Looking beyond Kargil

By M. H. Askari
4 August 1999



The view expressed by the Chief for Army Staff, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, at Pakistan Military Academy's passing out parade the other day that the Kargil operation was distinguished by its element of total surprise for the enemy has an unexpected endorsement in the reactions of a section of the Indian strategists and political leaders.

Their has been widespread criticism in India of the BJP led government of New Delhi not only by the opposition parties but also by quite a few retired agendas and policy experts for allowing itself to be duped into complacency even after there had been `warnings' months earlier of an unusual buildup on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control (LoC) which should have been seen as main points. The `public prosecutor' in a mock trial of the otherwise unflappable foreign ministers of India, Jaswant Singh, accused him and his cabinet colleagues of neglecting their company's security interests.

The Indian media have carried reports saying that there had been "inexcusable intelligence gaps" in the Indian news-weekly, widely respected for its integrity and balanced views, went to the extent of describing them as "an abject lesson in how not to defend your borders." Numerous blunders are said to have been recognised by the army commanders only with the benefit of hindsight. It appears that New Delhi even failed to recognise the implications of some intelligence reports form the Leh area which suggested that two groups of "subversives" were being allegedly trained close to the Pakistani border post "just across of the LoC from Kargil."

The Indian government has appointed a special commission to enquire into the alleged security loopholes and other aspects of the Kargil operation, which meant not only a heavy loss of life for the Indian army but also expenditure running into thousands of crores.

On our side, the retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan is perhaps a little too cynical in his observation, in a widely publicised newspaper article, that Pakistan leaders have been launching `military adventures' in the "hope that world powers would come to our rescue, intervene, bring about a cease fire and somehow help us achieve our political objectives." However, he believes (as also does his colleague and successor as air force chief, Air Marshal Nur Khan) that "all our past wars with India have been fought for no purpose (and) we have suffered humiliation as a result."

At the same time, it is misleading to believe that the Kargil operation could have been anything more than how, Gen. Musharraf has described it - a shock therapy. By its very logic such an operation could not have gone on beyond achieving what was intended, that is, to subject the Indian forces to a severe jolt.

The criticism of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by the opposition parties on account of his decision to call a halt to the operation at the time that he did betrays a lack of understanding of the tactics of guerilla operations - which is really all the freedom fighters in the Indian held Kashmir and their comrades in the Kargil sector in fact have been aiming at. The seizing of the Kargil and other heights in lightning move could not have been transformed into the territorial occupation of the region. It inflicted heavy damage on the Indian forces and this was a victory in itself.

It would not be unrealistic to believe that in Kargil operation, parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam, who openly recruited `Mujahids' was to establish themselves as the heroes and present themselves to the outside world as victors as against those whom Asghar Khan has described as leaders with a defeatist mentality. They proudly believed that they would have replicated what they (or their proxies) had achieved in Afghanistan when the country came under Russian occupation. They became completely obvious of the fact that the decisive factor in the war against the Soviets was the United States with the massive military and financial aid that it provided.

The Jamaat and its allies openly advertised in leading Pakistani Urdu papers for recruitment to the `ranks of mujahids'. Little did they realise that unlike what happened in the case of Afghanistan, Washington would not come to their aid for this very reason; the US simply could not afford to be seen as rendering assistance for the promotion of what the Islamic parties projected as a holy war. What has therefore come out as uppermost in their hatred for America and its leaders. It is for the same reason, as reported by the Indian media, that the `United Jehad Council' initially "rejected" the Pakistan government's call for a withdrawal from Kargil after the signing of the Washington declaration.

A real risk inherent in the present situation is the possible emergence of a Taliban-like crade in Pakistan out of the ranks of the volunteers who have reportedly been fighting shoulder to shoulder with the kashmiri freedom-fighters in the occupied state. While the precise linkage of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan with Pakistan is still somewhat shrouded in mystery, it is not difficult to see that they have grown out of the policies adopted by the late Gen. Zia-ul-Haq after capturing power in Pakistan.

Gen. Kamal Matinuddin, who has published a study of `the Taliban phenomenon', has recorded that soon after the Soviets sent their troops into Afghanistan, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq established a chain of Deeni madaris along the Pakistan-Afghan border "in order to create a belt of religiously oriented students who would assist the Afghan Mujahideen to evict the Soviet forces from Afghanistan.. Of course, it was also to satisfy the mullahs who he was building up as his own constituency for his political ends." Soon afterwards deeni madaris opened up in many other parts of Pakistan. They had an academic linkage with the deeni madaris in Akora Khatatk in the Frontier province known as Jaamiah Darul Uloom Haqqania founded in 1947.

It is believed that thousands of talibs passed though the portals of this madrassa and some 1000 other madaris associated with it in other parts of Pakistan. The extreme religious fanaticism which now prevails under the government of the Taliban is a product of the these madaris. Gen. Matinuddin quotas from a report presented to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a cabinet meeting which showed that there were about a hundred deeni madaris in Pakistan "imarting combat and semi-military skills" to their pupils studying in "these so called places of religious education."

Since jihad is an article of faith with the students of deeni madaris, it is not unlikely that quite a few of them would have joined the ranks of the freedom fighters who penetrated India's security cordons and occupied Kargil and other heights. Now frustrated by their withdrawal, they may want to attempt to spread throughout the body politic of Pakistan. That their interpretation of Islam is totally at variance with that of the average Pakistani, and if they preached their version too aggressively there could be conflicts and clashes on account of ideological differences.

As long as the situation remains unstable with regard to Kashmir, the possibility of "many more Kargils" (as suggested by various commentators) cannot be ruled out. The Pakistani authorities appear to be putting too much faith in plans to mobilise the world opinion in favour of their case on Kashmir. However, as Air Marshal Asghar, Khan points out, while it is claimed that the Kargil operation has internationalised the Kashmir-issue, the net outcome is hardly tangible all major powers including our old ally China, have advised us to "get back to the line of control and to ask the Mujahideen to do likewise."

India, in what it regards as its moment of triumph, is unreasonably pressuring Pakistan into resuming a dialogue for normalisation strictly on its own terms. It is possible that subsequent to its general elections due in September-October, whichever combination of parties comes to power in New Delhi many adopt a more flexible approach.

Although India is not a party to the Washington declaration of July 4, Islamabad is probably not being too unrealistic in believing that in view of commitment of his "personal interests" in the problem. President Clinton would not remain all of from efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue, which is what triggered the Kargil crisis in the first place.

However, it is doubtful whether the decision of the meeting chaired by foreign ministers Sartaj Aziz on Monday to get the Pakistani missions abroad to highlight the Kashmir cause in the backdrop of the Kargil crisis would amount to very much. Highlighting the Kashmir cause is what the Pakistani diplomatic missions are supposed to have been during for over 50 years but with little positive effect. It is only perhaps in the context of an economically strong and prosperous Pakistan that the Kashmiris freedom-fighters may want to link their future with this country.

**** ****

Return to Articles Index