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War and jingoism go together, and the Kargil conflict was no different. India on Sunday celebrated the 10th anniversary of the end of the lacerating Himalayan conflict, which it claims was a military victory. Some Indian journalists have raised questions about the conduct of the messy war and a brigadier lost his job for disagreeing with the higher-ups about the need to sacrifice more than 500 young soldiers and officers in the haste to evict the Pakistanis from their surreptitiously occupied strategic heights.

Pakistan's perspective is more complex. There are quite a few who blame their army for the folly of triggering the military standoff with India, more so when the two countries were trying to resolve their differences in a serious way. Pakistan's prime minister of the day and the army leadership are still offering opposite views of how it all happened.

In any case, General Pervez Musharraf's claim to an Indian TV channel last week that the Kargil war forced India to negotiate the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan would be laughable had he not been responsible for so much suffering on both sides, suffering that any military conflict brings with it. Gen Musharraf's perspective makes no sense at all.

And all he had to do to be better informed was to read the Lahore Declaration penned by the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers in February 1999, way before his misadventure flared into an untenable war. The declaration specifically recalled the agreement of 23rd September, 1998 between the prime ministers, namely that an environment of peace and security 'is in the supreme national interest of both sides and that the resolution of all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, is essential for this purpose'.

On that basis they agreed that their governments 'shall intensify their efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir'. They would also 'refrain from intervention and interference in each other's internal affairs'. They also resolved to 'intensify their composite and integrated dialogue process for an early and positive outcome of the agreed bilateral agenda'.

Everything the two could ask for was there in the Lahore Declaration, including the prospects of an equitable and just solution to the Kashmir imbroglio. So it's not clear what Gen Musharraf was trying to suggest in the interview.

Indian claims of the military victory in Kargil are just as far-fetched. All you have to do is to listen to the thunderous applause of hundreds of Indian MPs when President Bill Clinton addressed the Indian parliament in March 2000. The speech belies all claims of victory in Kargil by either side. Mr Clinton in fact announced unequivocally that it was he who had helped the Pakistanis to vacate their positions, and Indian MPs endorsed that with their applause.

Excerpts from Mr Clinton's take in his own words 'Let me also make clear, as I have repeatedly, I have certainly not come to South Asia to mediate the dispute over Kashmir. Only India and Pakistan can work out the problems between them. And I will say the same thing to General Musharraf in Islamabad. But if outsiders cannot resolve this problem, I hope you will create the opportunity to do it yourselves, calling on the support of others who can help where possible, as American diplomacy did in urging the Pakistanis to go back behind the line of control in the Kargil crisis.' (Applause)

Is there any room then to doubt how the conflict ended and who the victors were? There can be another view of the Kargil conflict and it doesn't matter if it will not be the most popular one. On the one hand the war was seen by some official quarters in India as a consequence of the intelligence failure by the army to detect Pakistani camps on the heights earlier on. There is a good reason to disagree with the view. A book released by Mr Brajesh Mishra, who was Mr Vajpayee's national security adviser around the time of the standoff, hints at a different possibility.

The book describes how Pakistani shells were falling 20 km inside Indian-administered Kashmir from across the Kargil heights much earlier, at a time when Indian and Pakistani prime ministers were holding a failed summit in Colombo in July 1998. That summit was held barely weeks after their globally denounced nuclear tests. It is difficult to digest that Kargil was in turmoil in July 1998, but the Indian prime minister made no mention of it during the Lahore talks in February the following year.

There was a distinct possibility that Mr Vajpayee needed the Lahore summit for compelling domestic reasons. Contrary to the expectations of his jingoistic supporters, the nuclear tests of May 1998 were electorally ruinous for his party, the BJP, which lost the key state elections in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to the Congress.

This was followed by another political disaster, which brought India into international disrepute. The gruesome murder of Australian missionary Graham Steins and his two young sons by BJP supporters besmirched India's image and isolated it further in the international comity of democracies that looked up to the country's secular and liberal traditions as worthy of emulation. The electoral rout and the shame of his own supporters being involved in the lynching of a family of an Australian Christian missionary preceded Mr Vajpayee's dramatic overture of the bus journey to Lahore. The idea had come from Mr Nawaz Sharif though when he declared to an Indian journalist that bilateral talks were better than a third-party mediation. 'Why go to Amritsar via Bhatinda?' Mr Sharif had remarked. Mr Vajpayee accepted the offer at a news conference in Lucknow.

The people who are adept at subverting India-Pakistan peace initiatives - like those who did so in Mumbai last year and previously with the serial train blasts in India's financial capital - killed 16 Hindus in Kashmir on the eve of Mr Vajpayee's journey to Lahore.

But such was his compulsion to make the visit anyhow that the gruesome killings were ignored. Mr Vajpayee quoted from Sardar Jafri's poem on India-Pakistan ties at the Punjab governor's house in Lahore to make his pitch for peace. 'Tum aao gulshan e Lahore se chaman bar dosh, hum aayein subhe Banaras ki roshni lekar, phir uske baad ye poocchein ke kaun dushman hai.' (You bring the fragrance along from the gardens of Lahore, I shall bring light from the fabled dawn of Banaras. And then ask of ourselves, who is the enemy.)

Mr Vajpayee's euphoria was short-lived but it wasn't because of Gen Musharraf's soldiers, who were in any case lodged on the wrong side of the Line of Control for days before his visit to Lahore. His own political ally, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu Ms J. Jayalalitha, pulled the rug from under his feet. Her MPs rebelled against him in the Lok Sabha and he lost the confidence test by one vote. Here was a man who tried everything to gain too much too quickly. The nuclear tests failed him; his own religious supporters failed him and now his crucial ally had let him down.

We know why Gen Musharraf staged Kargil. He has said why he did what he did. But India's response will continue to remain a mystery. Had Mr Vajpayee not lost the vote of confidence in parliament, there would be no need to hold elections. Therefore, there would be no need for a lame duck government not to consult the Rajya Sabha - not even call it once during the course of the war - and to go into a full-blown conflict virtually unilaterally, with political rivals becoming mere spectators.

Had there been no elections there would be no need to cover up the government's failure to anticipate the post-Lahore summit possibilities as they unfolded so bizarrely. Am I suggesting that India should have allowed the Pakistanis to remain in their positions in Kargil? Not at all. But, if President Clinton had to play the key role in driving out the Pakistanis, why would he not have done the favour without either side resorting to an unavoidable war? Moreover, it was Mr Vajpayee's chance to rescue his friend Mr Sharif from the clutches of his hawkish general. Instead he put Mr Sharif in the dock as a villain.

They say truth is the first casualty in war. And everyone's knowledge of the facts seems too limited to claim to know the entire truth. But we can at least continue to ask the unresolved, even unpopular, questions.



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