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Kargil heights

The successful first three years of his civilian rule notwithstanding, Musharraf failed to give his own core constituency the leadership and direction they deserved for their unwavering loyalty to him while he was chief of army staff. This unquestioning loyalty of the Pakistani army to their COAS has kept Zardari in office as president.

Musharraf did not totally ignore merit in promotions to higher ranks but he gave loyalty far more importance. Beyond the rank of brigadier, personal loyalty to him mattered far more. More importantly, only a handful that he promoted to three stars rank had combat experience. No surprise, therefore, that none of his Kargil boys, Mahmood, Aziz and Javed Hassan had it.

Known to be personally close to Musharraf, his recent diatribe has badly exposed Shahid Aziz as being disloyal to his mentor. His reputation of being egoistic and arrogant notwithstanding, this man had a good reputation for professionalism. What is very strange is how he can, as chief of the general staff (CGS) then, deny knowledge of the US air force using Jacobabad much after it became operational in 2001 for the US war in Afghanistan. A recent ‘Letter to the Editor’ in this newspaper by Col (r) Shah Ali Raza rightly labelled it as “a pack of lies”. The CGS is supposed to be the man most informed in the GHQ about operational and intelligence matters through a multitude of his own reporting channels and independent sources.

To quote my self-explanatory article, ‘Let the truth come out’, published on July 24, 1999: “As the dust settles over Kargil, some truths are emerging in Pakistan not discernible earlier due to ‘the fog of war’ need to be addressed so that lessons can be learnt. Despite our finest doing us proud in actual combat, we ended up being humiliated both militarily and diplomatically, and on the receiving end of the cutting edge of information warfare.

“Without going into who was over the Line of Control (LoC) and who was not, the question arises as to who were ‘on board,’ and from when? It was incumbent upon our army hierarchy to inform superior civilian authority before we embarked further about possible Indian reaction to an existential threat to their lines of communications (L of C) to Ladakh and Siachen, isolating the best part of two Indian divisions. Diplomatic and media nuances had to be taken care of. This led to the disaster and finger-pointing thereof.”

And more. “A sound military plan (deliberately kept in cold storage in the GHQ), Kargil did succeed in turning a tactical situation to strategic advantage. Unfortunately, we criminally neglected to put in place vital ingredients, giving professionals in the diplomatic and information field no warning, not allowing private-sector media to get into the act as the Indians have done on a broad front.

“We were wrong-footed from May 28 onwards when two Indian aircraft were downed on our side of the line. Unfortunately, when the objective is to make ‘heroes’ out of one’s cronies and hog all the glory, the selection of aim disintegrates into mismanagement rather than its maintenance. The smell of cordite and battlefield casualties is a necessary ingredient for superior rank, and lack of it propels small men of high rank into misadventure as they seek personal glory and a sense of battlefield achievement without the risks associated with it that even most of our young officers possess (and they do not) after their Siachen tenure.

“What to talk about the government being ‘on board’, it is doubtful whether the rest of the army hierarchy knew the nature and depth of involvement that almost brought the country to war. With most corps commanders oblivious of the chain of events that could lead to an impending war, this lack of preparedness could not happen even in ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ A country was on the verge of war while 33,000 of its army’s critical middle-rank hierarchy was away reading meters for Wapda. The crisis makes one shudder as to what were the priorities set by the General Staff in a near-war situation?”

Commenting further in the same article: “The cost to the nation has been very high, the PM’s image as a man of peace, coming right on the heels of the ‘bus diplomacy’ short-changed his credibility as a negotiator. One may criticise many aspects of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s rule. He ate humble pie for the Washington accord to pull someone else’s chestnuts out of the fire for the sake of the country, even to the peril of his reputation and political career.

“A good professional soldier and a man of honour, the COAS should accept responsibility for his actions because he was the one calling the shots and no one else. Whether the government decides to keep him or not, or whether he chooses to resign is another matter, a matter of not only honour but of character that recognises the wasted valour of our brave young men who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the heights of Kargil.”

Why did Shahid Aziz not express grave doubts about the Kargil adventure before and after being promoted to lieutenant general by Musharraf? And fail to stand up and be counted even to the peril of his career once he became CGS? What does he stand to gain now by claiming to be holier-than-thou and subjecting the uniform to ridicule? The tragedy of the Pakistan Army is that many served (and serve) the uniform and the country in outstanding fashion, many with their lives.

Unfortunately, the undeserving ones profit because the merit system (now restored) had been subverted. Not fashionable to express such ‘heretical’ stuff as I did then, one braced for being taken to task by the powers that be like Shahid Aziz, who being ‘more loyal than the king’ and serving in the ISI in 1999, was oblivious to everything but advancing his own career. To his everlasting credit, Musharraf was always more benign than his associates when subjected to honest criticism that was not personal.

In ‘Untangling the Kashmir knot’ (January 20, 2001), I wrote: “As much as Kargil was an unmitigated political and diplomatic disaster in 1999, in the early days of 2001 it seems it is Kargil that set the BJP thinking that a doomsday scenario is quite possible. Kargil was a distant watershed that brought us very close to a nuclear holocaust.

“What happens when such incidents take place far closer to major Indian and Pakistani population adjacent to the international border? Both sides have to recognise that the only way to prevent catastrophe is to have meaningful dialogue before extremists on either side box themselves into corners which will take us automatically down the path of destruction without a fail-safe mechanism.”

Despite the Kargil ‘faux pas’, and inadvertently because of it, one was witness to Musharraf bringing us that close to lasting peace with India at Agra in 2001. Two things emerged as self-evident home truths: (1) the Indians came to the negotiating table on Kashmir and (2) our strategic nuclear capability became a credible reality and was not put to the test by the Indians during the 2002 confrontation.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: ikram.sehgal@ wpplsms.com

Ikram Sehgal, "Kargil heights," The News. 2013-02-07.