From Asian Age. Posting in full as it is not archived. Seems to be just a whining article, but what caught my attention was that this author was secretary of the Chiefs of Staff Committee besides serving a long stint with the Research and Analysis Wing in the Cabinet Secretariat’s department of Cabinet Affairs.
The discord over the use of air power in Kargil
- By Mukund B. Kunte
It will be a long time before the last word on Kargil is written. General V.P. Malik, then at the head of the million-plus strong Indian Army, wanting to clear the air on an unsavoury controversy has written on behalf of the olive green community. His view My side of the Kargil story (The Op-ed Page, June 18) must be respected. However, there are some aspects which need to be looked at afresh because he has thrown light on the deliberations of the COSC and CCS and the day by day assessment of the war after he returned from a foreign tour.
First and foremost, the setting in of complacency at Raisina Hill and the "feel good" concept: Consider how in the wake of Pokhran II the BJP along with the Sangh Parivar had gone to town to wax eloquently, but a bit too loudly. Then came the Lahore Bus which was treated as a matchless triumph for Mr Vajpayee and the NDA. It was, however, far from a diplomatic success because at the very moment while the two Prime Ministers were shaking hands in Lahore (lest it is forgotten, on that historic day the three defence chiefs of Pakistan did not even greet our Prime Minister), Pak troops were in fact crossing into Kashmir in the Kargil-Drass sectors.
It is very surprising to know from Malik that the assessment in South Block was that the intruders were militants and not Pakistani troops. Surely, our peace time air surveillance on the border should have given better inputs than cursorily looking at suspicious movements in such a sensitive area. Or were they overtaken by complacency following the much hyped handshake? Our ground recce by the Army formations also failed to alert their senior Army commanders. This writer was told by some junior ranks serving on the Pakistan border how they had become lax after "the Bus" and did not always bother to reach their designated targets but instead filed "all clear" reports. Disastrous consequences followed which were corrected only after a superhuman effort by our brave soldiers.
Now, the role of the Air Force: As advocated by them, use of helicopters for surveillance and ground support wasn’t a wise option after the "intrusions" had turned out to be a combat situation between our two Armies. Furthermore, air power was ruled out on the premise that the conflict would have been enlarged. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, we lost two fighter aircraft on the very first day when air element was introduced in the war theatre putting brakes on that tactic. The general does not reveal the American role and President Clinton prevailing on New Delhi not to escalate. Or perhaps, Islamabad had let it be known that they had the nuclear option — they were never a party to our "no first use" doctrine. Thus, the breast beating by the leaders of the NDA in 1998 on India acquiring the status of a nuclear-weapon capable state was just "hot air."
It becomes obvious that the responsibility for the 500-odd fatal war casualties, never mind the coffin scam, must fall squarely on the government of the day, with the buck stopping at Atal Behari Vajpayee’s desk. An exceedingly pro-active Raksha Mantri, who had sacked the naval chief a few months earlier, could not have dared to touch the Army or Air Force chiefs between whom there appears to have been some mismatch about the use of air power. A discord on the use of air power had also surfaced in the 1965 war when an overbearing Army chief had not only ruled out the participation of the Navy but asked for air support only after his ground troops were facing impossible odds in the land battle. The Air chief (Arjun Singh) agreed but only after forcing the Army chief to take him to the defence minister. Government clearance was then given by Yeshwantrao Chavan. No such detail is available for Kargil except for what Malik has recorded now after a lapse of so many years. Perhaps if "Old George" had reduced the frequency of his tours to Siachen and more meaningfully visited other sectors in Kashmir, a different picture would have emerged. But then, the Lahore Bus got the better of him too!
Finally, intelligence, or lack of it as noted by Malik: It was concluded in the Subramaniam Committee report that there was a failure of intelligence assessment or rather the failure in correct interpretation by the CCS of all the intelligence reports. If there was indeed a failure of intelligence, why was the head of RAW promoted post-haste as a governor even before he had reached the age of superannuation?
n Mukund B. Kunte was secretary of the Chiefs of Staff Committee besides serving a long stint with the Research and Analysis Wing in the Cabinet Secretariat’s department of Cabinet Affairs