They did have India by the throat
02 July 2015
[Indian experts may deride Gen Pervez Musharraf for saying that he spooked India during the Kargil conflict, but the fact is that Pakistan noticed our weak points and hit us hard. Also, Pakistan technically lost the war but it still managed to increase India’s burden of defence]
On May 17, coinciding with the 16th anniversary of the 1999 Kargil conflict, Pakistan’s former Army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, who masterminded the daring adventure said that his Army had “India by the throat”, adding, “India will never forget that war.”
Much in keeping with the national ethos of undermining the Pakistan Army, Indian experts called Gen Musharraf “delusional.”
It would have helped to understand that Gen Musharraf did manage to take India and its Army to the edge of precipice.
Also, a bigger danger lurks round the corner in Ladakh, where the Kargil conflict was fought.
The conflict — a gamble by Gen Musharraf — was based on two assumptions:
One, the Line of Control marked in 1972 was on small-scale maps which could deviate by two to 10 kilometres on a large modern map. Pakistan played upon this technical shortcoming when making its case that its troops, though inside territories traditionally held by India, were within the LoC on Pakistan’s side in the Kargil sector.
Two, Gen Musharraf took advantage of large unoccupied gaps (120km in the Kargil sector at altitudes between 12,000 to 18,000 feet) during winter months to move his then paramilitary force, Northern Light Infantry to forward positions, much ahead of where they should have been.
Pakistan’s case was explained by Gen Musharraf in his book, In the Line of Fire.
He ordered his local troops from the area to adopt ‘forward defensive posture’ by moving ahead and occupying hardened military positions on heights during the 1998-99 winter months.
The NLI troops were to coordinate with terrorists still ahead to ensure that Indian troops were unable to get back to their original posts.
“We wanted to dominate the areas held by the freedom fighters”, is how Gen Musharraf put it.
By occupying forward positions in the Kargil sector, Gen Musharraf hoped to isolate Ladakh from the Kashmir valley.
Moreover, the road link to India’s Siachen brigade headquarters would be snapped, forcing India to vacate the glacier sooner than later.
While a boldly conceived plan, Gen Musharraf failed to appreciate that India would fight hard to ensure that neither Siachen was severed nor Ladakh threatened.
Given the necessity to maintain secrecy, Gen Musharraf had kept the Pakistan Air Force and the Navy in the dark; and even within his Army select people knew what was going on. The Pakistan military was unprepared for a total conventional war.
This was the case of the Indian military as well, with the Army being least prepared.
Nine years of counter-terrorism operations in Jammu & Kashmir, starting 1990, had perhaps made the senior Army leadership forget that their livelihood was to prepare, train and fight conventional wars.
Considering that the first intrusions (occupation), not infiltration, were detected on May 6, 1998, the General Officer Commanding 15 Corps, (responsible for Kashmir valley and Ladakh) Lt General Kishan Pal said on May 14 that “the situation was local and would be dealt with locally”.
Once it was evident that greater military effort would be required to dislodge the entrenched intruders, the Government, on May 25, allowed the use of air power with two caveats: Ground and air forces will not cross the LoC, and area of operations must remain restricted to the Kargil sector.
The Indian Army suddenly faced its moment of truth: It was not prepared for war.
According to the Army chief, Gen VP Malik, “Besides weapons and equipment, the ammunition reserves for many important weapons were low.”
There were shortages everywhere, from transport fleet to oils, lubricants and greases to winter clothing for troops to artillery guns and so on.
The situation was so alarming that Gen Malik, in reply to a media question on June 23, when operations were at a precarious juncture, conveyed his helplessness to a surprised nation. He said, “We will fight with whatever we have.”
The Army’s dilemma was how to balance its forces: A capability asymmetry vis-à-vis Pakistani forces was required in the limited Kargil conflict theatre, even as concurrently a strong defensive posture had to be adopted on the entire western front to discourage the Pakistan Army from enlarging the conflict.
So, Gen Malik gambled.
He moved a preponderant of artillery, the mainstay of any operation, from other formations including strike corps to Kargil.
He also moved additional troops, thereby, denuding capabilities of other critical theatres which became vulnerable if Pakistan launched an all-out war. “Nearly 50 fire units (900 guns) comprising artillery guns, howitzers, mortars and one rocket battery were employed in the area of operations”, he said.
In Gen Musharraf’s words, “As few as five (NLI) battalions (6,000 men), in support of freedom fighter groups, were able to compel Indians to employ more than four divisions (50,000 men), with bulk of the Indian artillery coming from strike formations meant for operations in the southern plains.”
There was panic in the Indian establishment.
China played a powerful behind-the-scene role in support of Pakistan.
During the 77-day conflict, Chinese forces did offensive patrolling in Ladakh, compelling India to not withdraw its acclimatised 114 brigade troops at Dungti (3,500 troops on Chinese front) against Pakistan.
Moreover, at the start of the conflict, Gen Musharraf was in China, and the Chinese military official in-charge of equipment was in Rawalpindi.
The inference was obvious: The Chinese were ready to support the Pakistan military with war-withal alongside increased pressure on the disputed border with India.
Then the tide turned with an event away from the scene of operations.
National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra met with his US counterpart, Mr Sandy Berger, in Europe on June 16.
Dreading the nuclear factor, the US despatched a powerful team to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Mr Sharif panicked and sought a meeting with then US President, Mr Bill Clinton. The two met in Washington, DC, on July 4, 1999, with Mr Sharif agreeing to withdraw his troops.
In the aftermath of the conflict, the Indian Army raised 14 Corps at Leh (Ladakh) on September 1, 1999, as, according to Gen Malik, “We need a credible dissuasive posture in Ladakh till the LoC and the Siachen dispute with Pakistan, and the boundary question with China, are fully resolved.”
In order to occupy vacated posts, which led to the Kargil conflict, 8 Division (12,000 troops) was told to hold, at altitudes of 12,000 feet plus, the entire Kargil sector round the year.
As 8 Division was earlier doing counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir before getting sucked into Kargil, 30 new Rashtriya Rifles units were raised to fill the void in counter-insurgency grids.
Thus, the Indian Army raised 30,000 more troops from within its own resources, further depleting its capability for war.
Gen Musharraf had managed to raise the burden of Indian Army by forcing its troops to hold an additional 120km of LoC throughout the year.
India and its Army should have learnt two core lessons from the Kargil conflict, which, till date, remain unlearnt.
One, as the Pakistan Army has enormous potential to spring surprises, the Indian military should be prepared all times to fight a conventional war.
At the political level, this implies an understanding of military including nuclear power.
At the military level, the need is for adequate capability, war wastage reserves, training, mind-set and joint operations in an all-out war.
Two, Ladakh, where the conflict was fought, is extremely vulnerable to a two-front offensive, whatever its shape and form. Pakistan, given its military inter-operability with China, will, unlike previous wars, have the advantage of fighting a prolonged campaign without much depletion of its operational sustenance.
Once this reality sinks in, Gen Musharraf may not appear delusional when saying that he had India by the throat.
The writer, who is editor FORCE newsmagazine
He can be reached at : firstname.lastname@example.org
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