3rd IPCS Round Table discussion on the Kargil Crisis

15 Jul, 1999    ·   226

Sushil J. Aaron reports the IPCS Round Table discussion on the Kargil Crisis held on 9 July 1999

The seminar held on July 9th, prior to Pakistan 's announcement of its withdrawal from Kargil, addressed the following issues. See previous reports of the Ist Round Table discussion on Kargil and 2nd Round Table discussion on Kargil (LINK) for other issues. The following is a summary of the views expressed.



1. Progress of Indian Military Operations



2. The end game in Kargil



3. Media Management in India



Progress of Indian Military Operations



·                     A former General started the discussion by drawing attention to Pakistan dispatching 2 divisions to the Skardu region as a back-up that might be used to put pressure on Siachen. The Indians have 3 divisions in Kashmir to preempt such a move. As regards the operations along the LoC, the Indian Army has contained Pakistan 's attempt to outflank Turtok, even though they still hold on to a pocket in that sub-sector. In the Batalik area, the Indians have captured two of the three ridges. In the Shangruti area, India is around 2-3 kms. away from the LoC. The Kaksar Heights in the Kargil sector are still under Pakistan control. The infiltrators are yet to evicted from the Mushkoh Valley . There are unconfirmed reports that reinforcements have arrived on Pak side of the LoC after the Sharif-Clinton talks. The infiltrators comprise a combination of Pak Army SSGs and the Mujahideen. At least 800 guerrillas are operating in the Valley while two other batches of 800 youth each, aged 16-24, are either waiting to be inducted or are being trained respectively. The stratagem behind supporting militancy at this time is to divide the attention of the Army between the LoC and the Valley. Notwithstanding Sharif's assurances in Washington , the infiltrators/Pak Army will not withdraw peacefully; it will be a fighting withdrawal and they will contest Indian territorial advances. The Indian Army has a month of fighting left to reclaim its side of the LoC.


·                     Another former General contested the claims that Pakistan has moved 2 divisions to the Skardu area. He doubted the source of such a report stating that a movement of this magnitude is easily identifiable. Besides, such a move involves an enormous logistical exercise. More credible is the report that 3 battalions have been sent to bolster the Northern Light Infantry. As regards the operational progress, Pak Army has launched 3 fierce counterattacks on Tiger Hill underlining its importance in controlling the Drass sector. Progress has been slow on all fronts since the Indian Army is "recycling" troops i.e. redeploying troops who have fought in Tuloling Heights and Tiger Hill and re-assigning others for combat in Batalik and Turtok. There are still 3 months of campaigning left for India . India 's weakness in snow warfare cost it dearly in terms of casualties. Logistical inadequacies have to be addressed to preempt future Kargil-like intrusions. There is an imperative to evict the intruders before winter sets in to deny Pakistan the opportunity to establish firm bases to control Kargil or prepare for further intrusions. Responding to the possiblility of escalation of militancy in the Valley, he stated that local support is vital for the mercenaries to be effective and guerrillas can expect little on that front. A section of Muslims in the Valley were euphoric following initial Indian reverses on the battle-front, but they are now devastated by the turn of events.


·                     A participant asked whether crossing the LoC will have a bearing on Indian casualties or on the time-frame to clear the intruders. Participants from the Army stated that a clear military direction to cross the LoC may not be useful at all times. Indian troops should have done so in the early stages of the clearing operations. Crossing the LoC is useful only when it has an element of surprise.  Besides, crossing the LoC is easier said than done, as it is fraught with logistical difficulties. It also involves an orchestration of air power and artillery support which is not easy in a limited war scenario.




End Game in Kargil



·                     The end game in Kargil is intimately related to the political equations in Kashmir . A participant pointed out that Pakistani people endorse their government's stance on Kashmir . The problem is compounded by a majority of people believing the Army's lie that Pakistan holds the strategic heights in Siachen. There is bound to be public disapproval if the Army withdraws. Pakistani officials, meanwhile, are reportedly trying to impress upon Delhi 's diplomatic community that the Kargil intrusion is no different from India 's successful takeover of Siachen since it was enacted after the Simla Agreement.


·                     A participant questioned the conventional notion of a US tilt towards India . He went on to posit that the US must have transacted a quid pro quo with Pakistan wherein Sharif will execute a withdrawal from Kargil in exchange for an agreement on nuclear issues. When pressed for a precise clarification— whether that would involve a rollback, a freeze on weaponisation or signing the NPT — the participant conceded that it was no more than a hunch at the moment. It was also pointed out that the Memorandum attached to the Lahore Declaration contained a whole range of nuclear CBMs and therefore any quid pro quo between Sharif and Clinton is a far-fetched notion.


·                     The ground situation has not worsened in Jammu and Kashmir . The average Valley Muslim does not feel that he belongs to Pakistan . A significant majority would prefer independence but realize that it is not feasible. They also realize that militancy is crippling the local economy, which they can no longer afford. Many support separatist groups like Hizbul Mujahideen out of fear.


·                     Another General stated that, in a sense, there is no 'end game' in Kargil since the desire of the Pakistani army elite to dismember India is endemic. The pre-Zia military elite was akin to its Indian equivalent —  steeped in British Army traditions and liberal in outlook. Zia changed all that. A fierce phase of indoctrination with Islamic underpinnings took hold of the Pak Army elite whose aim since is to destabilise India by preying on the pan-Islamic impulses of the Indian Muslim. Madrasas receive patronage and become the nerve centers of dissent against the Indian State ; in India at large and Kashmir in particular. There is no discernible ideational link, however, between the notion of Kashmiriyat and the ideological tenets of Wahhabism. The divisions in Pakistani society will determine the end game in Kargil. The civil government is in the hands of the Mohajirs, while 70 percent of the Army is Punjabi Muslim. Another concurred with this view indicating that India-hating is built into the Pakistani school curriculum. Students of Vth class (9-10 year olds) are asked in examinations to list reasons for loathing India .


·                     All participants felt that though it is legitimate to flesh out Pakistan 's end game, it is imperative that India should have a clear idea as to what its own end game is. Some felt that India should build on its military strength, others emphasised diplomatic steps and quick initiatives at Track Two level, while some said India 's strategic endeavor ought to be devoted to destroying Pakistan . The need is to draw Pakistan into an arms race  that will consume it owing to its precarious economic condition and the brittle nature of its polity.


·                     One cannot limit the end game to Kargil. India 's lack of a 'national doctrine' was evident in the handling of Pakistani subversion for decades. Pakistan appears to have a well-defined doctrine to destabilize India , while India is content to be in a state of reactive repose which is costing it dearly. Unilateral initiatives like the Gujral Doctrine have obviously no effect on Pakistan . It is time to develop a strategic vision in India that is bereft of vacillation but is informed by the will to use power.




Media Management



A participant lamented the quality of defense journalism in India as reporting content on Kargil betrays lack of a rudimentary knowledge of military tactics. He suggested that leading think tanks in India ought to act as resource centers for journalists to be acquainted with the basics of combat to ensure credible reporting. A former Information Services Official reviewed the efforts of the Indian government to facilitate defense journalism. The Indian Army arranged conducted tours of the battle-front for journalists in the 1962 war with China . In the 1965 War, however, the media was initially not allowed to go to forward positions. The Cabinet Committee received several reports suggesting protocols for journalists covering the war beat. Reports were prepared by the Government of India, Press Institute and the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC). Another set of recommendations prepared by George Verghese were accepted by the Cabinet Committee. Thereafter an Office of War Information was established. It was decided that war correspondents and photographers would be allowed to report on operations within hours. Thereafter 50 correspondents and 25 photographers were trained. But over 50 percent of them were never used for reporting wars. The program was allowed to die out in the 1970s. Thereafter regular seminars were held by the United Services Institution (USI) and the College of Combat wherein senior officers briefed journalists of the nuances of war reporting.



In the current Kargil crisis journalists have had little access to the war-zone. Media reports trickled in regarding the seriousness of the conflict by those journalists who were already in Jammu and Kashmir to cover other stories and found themselves “caught up in the conflict.” Initial confusion concerning the safe passage for militants and the role of Nawaz Sharif as indicated by the Defense Minister’s statements, was caused by the lack of a defined structure to disseminate official pronouncements. Daily briefings were then introduced in New Delhi to meet the demands of over 100 correspondents who reached Srinagar . Small groups of journalists were taken on conducted tours by the Army. The impact of war-reporting on the general populace has been good. All in all, there ought to be a realization that war coverage is a specialized job and necessary training has to be imparted. War publicity must also be handled by professionals and not left to amateur incumbents of certain jobs in the government.