Musharraf's Kashmir Demarche: Kargil Reversed
31 December 2003
Karachi: Reputedly the brain and the principal tactician behind the Kargil episode (Feb-July 1999), Gen Pervez Musharraf's demarche on Kashmir has substantially reversed Kargil. His statement on Dec 19, about leaving the Kashmir issue 'aside' and going 'beyond' stated positions, meeting half way somewhere to resolve the issue, was almost as dramatic in its effect as Kargil. The episode stood as an example of the army's unilateral initiative to nip the Indo-Pakistan peace process in the bud. Its disclosure shortly after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's historic bus trip to Lahore abruptly overturned the peace train. Mr Vajpayee's day-and-night Lahore visit produced the landmark Lahore Declaration and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) amounting virtually to a first draft of a no-war agreement. His historic pilgrimage to the Minar-i-Pakistan, the first ever by an Indian prime minister, was interpreted as re-affirmation to the two-nation theory, the driving doctrine behind the making of Pakistan. Apart from the Kargil episode in the making, what left a dark shadow on the visit was the absence of the service chiefs from the reception line at the Wagah check post to welcome the visiting dignitary. Not being a formal state visit, the absence of the service chiefs, though understandable, was nevertheless conspicuous. In the course of an interview with India's NDTV in the middle of June 2003, Gen Musharraf admitted that Pakistani troops were 'directly' involved in the conflict. 'Kargil,' he said, 'was a decision taken by the Mujahideen and we got involved because of the action taken by the Indian troops.' Either way, it was under his command as the army chief. He, however, went on to reaffirm his conviction that the 'Kashmir issue must be solved' without war. It was not the first occasion that Pakistani troops happened to be operationally involved in armed conflict in Kashmir 'in support of the mujahideen'. This was Pakistan's position even in first Kashmir war of (1947-48) until about May 1948 when then foreign minister Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan admitted that elements of Pakistani regulars were involved. Operation Gibraltar, the commando-type campaign launched in the first week of August 1965, was yet another episode projected as one 'in support' of the indigenous Kashmiri freedom fighters. However, it had to be abruptly aborted for lack of support from the Kashmiris, particularly in the predominantly non-Punjabi-Pathan Kashmir valley. Close on the heels of Gibraltar came Grand Slam, launched by the 12 Infantry Division under Maj-Gen Akhtar Malik. A blitzkrieg type of a fast- paced operation, Grand Slam lost much of its momentum less than half way through to its objective, Akhnoor, the Indian garrison town across the ceasefire line (CFL). Grand Slam came to be better known for the unfortunate controversy attaching to the change of command midstream. Gen Akhtar Malik was summarily replaced by Gen Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan to upset the thrust of the operation. Yahya was still well away from Akhnoor when India attacked Pakistan along the international border on Sept 6, 1965. Kargil was therefore not the only operation of its type planned and led by the regulars ostensibly in support of the mujahideen. Its noted feature was that unlike its predecessors, it was predominantly military in concept orientation and actual conduct, with nominal involvement and approval of the political leadership at the highest level. Gen Musharraf did say that 'everyone was on board' to mean that the prime minister had been put in the picture. Only marginally, however, as coming events would prove. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had to make an air dash to Washington for an emergency meeting with President Bill Clinton to request the latter's personal intervention to bring the conflict to a stop. The Kargil conflict emerged as a flash-point internationally between India and Pakistan and also domestically, stirring up much bad blood between the prime minister and the army chief. Less than three months later, the civilian government was toppled and the army chief took over as the chief executive. Circumstantially, the army coup had little to do with the Kargil faux pas. Sequentially, however, the roots of the military takeover on Oct 12, 1999, could be traced back to Kargil. In a strange sort of a way, Kargil has featured in our military history way beyond its tactical importance would warrant. To our operational initiative the Rann of Kutch in April-May 1965, India reacted aggressively in Kargil and captured three of our outposts over there. These outposts, returned to us under the Tashkent Declaration, were recaptured in 1971 and, in all probability, stay on the Indian side of the LoC. Under the Shimla Agreement, only areas lost or gained by the respective sides along the international border were restored to the status quo ante, whereas those along the CFL (redesignated LoC) were frozen in situ. Kargil 1999 turned to be an explosive link in a long and vicious chain of events to upset the politico administrative equilibrium in Pakistan and push India-Pakistan into the longest diplomatic and military stand-off of their troubled history. Even the Agra summit, coming as a glimmer of hope, faded out quickly to leave the two groping in the dark for a ray of light without finding one. Neither would budge an inch from their stated positions on Kashmir- Pakistan calling it its 'jugular vein', India terming it its integral part. In a wide-ranging address to the nation (Jan 12, 2002), Gen Musharraf declared: 'Kashmir runs in our blood. No Pakistani can afford to sever links with Kashmir. We will continue to extend our moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris.' Nevertheless, he continued to stress the importance and urgency of resuming a dialogue for an amicable settlement of the dispute. India, for its part, refused to respond favourably to Pakistan's overtures, predicating dialogue on a cessation of what it describes as cross-LoC 'terrorism'. That has been in spite of the bold and effective measures on Pakistan's part against the militant (so-called 'jihadi') groups to root them out as completely as possible. Gen Musharraf's bold initiative in reopening land-air travel and normalizing diplomatic relations with India, crowned by his latest demarche on Kashmir, places him in the class of strategic planners with a brave vision. The aura of a tactician, narrowly focussed on a single operation, regardless of its strategic fall-out attaching to him ever since Kargil, must vanish once and for all. The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army.