Kargil and Beyond

29 Jul, 1999    ·   235

Sushil J. Aaron reports the Fourth IPCS Round Table discussion on the Crisis in Kargil held on 23 July 1999

The Chair outlined the following issues that need to be considered in the light of the conflagration in Kargil.



·                     The nature of the intelligence failure.


·                     India ’s equipment deficiencies highlighted during the operations.


·                     The status of the LoC in view of Sartaj Aziz’s allegation that India too had violated the LoC in the past.


·                     Assessing Pakistan ’s policy in Kashmir .


·                     The future of Indo-Pak relations.


The discussion alluded to all the issues listed above but hinged largely around the question of intelligence failure and the future of Indo-Pak relations.



Intelligence Failure



A former Army General began by stating that assigning the blame for intelligence failure is an inexact science since the delineation of responsibility between the Indian intelligence agencies is unclear. However, a failure at all levels is discernible. Intelligence assessment is as vital as gathering information. There is a need for an apex body to analyze intelligence. In its absence a reliable discernment of threat is unavailable as was evident since 1962. The Army was surprised by both Operation Gibraltar (1965) and Operation Grand Slam (1999). Intelligence ‘success’ in 1971 was mostly because of Mukti Bahini’s network. Operation Pawan of the IPKF in 1987 completes the pattern of India ’s intelligence failure. The lack of a tradition of strategic thought contributes to the malaise. Like all strategic endeavors, intelligence needs clear direction. Bureaucrats who head Intelligence agencies have always striven to please the Prime Minister and are wary of relaying unpleasant facts existing on the field.



Military intelligence is toothless and has been downgraded over the years by the government and civil bureaucracy. The Army has to depend on two different agencies, IB and RAW, for intelligence related to internal and external security. Coordination between them leaves a lot to be desired. The military is handicapped by the absence of a defense satellite that is capable of 1 meter resolution instead of the 5.8 meters resolution that is currently available. There is a need for state-of-the-art unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). In effect, there is no intelligence awareness in India ’s governance. The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) is not structurally capable of providing adequate intelligence support to the military. Military intelligence should be granted the infrastructural wherewithal and budgetary support to be self-sufficient. Another General concurred saying that military intelligence has always been treated as a step-child. He said that army officers are made to “feel like enemy agents” if they probe and inquire beyond a point. Indian satellites are shifted for defense purposes whenever requested by the armed forces but this is grudgingly done because of fuel utilization, which reduces the life of the satellite.



There was 27 years of status-quo in Kargil. But the fierce Pakistan shelling of Kargil in 1997 and 1998 should have alerted the intelligence agencies. Another participant lamented the absence of academic interest in Pakistan among the Indian intelligentsia. There is no academic institution exclusively devoted to Pakistan studies in India . It is difficult to order even an economic survey of Pakistan in India . For that matter there are hardly any experts on Bhutan and Nepal .



A China expert felt that India ’s problem is essentially that of bureaucratic compartmentalization and ventured a comparison with the Chinese intelligence set-up. China ’s intelligence set-up is composed of high-ranking party officials, experts from relevant ministries and high-ranking PLA representatives. This set-up emerged out of an Information Bureau established in 1935, headed by Chou En-Lai, which devoted itself to information gathering and dissemination by hand-picked area-specialists. Many specialists from this bureaucratic network went on to become leading diplomats in Western capitals. The lesson accruing from the Chinese system is that the political directive or brief for intelligence has to be clear. Indian intelligence agencies, in contrast, appear over-confident, arrogant and unconcerned with detail. Knowledge gathering is not a priority and human resources are neglected. For instance, Buddhist monks in Ladakh had conveyed to intelligence agents in 1957 that the Chinese reinforcing the border. That information went from the Ministry of External Affairs to the Home Ministry, but was not relayed to the military authorities or acted upon.



A former Ambassador responded by saying that the Chinese intelligence system cannot be a model for India because of the pre-eminence there of the Communist Party. India ’s democratic system has been bureaucratized and needs overhaul. But overhaul only means that the same set of bureaucrats perform the same duties, but with different designations.



A former bureaucrat said that the history of world intelligence shows that very few agencies have anticipated a drastic change in national strategies such as Pearl Harbor and Cuba . Indian agencies should not be castigated for the Kargil situation since Pakistan maintained the status quo in Kargil for 27 years, and suddenly changed course. A change of strategy is intimately related political and social developments in a country. In any case, for the last 8-9 years India ’s agencies had focussed their attention almost entirely on coping with militancy and may have been caught unawares with this overt military initiative. Another wondered whether the Army’s delayed response had anything to do with the political directive over the years to keep the LoC “cool”, and prevent escalation of hostilities as to deny Pakistan the internationalization objective that it desires.



Another Army General, while referring to the nature of Pakistan ’s motivation for the Kargil intrusion, referred to a news report that stated that Osama Bin Laden had stationed 1,000 men in Peshawar . This fact came to the notice of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and US Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth. Not knowing how to handle this diplomatic minefield, Sharif sent the guerillas to Kargil.



He went on to relate the extent of the JIC’s problems starting with low levels of coordination. There is a lot of jealousy between various intelligence functionaries. Pooling of intelligence is affected thereby hampering intelligence assessment. Low level officers from the civilian bureaucracy are sent to attend JIC meetings. To make matters worse, the National Security Adviser has the onerous task of harnessing the potential and caprice of different agencies. Professionalism is lacking in intelligence gathering.



Another Army General reckoned that Kargil was the third phase of Operation Topac which Pakistan planned during the terms of Prime Ministers Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral when India was perceived to be weak. India needs to infiltrate the Pak Army and terrorist organizations if it has to pre-empt further intrusions. The allocation for the Infantry in the defense budget has to be increased. Night vision devices and ground sensors need to be acquired immediately.



A defense scientist aired the need for strategic thinkers in India who are capable of thinking asymmetrically, to anticipate Pakistan ’s future designs. An Air Force officer said that politicians were too busy with internal politics to devote time for strategy. He felt that threat perceptions should be discussed in Parliament, and pointed out that the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff addresses Congress periodically on current threats and military preparedness. Likewise India 's three Chiefs of Staff should be provided a larger public forum to address the needs of the military and keep the nation aware of their security needs. Another decried the lack of a facility whereby intelligence failures can be discussed in Parliament. In its place we have a system obsessed by secrecy that ventilates its grievances through selective leakage of information to the press. Another suggested that consultative mechanisms need to be incorporated into the National Security Council on the line of its American counterpart whereby position papers are solicited from individuals and organizations.



There was general skepticism about the outcome of any inquiry committee that might be formed to look into the Kargil episode. In the past, both the 1962  Henderson-Brooks report in India and the Hameedur Rahman report in Pakistan were not made public. Compare this with the Agranat Commission that was appointed by Israel to look into the failure to anticipate the surprise Arab attack in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Failure has never been a result  of a lack of information as indicated by Pearl Harbor , Operation Barbarossa in 1941, North Korea crossing the 38th Parallel or the Chinese attack on India in 1962. The failure has been at the level of assessment, what the French would call the concepcion , which prevents the unexpected to be anticipated.



Future of Indo-Pak relations



On the continued occupation of some positions on India ’s side of the LoC, a former General felt that they have some tactical importance, while another reckoned that was part of Pakistan ’s familiar land grabbing tactics. It had grabbed pickets in Chorbatla and Neelam Valley in the 1980s. Opinion was divided whether they should be flushed out at the cost of further casualties which some called for, whilst others felt India should wait for both the DGMOs to sort this out. Pakistan may try to link Kargil with other areas of the LoC but India should try to limit the focus to Kargil.



Some felt the need for a joint statement by India and Pakistan referring to the sanctity of the LoC to start the process of normalization. CBMs on joint patrolling of the LoC were also suggested. There was a consensus that India ought to go on a peace offensive to garner international support at the expense of Pakistan . One participant suggested that a peace settlement between Peru and Ecuador could be a model for a protocol for settling the LoC issue.



The Kargil intrusions were a brilliant tactical plan, but Pakistan miscalculated the intensity of India ’s reaction. Another participant called Kargil a “juvenile affair” that was doomed from the outset as India could not be expected to tolerate such intrusion. The use of the Air Force turned the battle decisively in favor of India . Pakistan ’s intentions are implacably devoted to destabilizing India . It is impossible to reconcile with the Pak Army establishment that has a visceral hatred for India . India should continually put Pakistan under pressure militarily, aimed at eventually destabilizing Pakistan by military overstretch.



A former bureaucrat rejected the idea of engaging Pakistan in an aggressive mode to hasten its destruction. War cannot be a lasting solution for bilateral relations. He pointed to the presence of an active debate in Pakistan among intellectuals, which contests the militarist fervor. He also drew attention to the fact that Kashmir was not on the agenda during Pakistan ’s last general election and stated that India should not derail the dialogue process.