and ordered that it be stopped.