Kargil: Blood on the Snow ? Tactical Victory, Strategic Failure
Suba Chandran ·       

The year 1999 witnessed three crucial events for India, Pakistan and Indo-Pak relations. The Lahore summit, the Kargil War and the Coup in Pakistan ? all having special significance, as they transformed the security perspective and situation of the two. Of these three, the Kargil War, in particular, is significant, as it unmade the first ? the Lahore summit ? and, to a great extent, made the last ? the coup in Pakistan.

Four questions are primarily involved in the Kargil War. First, after the Lahore summit, what prompted Pakistan to prepare for the Kargil war? What were its objectives and motivations, when relations between the two were getting stabilized after the 1998 nuclear tests?

The second question is, having started the war, what made Pakistan to call it off abruptly? When Nawaz Sharif met Clinton on 5 June 1999, the war was far from over. The Indian Army had made significant advances, but certainly not the whole area was cleared. Had Pakistan decided to increase the conflict, it would have taken a longer period for India to achieve what it had, by the end of June 1998.

Third question is even more significant ? how the war was fought between the two new nuclear states? What made India restrain itself and not cross the LoC, when there was a greater pressure from its public to cross it and teach the other side a lesson? Despite raising a few noises, why was the nuclear option not discussed at all?�

Finally how did the post Kargil developments affect the social and political security of Pakistan and India, especially Jammu and Kashmir? The coup in Pakistan and the increased militant activities especially the fidayeen attacks in Jammu and Kashmir to a great extent were the direct result of the Kargil war.

While some of the books were published immediately after the war, others were published much later thus witnessing the post war developments in J&K and in Pakistan. The later works had an added advantage of interpreting the events in a non-sensational environment and by then the Kargil Review Committee?s report had also been published.

Maj Gen Ashok Kalyan Verma?s work, the latest on the subject, focuses more on the first aspect of the third question namely, how the war was fought by India. Maj Gen Verma provides a detailed description of the war on the various sectors, with the help of a number of maps, which makes one understand better the problems faced by the Indian security forces.

He is absolutely correct in calling the Pakistani plan as ?militarily ambitious and unrealistic.? But what made Pakistan undertake such an ambitious and unrealistic adventure? If the plan was such a grandiose one, what made Pakistan think that it would be able to achieve its objectives through the so-called mujahideens� and a limited assistance in terms of its direct involvement? These questions, even today, baffle everybody and Maj Gen Verma, with his extensive experience, could have analyzed the psyche of the Pakistan military in preparing and executing the Kargil war.

Maj Gen Verma rightly calls the Kargil war as a tactical victory and a strategic failure. He argues that the ?real guilt lay between the political and the Army brass.? After identifying the issue correctly, like the Kargil war, he stops abruptly, from explaining it. He compares the Kargil war with the other wars that India had fought in 1962, 65 and 71, which is very useful. He tries to bring out, but briefly, how the leadership failed to carry forward the gains that were achieved in the battlefields. Had more focus been given to this aspect, given his background, the book would have been extremely useful, instead devoting merely one chapter with four and half pages.

The strategic failure of India was the sudden increase in militant activities both inside and outside J&K and its collateral damage. The suicide and fidayeen attacks, which were absent in the pre-Kargil War period, became the highlight of the militant attacks. The two suicide attacks in Srinagar in 1999 and 2000 and the fidayeen attacks on State Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Parliament and the recent attack on Kaluchak cantonment during 2001-02 ? all these events symbolize the strategic failure of India. Who were responsible for these failures? How it could have been prevented? Or what could be done at the political and military level, at this juncture to have a strategic victory?

Some of the points that have been raised by Maj Gen Verma are worth analyzing in detail. Will the simple strategy of India becoming assertive and proactive and playing a ?more pivotal role in the Great Game,? as Verma says, enable India to achieve strategic victory? Secondly, the question of ?starving the troops of qualitative improvement? after India?s confidence on the nuclear weapons as the ultimate weapon. This is a difficult question, which needs to be probed. Especially with ideas being floated on ?Limited War?, how much should India spend on conventional and nuclear forces? Despite having a strong nuclear force, if India is going to spend on conventional forces, then why should one develop the first if it is not going to be of any deterrence value?

Instead of devoting more than half of the book to the general history of Kashmir, Maj Gen Verma could have focused more on why did Pakistan begin and end the war abruptly. The absence of any real discussion to use nuclear weapons during the war and its implications for any future war could also have been analyzed in depth, which would have made the book more comprehensive.