IPCS Round Table discussion on the Kargil Crisis

01 Jul, 1999    ·   216

Sushil J. Aaron reports the IPCS Round Table discussion on the Kargil Crisis held on 25 June 1999

The Chair delineated 12 major political and military issues that are involved in the situation in Kargil to sharpen the focus of the discussion.



1. Pakistan ’s motivations for starting the infiltration and crossing the LoC.



2. Did Nawaz Sharif know about the operation before it began or when was he informed?



3. The nature of the Indian military operations being undertaken.



4. The use of air power in the conflict.



5. Is the conflict bound to escalate?



6. The estimated time frame for clearing the infiltrators.



7. Assessing the Sartaj Aziz and Jaswant Singh’s visit to Beijing .



8. The role of the US and G-8 nations.



9. Possible scenarios for the end game in Kargil.



10. Post facto assessments; Indian intelligence failure etc.



11. Equipment shortages highlighted during the operations.



12. The nature of media management by both countries.



The first six issues were dealt with in the seminar. A second seminar is to be held on July 2nd that will take up the remaining issues. The following is a summary of the views expressed under different heads.



Pakistan ’s Motivations & Sharif’s  (fore)knowledge?



·                     The conflagration in Kargil is Pakistan ’s way of internationalizing the Kashmir issue after realizing it has made no diplomatic and bilateral headway in the matter. The army is obviously having its way; even Nawaz Sharif, the most powerful Prime Minister in Pakistani history, has to do the army’s bidding when it comes to Kashmir . There is a major difference between the fierce artillery firing in Kargil last year, which cost 60 lives, and this year’s events. There was no intrusion last year, and there appears to be a significant presence of the Taliban in the infiltrations.


·                     Irrespective of who is the Prime Minister, the Army Chief holds all the cards when it comes to Kashmir ; even if Pervez Musharraf is a Sharif appointee. An operation of this nature involves close cooperation between the Army Chief and the Corps Commanders. Sharif came to know of the operation 7 days after the operations started. The two possible Pakistani objectives are to alter the LoC and render the Srinagar-Leh road inoperable. To succeed in the latter aim would necessitate an all-out war. The limited objective is to bring Kashmir to the attention of the P-5, G-8 and the Security Council. Another view was that there is no way that an operation of this magnitude could have been planned and implemented without Sharif’s knowledge. He may not have been told the specifics, but knew about the planned intrusion. The motivations cannot be pinned to any one reason but to several like: the army resentment of their humiliation in 1971, strategic interest in capturing the Srinagar-Leh road, a desire to internationalize Kashmir , an attempt to reinvigorate militancy in the Valley, and a need to deflect attention from Pakistan ’s internal crises. here were conflicting opinions about the extent of secrecy regarding the operation in Pakistan . Some felt that only 10 corps commanders were consulted. The idea was mooted in 1997 with helipads and bunkers were built. Operational plans for intensive fortifications were prepared in 1998 and the plan was executed in 1999 in a very secret fashion. There were no wireless communications and no interception by our agencies. Incursion took place in exactly the same area that was captured in 1971. Others disagreed and pointed out that Musharraf was not the Army Chief in 1997. The question arises whether the previous Chief Jahangir Karamat knew about the operation. Others felt that only the Pakistani corps commanders concerned knew about the operation, without which the operation could not be planned. The Pakistani army was confident of weathering the crisis. However, they might not have anticipated the intensity of India ’s response or the vehemence of international condemnation.


·                     India was found to be complacent in the Kargil sector. It was not be merely an intelligence failure. Musharraf visited the camps that trained the infiltrators and intelligence must have furnished that information. A command and assessment failure was evident. There was, however, a consensus that the Pakistanis did their “homework”; they appear to have an enviable knowledge of every peak and valley in the sector.



Nature of Indian military operations



Role of the Air Force



Possibility of Escalation



Time Frame to end hostilities





·                     The Indians are encountering major terrain problem where scaling peaks tilted at 70 degrees slope is very difficult. The Army needs to launch frontal attacks and is taking heavy casualties. The commitment of air power was timely even though some army commanders complained that the IAF was slow to get into the act. The IAF could not start its operations as the Army Chief was out of the country for 10 days. The decision to introduce air power involves a formal request by the local army commander, which is processed through the Army Chief’s office. In any event, sanctioning the use of air power in such operations has to be cleared by the Union Cabinet. Use of air power involves many factors such as the positioning of stores, and other logistic arrangements. The small bunkers of the intruders makes visual targeting difficult which is primarily done by forward controllers of the army. The lack of precision guided munitions and night vision devices is an obvious handicap. The directive not to cross the LoC is a major impediment necessitating risky aerial sorties that involve sharp turns in the valley whilst being prone to Stinger fire. The valleys runs North-South while the LoC runs East-West.


·                     The Army-Air Force cooperation is working well. Air operations are hampered by the weather and there is the danger of attacking our own troops besides engaging in hand-to-hand combat. The army can scarcely call back for air power in such battles.


·                     The conflict may not escalate if India does not cross the LoC. If India does cross the LoC there is no way of confirming whether Pakistani is predisposed towards rational or irrational decision-making. Politicians are putting pressure on the Army to evict the intruders quickly without giving it permission to cross the LoC. Efforts are on to accomplish this before winter sets in but this is virtually an “inch by inch” war. India should call the Pakistani government’s bluff that the Army is not within political control and strike decisively so that they do not repeat these adventures.


·                     The Pakistanis are “logistically well stocked for months,” indicating very good planning. They are well stocked with Stingers that are targeting aircrafts from all directions. They had obviously foreseen that the IAF could be used in these operations. The Shyok Valley could be Pakistan ’s next target. The populist imperative to announce a victory of sorts by Aug. 15 may require speeding up of operations.


·                     Some disagreed with the contention that the intruders are incapable of staying out the winter. The Pathans and the Pukhtoon infiltrators are just as capable of enduring the snows as the Indians in Siachen. Pakistan wants Kargil to become another Siachen so it would be willing to hold on at a very high cost.


·                     Pakistan has not accepted that there can be no military solution to the Kashmir dispute; for it armed conflict is a legitimate option for resolving the issue. But, all talk that they have been planning the intrusion since February or March this year is not true. There is some 60 feet of snow recorded in the area even in early June. Plans must have started in April. They do not have conventional insulated bunkers but sanghars that are structures which are dug into rock where possible or built upwards. Heating is not possible in sanghars; the weather will evict them in winter. Others disagreed stating that they have enough portable heating equipment to last them through the winter.


·                     A participant asked why an undefined boundary such as the LoC was accepted by both countries. The LoC was based on actual positions on the ground after the cease-fire in 1971. It was decided after the Simla Agreement that both Army headquarters would delineate the LoC. The cease-fire line of 1948 was the main frame of reference but it was redefined as the LoC since the cease-fire line had been altered in several places by war-fighting in 1971. Disputes were settled in Flag meetings. Pakistan ’s current questioning of the LoC is “utter nonsense” which can be repudiated by reference to the maps and minutes of meetings to mark out the LoC.




Assessing the Sartaj Aziz and Jaswant Singh’s visit to Beijing



Role of the United States



·                     It is clear that Sartaj Aziz invited himself to Beijing . China is caught in a paradoxical situation. It needs to cultivate India for exploring an alternative to US geo-strategic domination. And yet China is keen not to drive Pakistan into the American orbit by supporting India . China is also worried about Islamic militancy in Xinjiang province that could be fomented by Pakistan . China will continue to insist on a bilateral framework for the resolution of disputes and will not militarily support Pakistan in the conflict.


·                     On the success of Jaswant Singh’s visit: The Chinese have reportedly stated that normalization talks will only begin after India ’s designation of China as a threat (indicated by Vajpayee’s letter to Clinton in May 1998) is abandoned. If the report of such a demand is true then Singh’s visit achieved nothing.


·                     The details of the security dialogue are yet to be worked out. The Chinese can be expected to raise the nuclear issue since it has affirmed to the UN resolution on Pokhran-II. Some nuclear CBMs might come up in the near future.


·                     A participant suggested that one can glean a ripple effect of Kosovo on American foreign policy. Its maneuvers to mediate in Kashmir may foreshadow a future forward deployment in South Asia . Others disagreed by saying that it is too premature to project such a design. But America could see India as a countervailing power to China .