KARGIL: AFTER TWO DECADES, ARE WE PREPARED?

kargil

The Pakistan military had already set in motion plans to capture the Kargil heights while the Indian premier was treading the path for peace. The preparations for it were on in full swing in the

Kargil infiltration came as a deception when India extended a hand for peace.

On 19th February 1999, India’s then Prime Minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee undertook a journey across the Attari-Wagah border. It was a historic visit to Lahore, undertaken to break the impasse in the India-Pakistan relationship and to give peace a chance.

Speaking at Lahore, Vajpayee’s words resonated across the world when he said “Hum Jung na hone denge … Teen bar lad chuke ladayi, kitna mehnga sauda… Hum jung na hone denge…” (We will not let war occur…we have fought three times…what an expensive transaction…we will not let war occur again.)

Pakistan’s Deceptive Plan: The Kargil Infiltration

In hindsight, it appears that India was once again taken in by Pakistani perfidy. The Pakistan military had already set in motion plans to capture the Kargil heights while the Indian premier was treading the path for peace. The preparations for it were on in full swing in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan Occupied J&K (POJ&K). Listening in on the speech, the then Pakistan Army Chief, General Pervez Musharraf must have been chuckling silently to himself. The proof of Pakistan’s deception was the Indian premier talking of peace in Lahore.

It is important to understand this aspect of the Kargil War. Pakistan had lulled India into believing that peace with Pakistan was a possibility. Through that act, it perhaps achieved the highest level of strategic deception. After the ‘bus yatra,’ the possibility of war was far from the thoughts of India’s defence planners. The political, military and intelligence apparatus simply did not fathom the level of Pakistani duplicity. Pakistan artificially created an atmosphere of bonhomie, love and brotherhood. Within a few months, they started pushing in regular troops, in the garb of militants, into the Kargil heights.

India’s Second Failure: A Faulty Assessment

This was the time when the second failure occurred. The Indian Army was aware of the fact that infiltrators had entered into the Kargil area. However, they failed to assess the situation correctly. They assumed that like in previous years, these were just terrorist groups crossing over into the Kashmir Valley. Media reports speaking of Pakistani infiltrators holding on to some of the heights in Kargil faced offhanded dismissal. Such a possibility was, in fact, considered tactically unsound.

Of equal concern was the fact that Indian intelligence agencies too faltered. They failed to detect the steady build-up taking place over many months in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of POJ&K. Had that movement been detected, then perhaps such heavy concentration of troops, allied with infiltration attempts would have taken on a different colour and led to a more realistic appraisal of Pakistan’s intentions. In the event, Pakistan achieved total tactical and strategic surprise and it was left to the Indian Armed Forces to evict the infiltrators from the heights that had been occupied by the enemy.

Pakistan’s Overconfidence in the Plan

In the perception of the Pakistan military, the eviction of their troops from the mountain tops was a next to impossible task. It was here that the Pakistan military underestimated the capability of the Indian Army and the will of the Indian people. While the plan was tactically brilliant, it was strategically flawed. It’s success depended on India’s lack of preparedness to risk a full-scale war to evict the infiltrators.

It was perhaps one of the most heroic and epic battles ever fought across the world. The Indian Army, supported by the Indian Air Force, pushed back the enemy from the commanding heights they had occupied. Foot by bloody foot, braving unimaginable odds, they made possible, what had once seemed an impossible task. Through their guts and valour, they salvaged a victory for India, against all odds. Now, two decades later, the nation needs to ponder on the lessons we learnt from that war.

Kargil Review Committee (KRC), 29 July 1999

“To examine the sequence of events and make recommendations for the future”.

The KRC found various shortcomings at multiple levels of intelligence collection, operational procedures and systematic sharing of data. Based on the KRC, the government ordered a complete review of the Indian security system under a Group of Ministers (GoM). The GoM was a powerful body, consisting of –

  • Shri LK Advani, Minister of Home Affairs
  • Late Shri George Fernandes, Minister of Defence
  • Shri Jaswant Singh, Minister of External Affairs
  • Shri Yashwant Sinha, Minister of Finance.

The designated special invitee to the meetings of the GoM was National Security Adviser (NSA), Shri Brajesh Mishra. Servicing it was the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretariat (National Security Council Secretariat). The GoM set up four task forces to look into specific issues and to provide concrete recommendations.

Four Task Forces

  1. Intelligence Apparatus
  2. Internal Security
  3. Border Management
  4. Management of Defence

Over the last two decades, many of the recommendations of the GoM have been implemented. However, some critical recommendations are still to be addressed. These require deliberation for either acceptance for implementation or rejection, as unsuitable for the present security environment.

The Task Force on Intelligence had recommended the creation of a tri-service Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) as the nodal agency for the analysis of all military intelligence and to synergise the functioning of the three Services Intelligence Directorates (SIDs). The DIA came into existence in 2002. The following strategic intelligence assets of the Services came under it –

  • Satellite Imagery
  • Signals Intelligence

The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) also came into existence in 2003 and is now the nodal agency to procure and provide all forms of TECHINT to the nation. However, weaknesses in India’s intelligence agencies continue to persist. This was aptly demonstrated by the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 along with the spate of terror attacks that have taken place since, most notably, the attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in early 2019.

National Investigation Agency (NIA)

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) came into being, post the Mumbai attacks to investigate terror cases. A Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) emerged along with the strengthening of Coastal security. It was to improve coordination among various Central and state security agencies. However, inputs to the MAC from the state intelligence agencies remain at about 11 per cent only of total intelligence inputs received by the Centre. This bespeaks of weaknesses in state intelligence agencies. There is a need to redefine the role of intelligence agencies. There should perhaps be a dedicated cadre for such services instead of simply staffing them with police officers.

Modern-day complexities demand expertise in many disciplines if our intelligence gathering efforts are to bear fruit –

  • Cyber domain
  • Scientists with specific domain knowledge
  • Language experts
  • Information technology experts
  • Psychologists

There is also a need for parliamentary oversight over the intelligence agencies. Some form of oversight is being provided by placing all the 14 intelligence agencies under the NSA. However, considering the volume of workload on the NSA’s plate, it is perhaps time to have a National Intelligence Head. As exclusive intelligence chief, the NIA could –

  1. Provide integrated intelligence assessments to the government through the NSA
  2. Facilitate seamless acquisition, processing and dissemination of tactical, operational and strategic intelligence

“We Will Fight with What We Have,” The Words That Led to Kargil Victory

India faced its moment of truth in Kargil when the infiltrators had to be evicted from seemingly invincible positions. The then Army Chief’s statement “we will fight with what we have,” has since become a byword for lack of preparation in peacetime for potential threats to our territorial integrity. Defence preparedness is not a task which can be done in a year or two. It takes years of efforts to build a well-oiled military machine and this aspect has been neglected since independence, especially in terms of defence manufacture.

Efforts Post 2014

Make in India

The Modi government launched its mission ‘Make in India’ on 25 September 2014. They identified the defence sector as one of the key sectors requiring indigenisation. India imports about 70 per cent of its defence requirements which makes it vulnerable to external influence in times of war. However, achieving some level of self-sufficiency in defence production will not materialise quickly. It will take at least a decade if not more of sustained effort to reduce our dependence on imports from the current 70 per cent to 50 per cent, and perhaps another decade after that to get it down to the more respectable figure of producing 70 per cent of our defence requirements and importing just 30 per cent.

Dhirendra Singh Committee

Set up by the government in May 2015, the Dhirendra Singh Committee suggested a conceptual ladder to correspond to the progressive development of competence level in the defence industry, from the very basic level of repair and maintenance to the level of acquiring the ability to design, develop, manufacture and test systems. More importantly, the Committee recommended an increasingly important role for the private sector in defence production. The Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 (DPP-2016) has accordingly been streamlined and a number of far-reaching decisions have been taken to encourage both the public and the private sector to increase indigenous production.

L&T, in partnership with Korea’s Samsung, has procured a Rs 5400 crore order to manufacture 100 artillery guns (155/52 mm K-9 Vajra tracked SP) and is also going to manufacture the Lakshya-1 and Lakshya-2 pilotless target aircraft with the DRDO. DRDO has tied up with Bharat Forge and General Dynamics to manufacture FICVs and Tata Strategic Division is joining hands with Airbus Industries to manufacture medium transport aircraft. Reliance Industries, Mahindra Defence Systems, Dynamatic Technologies, TVS Logistics, MKU and others have also entered into the defence market for manufacture.

Defence Industrial Zones

Two defence industrial zones are also coming up which augurs well for the Make in India initiative. An effective institutionalised interface between the MoD, the services, and the private sector is, however, a must for sustaining the momentum. There is also an urgent need to corporatise the management structure of the Ordnance Factory Board and to merge shipyards under MoD into one corporate entity (retaining the yard facilities in their present geographical locations but working under one single management). In addition, a requirement arises for expeditious implementation of the strategic partnership scheme and creation of an independent agency to oversee the complete gamut of activities related to the defence industry and procurements.

The Need for Future

Finally, if India is to emerge as a strong military power, there is a need for better civil-military relations (CMR). This aspect remains strained for decades, but the relationship has become more brittle in recent years due to bureaucratic overreach. Harmonising the relationship would require overhauling the Ministry of Defence as recommended by the GoM post the Kargil War. This would need integrating the Services with the MoD, with a shift of at least half the senior posts held by the babus, to the officers in uniform.

There is also the need to create a CDS at the earliest if the envisaged reforms are to keep apace with the Prime Ministers vision. For reforms in the MoD, there will be resistance by the bureaucrats. How this matter is handled will determine the timelines by which India can become a military power to reckon with. Otherwise, at some future point in time when India is once again faced with a military challenge, the Service Chief’s will once again be forced to say, “We will fight with what we have”.

Let the lessons of Kargil remain something to stand by.

Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch

Maj. Gen. Dhruv C Katoch is Director, India Foundation, Editor SALUTE Magazine and Secretary-General of Indian War Veterans Association (IWVA).

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