LAHORE: Speakers at a book launch on Tuesday emphasised the need for learning a lesson from the Kargil military operation which they said was a blunder committed in isolation (without consultation with other institutions) in the country and without anticipating the world response to it.

A few military generals planned and conducted the operation without taking other institutions in the country into confidence. The then prime minister also went to Washington without consulting any other national institution to settle the issue with President Clinton in a one-on-one meeting. Now is the time to learn from such mistakes and jointly bring the country out of choppy waters without indulging in the civil-military conflict any more, was the nutshell of views expressed by the speakers at the launch of ‘From Kargil to the Coup’ written by journalist Nasim Zehra at a local hotel.

Read: When Pakistan and India went to war over Kashmir in 1999

To start with, the writer dispelled the impression that the launch coincided with the present political (civil-military) situation. “I am launching it just when it is complete,” she said.

Launch of Nasim Zehra’s book on Kargil war

Former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said it was foolish to repeat mistakes wondering if any lesson was learnt from the Kargil operation in the country’s war colleges. There existed other institutions in the country (other than the military) when the operation was conducted but they were wary of one another. “Four people decided the operation without estimating its consequence. In fact they did not have the ability to think of it,” she said.

She said the decision-makers did not anticipate how India, China, the USA and the UN would think of it and moved forward Pakistani soldiers into Kargil even without a withdrawal strategy. Withdrawing Pakistani forces from Kargil without any cover was wrong. Similarly, what Nawaz Sharif did as the prime minister in this connection was also wrong, she said.

Retired Lt Gen Ghulam Mustafa said military and political leadership were not on the same page when the Kargil operation was conducted. “We need to handle such situations collectively,” he said.

The civil-military divide which the country witnessed at the time of the Kargil operation still exists. “Why don’t we come out of it,” he asked rhetorically.

He said the enemy was making concerted efforts to harm Pakistan but “our nation stands divided.” It’s high time concerted efforts were put in to handle the enemy, he said.

Militarily speaking, he said, the objective of the Kargil operation was not wrong. Had there been proper planning and full logistical support, the operation could have delivered the desired results of clogging the support line of India in Kashmir, he believes.

He said as a soldier he always dreaded Indian military’s habit of introspection and learning from all wars with Pakistan including the one it won in 1971. “We never did this,” he said.

Former foreign secretary Salman Bashir explained how he worked for a composite dialogue with India in 1997 and said there was an absence of institutional (collective) decision in the Kargil operation. There was a certain naivety at the national level, he said, contesting Gen Musharraf’s claim that the Kargil operation flagged up the Kashmir issue. “How a superpower or the UN could resolve the Kashmir issue… thinking of it was naivety, “ he said. He said Musharraf had in fact followed in Nawaz’s footsteps in normalising relations with India.

Prof Ayesha Jalal said the book was like a thriller as it chronicles the Kargil events as they unfolded. Terming the Kargil operation a misadventure, she asked, “why Pakistan never learns from its mistakes. It is in the habit of hushing up follies like the Kargil operation and the Operation Gibraltar of 1965 in the name of national interest. Those who took the decision (of Kargil) had a myopic view of the world, and pushed Pakistan to an armed conflict. Pakistan needs to move ahead without indulging in who is superior,” she said.

Journalist Arif Nizami said by removing Gen Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif had underestimated the army. He went to Washington to negotiate with President Clinton on the issue without any institutional consultation, appearing nervous and shaky in the White House. Pakistan did not gain anything from the Kargil operation strategically. Musharraf had blamed Nawaz Sharif for sabotaging the Kargil operation, he said.

Nasim Zehra said she had tried to objectively chronicle the Kargil events as they occurred and dispelled the impression that the operation was a part of a plan to oust Nawaz Sharif. In fact, Musharraf was given another important office after the operation, she said, adding that the book was an attempt to find out what the country did wrong.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2018

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