The waging of Kargil war

By K.N. Pandita

General Pervez Musharraf is once again proved a liar, this time by a senior retired Pakistani army officer, Lt. Gen Shahid Aziz who was holding the charge of Analysis Wing of ISI at the time of Kargil war. General Shahid Aziz has not questioned only the political vision of General Pervez Musharraf but has also raised doubts about his professional ability.  

Whether the jihadis were part of Pervez Musharraf’s Kargil operation (read Operation al-Badr) or not, remains a contentious issue. Gen. Aziz categorically states that it was exclusively an operation undertaken by Pakistan army and no mujahideen were involved. Two questions arise. First, is Gen. Aziz sure that no jihadis were among the intruders and is his information drawn from reliable source? Mind you, ISI has layers and trust barriers. Second, was General Aziz one of the only four Generals of Pakistan Army (including Gen. Musharraf), who knew about Operation al-Badr of Musharraf?

We don’t think that he was one of the three whether Musharraf trusted him or not. If the statement had come from Maj. General Ashraf Rashid, the Pak army commander who led the paramilitary forces in Kargil war, or Maj. Gen. Javed Hassan, the Force Commander Northern Areas (FCNA) at that time, it would be a different narrative. Therefore one has to be careful in accepting his statement threadbare.

Our government as well as our army was aware of Pakistan army’s leading role in initiating Operation al-Badr. As such, General Aziz’s write-up in The Nation of Pakistan is no news to us. We shall remind our readers that on June 11, 1999, our intelligence sources had intercepted a telephonic message exchanged between General Musharraf, then on a visit to China, speaking to Lt. General Muhammad Aziz Khan, Pakistani COAS. This had confirmed that Pakistani Operation Al-Badr was sponsored, controlled and conducted by Pakistani Army. Lt. Gen. Aziz Khan, originally a Sudhan from Poonch, had came into public notice in 1999 and was instrumental in removing elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a military coup d’état that brought General Pervez Musharraf into the power in country’s national politics. He had been promoted as Lt. General and COAS by General Musharraf over and above six other Generals senior to him.

Apart from the fact whether retired Lt. Gen. Shahid Aziz was or was not among the three Generals whom Musharraf had taken on board, there is one more angle to his assertion.

It is difficult, at least to a non-military commentator, to agree with him that Operation al-Badr of General Musharraf was ill-planned. Documents obtained by Indian Army from the possession of war prisoners of Pakistan army in Kargil, reveal not only Pak army’s direct involvement but also clearly the fact that the contemplated operation was well planned and tactically sound. This contradicts the opinion of some more Pakistan senior military officers like Lt. Gen. Ali Quli Khan Khattak assessing that the plan was drawn in haste and shorn of some basic requirements.

It should be known that the plan of severing link between Dras and Leh was first taken up during the days of General Ziau’l-Huqq who had turned it down saying that it was not tactically feasible at that point of time. Subsequently, the al-Badr project was revised by the hawks in GHQ and placed before Benazir when she was the Prime Minster. She also turned it down not for any definite tactical flaw, which it had not, but she thought it would isolate Pakistan from international fraternity. The project was re-activated soon after Musharraf wrested power in 1998.

This shows that the revised plan, which was implemented by General Musharraf, was militarily perfect and flawless. Lt. General Aziz does not make a strong point in suggesting that it was an ill-planned operation. Why Pakistan failed in achieving the objective is a different story.

But notwithstanding a decade and half-long gestation of Operation al-Badr at GHQ, the disastrous blunder to which Musharraf’s fell was his over-confidence of India not retaliating to his troops’ swiftly capturing the high altitude posts vacated by Indian army in the winter. Pakistan military intelligence’s pre-Kargil reconnaissance of ground situation across LoC in Kargil-Dras sector, which has now become known, might have conveyed the false impression to Musharraf on the basis of which he exuded vehement assurances to field commanders in Kargil sector of India’s unwillingness to retaliate.

Obviously, seniors in Pak army who, as a matter of procedure, had to be taken on board, but where not, did not feel comfortable for being isolated and sidelined in a major military operation like the one in Kargil. They were forced to eat the humble pie. It is only after their retirement that they would want to lick their wounds dry and bring the onus of omission and commission to the doorsteps of General Musharraf, and that, too, in the name of vandalizing the “boys whose blood was aimlessly shed on Kargil heights.”

But General Aziz’s assertion that Musharraf put the entire Kargil debacle under iron lid is supported by later events. He may not be faulted on that count. For example, Pakistan never instituted a commission of inquiry into her Kargil disaster. Even the precise number of casualties of the fighting personnel remained an enigma. Mian Nawaz Sharif publicly computed the number of killed at four thousand while other sources claimed any number up to three thousand. Surprisingly General Musharraf fixes it at below four hundred in his book In the Line of Fire.

Some observers believe that figures of Pak Army casualties cited by Musharraf are correct but he has meticulously avoided accounting for the jihadis and Northern Light Infantry personnel killed and wounded. Interestingly the highest gallantry award has gone to two Pakistani regulars, and normal gallantry award to 90 other soldiers. None among the mujahideen or the NLI personnel gets recognition. The graves of NLI soldiers killed in Kargil action are to be seen all along the road from Skardu to Gilgit-Baltistan.

Interestingly PML (N) published a White Paper in 2006 which stated that Mian Nawaz Sharif had constituted an inquiry committee into Kargil debacle. It had recommended court martial of General Musharraf but Musharraf “stole the report” after toppling the elected government of Nawaz Sharif.

The truth about Pakistan’s Operation al-Badr is that General Pervez Musharraf wanted to consolidate his grip on power after illegal coup in which the elected government had been kicked out. The jihadis in Pakistan had established close connection with Pak Army after the eruption of Afghan war. The ISI is believed to have an entire branch known as the “S Wing” devoted to relationships with militant organizations. Some analysts believe the wing operates with relative independence, whether by design or default, that gives top brass plausible deniability when cooperation between the spy service and insurgents comes to light.

Now General Musharraf used these militias as part of assault force on Kargil heights but under overall control of the officers of Pakistan army. Many purposes could be served.

Analysts are unanimous in asserting that General Musharraf had convinced the jihadi leadership as well as his field commanders that India was not going to retaliate. Whether he himself believed in the theory or not is debatable. Nevertheless, he was trying to sell to all stakeholders the assurance of easy victory in Kargil. The diehards in Pakistan Army’s and its belligerent segments still believe that India did not throw them out of Kargil heights but that it was US President Bill Clinton who rebuked Musharraf and demanded immediate withdrawal of Pakistani fighters on Indian side of the LoC. No less a responsible paper than Dawn wrote in one of its dispatches that Bill Clinton had said in the Indian Parliament that the Kargil war came to an end owing to his intervention. The CENTCOM Commander General Zinni is reported to have told press reporters that General Pervez Musharraf had requested Mian Nawaz Sharif to withdraw Pak Army from Kargil heights.

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