The Kargil War cost the nation irreparable damage. Through Lahore we carried the peace overture but ended up being stabbed in the back by Pakistan’s duplicity. What are the lessons that we learned? Are we any wiser today?
On February 19, 1999, India’s then Prime Minister, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee undertook a journey for peace by bus, across the Attari-Wagah border to Lahore. It was a historic visit, 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 ladaai, 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).
In hindsight, it appears that India was once again taken in by Pakistan’s perfidy. For when Shri Vajpayee was treading the path of peace, Pakistan military had already set in motion months ago, plans to capture the Kargil heights, the preparations for which had been on in full swing in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan Occupied J&K (POJK). Listening to his speech, the then Pakistan Army Chief, General Pervez Musharraf must have been chuckling to himself at ‘fooling’ India. India had been deceived once again.
It is important to understand this aspect of the Kargil War. Pakistan had fooled Bharat into believing that peace with Pakistan was a possibility and through that act, perhaps achieved the highest level of strategic deception. After the ‘bus yatra,’ the possibility of any war was far removed from the thought of India’s defence planners—the political, military and intelligence apparatus failed to fathom the level of Pakistani duplicity. And in a cleverly-created atmosphere of bonhomie, love and brotherhood, Pakistan, within a few months, started pushing its regular troops, in the garb of militants, into the Kargil heights. This was the time when the second intelligence failure occurred. The Indian Army was aware of the fact that infiltrators had entered the Kargil area. But they failed to assess the situation correctly, assuming that these were just bunch of terrorists crossing over the Line of Control (LoC) into the Kashmir Valley. Even media reports which spoke of Pakistani infiltrators holding onto some of the heights in Kargil were dismissed offhand, as such a possibility was considered tactically unsound.
Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee with Nawaz Sharif during his Lahore Bus Yatra
Of equal concern was the fact that Indian intelligence agencies too faltered, as often they do. They failed to detect the build-up that had steadily been taking place over many months in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of POJK. 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.
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 could only have succeeded if India was not prepared to risk a full scale war to evict the infiltrators. In perhaps some of the most heroic and epic battles ever fought across the world, the Indian Army, supported by the Indian Air Force (IAF), 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, and through their guts and valour, salvaged a victory for India, against all the odds. Now, two decades later, the nation needs to ponder on the lessons we learnt from that war.
Post the war, the government set up the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) on July 29, 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, Shri George Fernandes, Minister of Defence, Shri Jaswant Singh, Minister of External Affairs and Shri Yashwant Sinha, Minister of Finance. The National Security Adviser (NSA), Shri Brajesh Mishra, was designated as a special invitee to the meetings of the GoM and the Cabinet Secretariat (National Security Council Secretariat) was tasked to service it. The GoM set up four task forces—Task Force on Intelligence Apparatus, Task Force on Internal Security, Task Force on Border Management and Task Force on Management of Defence to look into specific issues and to provide concrete recommendations. Many of the recommendations of the GoM have been implemented over the last two decades, but some critical suggestions are still to be addressed. These need to be deliberated upon and either be accepted for implementation, or discarded, being 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, with the strategic intelligence assets of the Services like satellite imagery and Signals Intelligence being placed under it. 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 has been aptly demonstrated by the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 and the spate of terror attacks that have taken place since most notably the attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in early 2019.
Post the Mumbai attacks, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was established to investigate terror cases. Coastal security too was strengthened, along with the formation of a Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), 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, which speaks of weaknesses in state intelligence agencies. There is a need to redefine the role of intelligence agencies and perhaps have a dedicated cadre for such services instead of merely staffing these agencies with police officers. Modern-day complexities demand expertise in the cyber domain, scientists with specific domain knowledge, language experts, information technology experts, psychologists and a hot of professionals in many disciplines if our intelligence gathering efforts are to bear fruit. There is also a need for parliamentary oversight over the intelligence agencies. While some form of oversight is being provided by placing all the 14 intelligence agencies under the NSA, considering the volume of workload on the NSA’s plate, it is perhaps time to have a National Intelligence Head—an exclusive intelligence chief, to provide integrated intelligence assessments to the government through the NSA to facilitate seamless acquisition, processing and dissemination of tactical, operational and strategic intelligence.
India also 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 that 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.
The Modi Government launched its mission ‘Make in India’ on September 25, 2014, and the defence sector was identified as one of the key sectors requiring indigenisation. India meets about 70 per cent of its defence requirements through imports, 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 dependency 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 requirement and importing just 30 per cent.
India meets about 70 per cent of its defence requirements through imports, 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
The Dhirendra Singh Committee set up by the government in May 2015 suggested that a conceptual ladder be evolved to correspond to the progressive development of competence level in the defence industry, from the fundamental 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. Two defence industrial zones are also coming up which augurs well for the Make in India initiative, but the momentum will have to be sustained, for which an effective institutionalised interface between the MoD, the services and the private sector is required, at the policymaking level. 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, 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 is required.
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 at least half the senior posts which are held by the babus being handled by officers in uniform. There is also the need to create a CDS at the earliest if the envisaged reforms are to keep pace with the Prime Minister’s 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 Chiefs will once again be forced to say, “We will fight with what we have”. Let the lessons of Kargil never be forgotten.
(The writer is former Director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies)