KARACHI: Speakers at the launch of journalist Nasim Zehra’s book From Kargil to the Coup — Events that Shook Pakistan at a local hotel on Tuesday evening discussed the Kargil crisis threadbare, dissecting the conflict with India and its aftermath in detail.
Retired Lt Gen Tariq Waseem Ghazi said at the time of the Kargil operation [in 1999] he was leading a UN peacekeeping mission. Around April he sensed something was amiss. Every time he called back home he would get a “cagey” response. When he came back to Pakistan there were all kinds of twisting and manufacturing of facts for the purpose of defining a particular narrative. He could never understand the strategic logic of the Kargil operation.
Gen Ghazi said when he was posted at the Command and Staff College in Quetta he was keen to study Kargil and the lessons that could be learned from it. There was a member of his staff, who had sworn to secrecy, who was very close to the select coterie that planned the operation. When he (Gen Ghazi) spoke to him he knew there was some massive cover-up, a massive truth that needed to be hidden. He gave the idea to the staff member that he should inform the rest of the faculty about it. Gen Ghazi said when he arranged the presentation he received a call, two days later, that specifically told him it could not be done. He argued with the caller that there were lessons to be learned and they could change the curriculum, but the sentence was repeated, “It will not be done.” Gen Ghazi thought to himself that one day he was going to tell that story but didn’t have the discipline to write a book.
‘The then prime minister was not aware of the scope of the operation’
Former ambassador Shahid Amin congratulated Ms Zehra for coming up with a quality book. He said Kargil was a great military and political disaster, but we must pay tributes to the sacrifices of the volunteers and mujahideen who laid down their lives. They didn’t have any real equipment to fight with.
The second point that ambassador Amin made was that the intention of the operation was good because a great injustice had been done in Kashmir. “There was every reason for Pakistan to be restless about it.” But, he reasoned, the heart must be supported by the mind. Our weakness was the rift between civil and military leadership. The then prime minister was not aware of the scope of the operation. Pakistan was totally isolated. Nobody in the world was willing to accept our version.
Journalist Ghazi Salahuddin emphatically argued that no excuse could justify the Kargil operation. What could the then prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) have done? We have been lately asked to give positive reports in the media. What could be more positive than to know that we could confront reality? Even after the Kargil episode our “ruling ideas” hadn’t changed. What our future would be if we didn’t change our ideas, he wondered.
Mr Salahuddin said there was so much intolerance in the country and the Kargil episode was an offshoot of such problems. Our social indicators were getting worse by the day. “Where do we belong? Till when will we reject our South Asian identity?” he said.
Senator Sherry Rehman said you could deconstruct and unpack the book to any peg you wanted to. It’s such a densely packed book that she had to revisit parts of it, and so granular in its unpacking of truth that one was hard pressed to figure out which part to focus on.
Dissent & open societies
Ms Rehman said there’d been hegemony of official truth in the country. It’s something we’re all familiar with. The book was a chronicle of a citizen’s discontent with how truth was packaged. It’s a book of a journalist trying to present to us unvarnished chronicles of facts. For years we had operated in a fog of war, and the fog over Kargil was hard to punch through. “Dissent is the jugular vein of open societies. Without dissent there’s only manufactured consent.”
Ms Rehman added that the Kargil issue was not just about coordination, it’s also about asking who was responsible. Nobody was held accountable for diplomatic disadvantage. Not only did the secrecy cloak military encounters, she said, it baffled her mind that it continued to be the case. “Is the prime minister asking hard questions?”
Author of the book Nasim Zehra thanked Ameena Saiyid for making her think that she could write the book. On the writing process she said she enjoyed it.
The launch was moderated by Mosharraf Zaidi.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2018