Questions of accountability

Print edition : June 19, 1999

No government can possibly allow so reckless a strategy as Pakistan has resorted to now to succeed. And no nation can forgive a government which permitted such a strategy to succeed to the extent it did.

IT was May 8, 1940. Britain was battling for survival. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave a poor account of his policies in a House of Commons debate on the war situation and made it a personal issue. As the debate proceeded, the 77-year-old Lloyd G eorge rose and delivered a speech which concluded thus: "He (the Prime Minister) appealed for sacrifice from the nation. The nation is ready so long as its leadership is right, as long as you say clearly what you are aiming at, as long as you give confid ence to them that their leaders are doing their best for them. I say now solemnly that the Prime Minister can give an example of sacrifice because I tell him one thing, that there is nothing that would contribute more to victory in this war than that he should sacrifice his seals of office."

The speech turned the tide. Fifty Conservative MPs voted against the Government. Chamberlain resigned and was succeeded by Winston Churchill.

It is a testimony to India's feudal culture that even people who ought to know better ask that the democratic rule of accountability of the government to the people should be suspended for the duration of Operation Vijay in Kargil.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Defence Minister George Fernandes have reason to avoid accountability. Having broken every rule in the manual of good governance, they are set to break norms of accountability as well. National Security Adviser Bra jesh Mishra told Reuters: "Obviously we did not assess the situation properly... we didn't expect this sort of intrusion."

When it was discovered, the Government panicked. Memories of the past and the prospects in the future combined to haunt it. Both the bomb and the bus-ride stood exposed as gimmicks. Army estimates of the costs of, and delays in, evicting the intruders fr om Pakistan diminished chances of victory in the general elections, due a few months later. The bus ride had to be saved by exonerating Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and even Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The offer of safe passage to the intruders was made to secure a quick solution. Such offers are made, if at all, only at the conference table and, then, after driving the intruders' mentors to a corner so that they will propose it. Megaphone diplomacy comes naturally to those who have spent a life-t ime in rabble-rousing and lack the basic skills and discretion that governance require. Ineptness in conduct was sought to be covered up by clumsiness in speech.

The nation must stoutly refuse to give any respite to men who have served it so badly. The only ones to emerge with credit are the men of the armed forces who have performed bravely against heavy odds. Their morale will not suffer, but will rise if the p oliticians who put them in this situation on account of their incompetence are brought to account. V. K. Krishna Menon resigned as Defence Minister on November 7, 1962 even while the India-China war was on. At the height of the First World War, Churchill was removed as First Lord of the Admiralty on May 26, 1915 following the reverses in the Dardanelles campaign. On July 20, 1916, Prime Minister H. H. Asquith announced his decision to appoint a Royal Commission "to inquire into the conduct of the Dardan elles operations." Its Report was submitted in March 1917 and was debated in the House of Commons on March 20, 1917. The War ended only in November 1918.

During the Crimean War, Gladstone told the mover of the motion censuring the government's conduct: "Your business is not to govern, but it is, if you think fit, to call to account those who do govern it."

During the Second World War, the House of Commons exercised this power even as bombs rained on London. On May 10, 1941, over 3,000 people were killed or injured and the building of the House itself was destroyed. It moved into the Church House. A year la ter, Britain's fortunes declined steeply with "a long succession of misfortunes and defeats" in the east and in North Africa. Yet, on June 25, 1942, this motion was tabled in the House: "That this House, while paying tributes to the heroism and endurance of the Armed Forces of the Crown in circumstances of exceptional difficulty, has no confidence in the central direction of the war." It stood in the name of Sir John Wardlaw-Milne, a Conservative and chairman of the powerful all-party Finance Committee. It was seconded by a Churchill admirer, former Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes.

As Churchill proudly recorded in his memoirs, "Certainly there was no denial of free speech or lack of it." On July 2, a former Secretary of State for War, Leslie Hore-Belisha, attacked Churchill: "How can one place reliance in judgments that have so rep eatedly turned out to be misguided?" Churchill's reply followed this powerful speech. He exclaimed: "What a remarkable example it has been, the unbridled freedom of our parliamentary institutions in time of war: everything that could be thought of or rak ed up has been used to weaken confidence in the government, has been used to prove that Ministers are incompetent and to weaken their confidence in themselves, to make the army distrust the backing it is getting from the civil power, to make the workmen lose confidence in the weapons they are striving so hard to make, to present the government as a set of nonentities over whom the Prime Minister towers, and then to undermine him in his own heart, and, if possible, before the eyes of the nation. All this poured out by cable and radio to all parts of the world, to the distress of all our friends and to the delight of all our foes! I am in favour of this freedom, which no other country would use, or dare to use, in times of mortal peril such as those thro ugh which we are passing."

THE forms of accountability can vary, the principle cannot. One might adopt one procedure now and opt for a wider, more comprehensive inquiry later. Certainly George Fernandes should be required to quit an office for which he has, time and again, shown h imself to be utterly unworthy. The record renders this inescapable.

We need to assess realistically the dimensions of the immediate threat, Pakistan's motives and strategy, and the prospects.

One hopes that the bomb lobby has learnt now that, far from making limited wars less likely, nuclear weapons can make them more plausible and tempting. This was the theme of Denis Healey's famous article in Encounter (July 1955) entitled The Bo mb That Didn't Go Off and the thesis in Henry Kissinger's seminal works Nuclear Weapons & Foreign Policy(1957) and The Necessity for Choice (1961). Writing in the respected journal Arms Control Today, Eric Arnett of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute pointed out: "Significantly, Pakistan's nuclear weapon capability may actually contribute to the risk of war. The Pakistani leadership shows indications of believing that the risk of nuclear war makes even small co nventional conflicts extremely unlikely if not impossible, and that South Asia's nuclear stalemate gives both sides the cover to continue the struggle in Kashmir by other means."

However, "an escalation in Pakistani support to insurgents on Indian territory will be dealt with by military means if deemed necessary. The insurgency can only succeed if it inflicts intolerable costs on India, but New Delhi is less likely to capitulate when it still has the options of 'hot pursuit' and interdiction, both legitimate actions under international law. The resulting mismatch of perceptions makes war more likely." This was published in August 1997, many months before Pokhran-II and Chagai. Remember that L. K. Advani said then that Pokhran had solved the Kashmir problem.

Pakistan has escalated its aid to insurgency. Foiled in the Valley, where the Hizbul Mujahideen is getting decimated, it has stepped up aid to other groups and chosen other areas of incursion. One of them is the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (the army of the pure). Zaighan Khan's article in the excellent monthly Herald (Karachi, January 1998) ably described "Pakistan's largest so-called Jehadi organisation restricting its activities to Kashmir only." It is the militant wing of the Markaz Dawa-Wal-Irshad (Centre for Preaching) based in Muridke, some 50 km north of Lahore. Set up by three university teachers in 1987, it concentrates on education and - jehad. It was initially involved in Afghanistan. A lakh of people listened "in awed silence" as a shop keeper from Bahawalpur told them how both his sons gave their lives fighting in Kashmir. The Lashkar is opposed to any settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Zaighan Khan perceptively noted its danger to democracy in Pakistan itself.

Dawn published (November 8, 1998) an Agence France-Presse report from Srinagar quoting a Taliban commander's claim that in Kashmir they were operating 28 guerilla training camps which formerly belonged to the Lashkar Hyder group.

There is undoubtedly an element of vain boast in the former Army chief, Gen. Aslam Beg's article in Outlook (June 7, 1999), when he writes of "volunteers pouring in from the outside world". But he makes a damaging admission about "a new strategy" adopted by the Mujahideen (read Pakistan's Army) - "severing the line of communication that facilitated the build-up of supplies and troops in the Siachen, Leh and Kargil areas during the summer. This objective was achieved by the Mujahideens occupying t he higher strategic positions along Kargil, Drass, Batalik and Turtuk... If they succeed, Indian forces in Siachen and Ladakh will be cut off from their base in Srinagar."

This is what we are up against. No government in India can possibly allow so reckless a strategy to succeed, no matter what it takes to defeat it decisively. No nation can forgive a government which permitted such a strategy to succeed to the exte nt it did at such cost of men and material. It could and should have been nipped in the bud. It was not.

THIS brings us to the Army set-up in Pakistan. Demonising the ISI and making it appear larger than life is not the best way to assess its strengths and weaknesses. There is not a single definitive article on the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, t o give its full name. As in the case of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), its remit covers intelligence-gathering, covert operations and ventures in diplomacy. Unlike them, it is a wing of the Army. There has appeared an able study by Col. Brian Clougley, deputy head of the United Nations Military Observer's Group in Kashmir (1980-82) and defence attache (1989-94) in the Australian Mission in Pakistan. (A History of the Pakistan Army: Wars and Insurrectio ns, Oxford, Rs. 500, pages 384). The ISI's legendary head, Gen. Akhtar Abdul Rehman, masterminded the operations in Afghanistan. The ISI trained 80,000 men in all. He was removed in 1987 and was succeeded by Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul. On May 24, 1990, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto removed Hamid Gul and replaced him with Lt. Gen. Shamsur Rehman Kallue.

The ISI's clout increased during the Afghan war when, till the end of 1985, there was military rule in Pakistan. The Foreign Office followed one policy, the ISI a different one. Clougley writes: "The number of "intelligence operatives" in the Inter-Serv ices Intelligence Directorate is ludicrously high, and their wide-spread, energetic, and somewhat amateur activities serve only to alienate the loyal without detecting subversion." The activities of Brigadier Zaheer Abbasi "were not discovered by the mas sed bands of ISI agents deployed to follow or otherwise intercept innocent citizens." When they do so, the methods they use are brutal.

In April 1997, Nawaz Sharif secured the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to repeal the hated 8th Amendment of the Zia era (1985). It omitted from Article 243 (a) (c) of the Constitution the words "in his discretion" used to qualify the President's power to appoint the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and the chiefs of the three wings of the armed forces. He now acts only on the Prime Minister's advice. Last year the Prime Minister secured the resignation of the Army ch ief, Jehangir Karamat, and appointed Pervez Musharraf in his place. The ISI is very much subordinate to both the Prime Minister and the Army chief. It is another matter that both would prefer not to know the details of the skulduggery for which such agen cies are granted autonomy. But two Prime Ministers have sacked the chiefs of the ISI during their respective tenures.

Nawaz Sharif tried to elevate the present chief, Lt. Gen. Ziauddin, as Army chief and make the present Army chief the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. But Gen. Pervez Musharraf would have none of it. (Herald, May 1999).

Why has it come as a surprise to Fernandes? Had he not said in a formal statement in the Lok Sabha on August 5, 1998 that, while our security forces have checked the infiltrators, "as if to give vent to its frustration, Pakistan has started targeting not only our Army posts but also civilian inhabited areas, with Batalik, Kargil, Kanazalwan, Tangdhar Karen and Uri becoming the main targets." On January 14, 1999, The Times of India reported - "Foreign Mercenaries Swell in J & K". Indeed, at a pres s conference on January 11, 1999, the then Officiating Commander of the 15 Corps, Major-General A. S. Sihota, warned of a "limited" Pakistani action to attract international attention to Kashmir: "You can't rule out the possibility of Pakistan trying to capture our posts along the LoC".

When were the new intrusions detected? On May 6, the Defence Minister tells us, and that thanks to a shepherd, little realising that this fortuitous disclosure shows the system in a poor light. Patrols sent on May 8 and 10 came to grief. On May 9 Rs.170 crores-worth of ammunition went up in smoke in the arms dump at Kargil. The flushing out operations began on May 14. On May 17, Fernandes confidently predicted that the intruders would be flushed out within 48 hours. His explanation is relevant - they en tered Indian territory now as the snow had melted. Both the prediction and the explanation showed that he was totally ignorant of the situation, which is why he said on May 20 that "the situation is well under control".

On May 19, the army ended its news black-out. Lieutenant-General Krishan Pal, commander of the 15 Corps, gave a press conference at which he said: (a) "This infiltration is fully backed by the Pakistan Army and the ISI". There was no evidence of Taliban participation; (b) "They are well trained infiltrators and on an almost suicidal mission."

On May 22, Nawaz Sharif was briefed at the Chaklala airport by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and the Defence Secretary, Iftikhar Ali Khan, a former General. The Kashmir Monitor of Srinagar, edited by Zafar Meraj, reported (May 24) that "in the recent pas t, Nawaz Sharif had visited the ISI HQs where he was briefed... The ISI chief, according to a senior official, has also been briefing the Premier on a day-to-day basis. Besides, special reports are being sent for the up-to-date information of Prime Minis ter who is the final authority to take decisions on these sensitive matters." It quoted The News of Lahore in support of the report.

The tapes released on June 11 quote him as saying that he had come to know around May 19 when the corps commanders were informed.

Once the Indian Air Force launched the air strikes on May 26, the nation realised the gravity of the matter and the Government found itself in the dock with the prospect of a sack next September. There followed a spate of independent disclosures on the o ne hand and, on the other, fatuous moves to escape accountability. Swati Chaturvedi reported in The Indian Express (May 28) a secret report by the Border Security Force (BSF), delivered to the Home Ministry on May 26, which reported that the heigh ts had been occupied "as early as January" and that "they faced no resistance ..." On May 29, even the GOC-in-C, Northern Command, Lt. Gen. H. M. Khanna, admitted that there "was a certain amount of surveillance failure."

On this, opinion is unanimous. Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar, former Deputy COAS, DGMO, and Commander of the U.N. Force in Yugoslavia, enjoys high respect. He has written: "It is a matter of some concern that notwithstanding the various means available for sur veillance and monitoring of the area, the actions of the intruders appear to have gone unnoticed, till well after the event. We have a range of equipment that includes binoculars by land patrols in the mountains to satellites in space; yet we are caught flat footed time and again. A reflection on the lack of integration in our defence and intelligence hierarchy!" Inputs by shepherds are not necessary.

Air Marshal M. M. Singh wrote: "It appears to be a major failure of our military intelligence and RAW that they did not anticipate the massive infiltration of extremists into the Drass-Kargil sector. We seem to have been caught napping when enemy troops and mercenaries were taking position on the strategic peaks."

In the context of such palpable and grave failure the Defence Minister's statements are indefensible. On May 29 at the all-party meeting he said that it was only on the night of May 12 that the Army informed him of the intrusion. The Army had learnt of i t on May 6 through a shepherd, he said. Neither he nor the DGMO, Lt. Gen. M. C. Vij, and Additional Chief of Air Staff (Ops.) Air Vice-Marshal S. K. Malik, could say when the intrusions in fact began. The very next day these two went to a National Execut ive meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party (The Hindu, June 1).

From the end of April, the press in Jammu and Srinagar had reported the intrusions regularly. The Army chief, Gen. V. P. Malik, had a five-day tour (April 10-14) of the Rajouri-Poonch, Uri-Kupwara and Siachen sectors. He did not go to Kargil.

On June 1, Fernandes said: "One can show them (the infiltrators) safe passage. This is a matter which can be considered." This was said in the specific context of Sartaj Aziz' visit to Delhi. Vajpayee said the same thing on June 2: "If they ask for safe passage, the matter will be considered but there is no question of stopping the military action and allowing them to go without talks on the issue with Pakistan." Clearly, "safe passage" was the Government's considered stand. The situation, the Prime Min ister added, had "improved considerably." Sharp public reaction, especially from retired senior army officials, induced retreat; clumsily executed, though.

No one in his senses would suggest that diplomacy has no place in a "war-like situation." It has, even in the midst of a full-fledged war. But it is not conducted so ineptly. It is a "local situation" as Lt. Gen. Krishan Pal said; albeit a grave and dang erous one. If checked, a lesson will have been taught. The task now is to devise an accord on defusing it without any let-up in the military operation. The "minutes of consultation" signed by A. S. Gonsalves, Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs , and Pakistan's Foreign Secretary, Abdul Sattar, on February 4, 1987, laid down a detailed procedure for disengagement in order to defuse the crisis over Exercise Brasstacks. The situation in Kargil is different. But a localised accord for the withdrawa l of the infiltrators will be appropriate - provided the proposal comes from Pakistan. For the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister to talk about it publicly in advance was to betray incompetence.

As for an inquiry, immediately there can be one by a committee of retired senior officials of the armed forces which would question Ministers and army and intelligence officials in private and submit a brief report to assuage public disquiet; rather like the Privy Councillors' Report in Britain.

Two good precedents are the Franks Committee's Report on the Falklands crisis in 1982, and perhaps more appropriately, the Agranat Report. The Yom Kippur War began on October 6, 1973. On October 22, 1973, Egypt agreed to a ceasefire. Soon thereafter, on November 18, 1973, the Israeli Cabinet adopted the following resolution: "Resolved: A) That the following matters, namely: 1. The information, in the days preceding the Yom Kippur War, concerning the enemy's moves and his intentions to open war, as well as the assessments and the decisions of the duly authorised military and civilian bodies with regard to the aforementioned information; 2. The Israel Defence Forces' deployment for battle in general, its preparedness in the days preceding the Yom Kippur War and its actions upto the containment of the enemy - are of vital public importance at this time requiring clarification. B) That an Inquiry Commission shall be set up to investigate the aforementioned matters and report to the Cabinet..."

It was headed by Dr. Shimon Agranat, President of the Supreme Court, and comprised four other members. The Committee's Report was presented on April 2, 1974. The Agranat Report is a veritable classic on accountability. It would do Indian democracy no cre dit if Ministers and officials of the Government of India are allowed to escape accountability. The people are entitled to know the facts. In the wake of the fiasco of its Bay of Pigs venture, the CIA conducted its own internal investigation, and pinned the blame where it rightly belonged.

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