INDIA may agonize over Kargil, over the shortcomings and failures of its army when the conflict broke out. (An internal Indian army report, the subject of an extensive story in the Indian magazine, Outlook, is scathing on the subject.) Indians are welcome to soul-searching. That’s not how things are done in Pakistan.
The Pakistani response to failure or folly is refreshingly simple: just forget about the damned thing. Consign it to the drawer of unwelcome memories and throw the key away.
We did this with the ‘65 war, no one at the top ever publicly admitting that far from India being the aggressor, our actions in Kashmir invited Indian retaliation. Any internal army analysis about how the Ayub command walked into that mess? Not that anyone knows of.
Any admission of atrocities committed in East Pakistan? Any commission set up to investigate the truth? There was the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report kept under wraps for years and released by the present regime only after portions of it were carried in some Indian papers.
Anyone held to account for those events? You must be kidding. The army, while exercising freedom of expression to the full when it comes to civilians and politicians, jealously guards its own. No room for criticism where army conduct is concerned.
For 20 years the army and its intelligence agencies played baffling games in Afghanistan aimed at keeping Afghanistan forever in Pakistan’s orbit of influence. Acquiring ‘strategic depth’ is what our military geniuses called it.
What were the fruits of that policy? Guns, drugs, religious extremism, a proliferation of religious schools, the rise of mullah power along the western marches, a refugee population that Pakistan could have done without, and, worst of all, a reputation for backing the Taliban and supporting international ‘jihad’.
Why did the military elite panic when Powell made his famous telephone call after September 11? Because who would have known better than them of the skeletons in our national cupboard? This consciousness of guilt, of being caught on the wrong side of events, was the real lubricant easing Pakistan’s overnight passage from defender of ‘jihad’ to American errand boy in the so-called ‘war on terror’.
A succession of army chiefs from Zia down to Beg, Karamat and Kakar, championed Pakistan’s Afghan policy, considering it one of the divine commandments. No one has ever caught them saying Pakistan in this instance might have been wrong. The Indian army report on Kargil is startling in its candour. It speaks of “a sense of complacency among officers and men...” intelligence failures leading to delays in figuring out the full extent of the Pakistani incursion, indecisiveness at the top, physically unfit battalion commanders, lack of initiative among JCOs and junior ranks which put much of the burden of the fighting on young officers, a high proportion of whom were killed. If the war was won, says the report, it was due to the “courage and leadership of young officers.” And so on. From what little has appeared in our newspapers, the report appears to be comprehensive and unsparing, pulling no punches.
There is no point in nursing an inferiority complex vis-‘-vis India. Everything Indian is not golden and everything Pakistani is not shabby. But as far as looking Kargil in the eye is concerned, the contrast couldn’t be sharper.
India’s failures or shortcomings lay in the realm of omission, of not being adequately prepared for the threat from Pakistan. Pakistan’s failure was one of commission, of starting a mini-war whose objectives seemed clear to no one, not even the planners.
What was the aim of the exercise? What was the army command hoping to achieve? The liberation of Kashmir? Forcing India to the negotiating table? Today as six years ago, the reasons for Kargil remain shrouded in mystery.
Far from achieving anything, Kargil was a piece of military folly which (1) sabotaged the peace process begun by Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee; (2) painted Pakistan in a bad light by giving international currency to the term “cross-border terrorism”; and (3) reinforced the status of the Line of Control whose sanctity President Clinton insisted on when Nawaz Sharif said he wanted to come to Washington on July 4, ‘99.
Why the desperate overture to Clinton? Because Pakistan’s military position in Kargil had become untenable and Nawaz Sharif, with the military’s blessings, looked to Washington to provide a face-saving cover for the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kargil. We wanted the Americans to help us pull our chestnuts out of the fire.
Later of course, military apologists got busy trying to spin the story that the army had performed heroically and brilliantly while the civilian government had lost its nerve, implying that an historic opportunity to resolve the Kashmir dispute on our terms was thus lost. Utter rubbish, this was a lame attempt at passing the buck.
While the extraordinary heroism of the young officers and men of the Northern Light Infantry, the main force involved in the Kargil operation, was never in doubt — as was not of their Indian counterparts, young officers and men, who also fought heroically — all this gallantry and courage was so much effort wasted in an enterprise doomed from the start because it lacked strategic purpose.
In effect, courage in the service of folly, egg on Pakistan’s face for no reason at all, Pakistani soldiership acquitting itself well and even admirably, but Pakistani generalship at its worst.
Pakistan suffered more casualties in the Kargil operation than in any of its previous wars with India. But as a reflection of the embarrassment this conflict arouses, the precise number of the dead and wounded remains a closely-guarded secret.
So rest assured there won’t be any audit of Kargil on this side, the barest mention of it an embarrassment, a spectre at the feast, a reminder of something best forgotten.
Kargil may not have liberated Kashmir but, indirectly, one thing leading to another, it set the stage for October 12, ‘99, when the present set-up came to power. The masterminds of Kargil, in the forefront of the day’s events, may not have made much headway against the Indians but they made short work of Nawaz Sharif and his wobbly government. As the next day dawned, they were masters of the country.
But Kargil was a real watershed in another sense. The actual operation as much as its aftermath finally put paid to the idea much favoured by military minds that Pakistan could take on India in an armed conflict or that there was a military solution to the Kashmir problem. Kargil proved to be the last frontier of Pakistani militarism in Kashmir.
It is tempting to flirt with the notion that India and Pakistan could have achieved the present detente on their own. But it wouldn’t be true. Many factors lie behind it, not least American sponsorship and guidance, the Americans with other eggs to fry simply not interested in Indo-Pakistan squabbling.
Even so, the deeper roots of Indo-Pakistan detente can be traced to the Kargil standoff, the sheer stupidity and futility of that great expenditure of blood and treasure, the loss of so many young and promising lives, the shattering of so many cherished illusions on those inhospitable peaks, creating the conditions for peace. Quite a paradox: a senseless conflict becoming the necessary prelude to peace.
Meanwhile, due credit must also be paid to another historic development: the psychological transformation of the military resulting in a subtle shift from one kind of dedication to another, from guns to butter. Even as military commando boots and camouflage jackets become more impressive and even formidable, the new ethos which has the military class in thrall is more conducive to producing entrepreneurs than warriors.
This is a welcome development for it augurs well for the future of Indo-Pakistan detente, making the Pakistani military, once an outpost of unabashed jingoism, the leading stakeholder in sub-continental peace.