Frontline Volume 17 - Issue 02, Jan. 22 - Feb. 04, 2000
India's National Magazine
from the publishers of THE HINDU


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THE ARMED FORCES

A committee and some questions

A first-person account with regard to the Kargil Review Committee Report and its implications.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

THE most significant finding that the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) appears to have made is that the office of the Prime Minister poses a threat to national security. No one, of course, knows just what the KRC report, submitted to Atal Behari Vajpayee on January 7, has found. What appears to be clear is that not even the Prime Minister or his Cabinet colleagues are entitled to know the truth about Kargil. For sceptics who argued that the raison d'etre of the KRC was to ensure that inconvenient fa cts were airbrushed, the only surprise is that the committee made any findings that its members saw the need to keep secret.

Consider the terse press note issued by the National Security Council Secretariat on the submission of the KRC report to the Union Cabinet. "Conscious of the fact that the disclosure of some of this information would not be in public interest for reasons of national security," it reads, "the committee has itself excised the same from the report." The subtle terminological difference between excising contents from the report and not generating it in the first place is critical. Inconvenient reports by co mmittees have frequently not been made public, but censorship-at-source is a wholly new phenomenon.

Just what might the KRC have stumbled upon that it felt would be dangerous for even the Prime Minister to know? The content of this correspondent's own deposition before the committee in November 1999 provides at least some clues.

K. SUBRAHMANYAM, who along with B.G. Verghese and General K.K. Hazari formed the review group, began by focussing on just when I had come to know of the direct involvement of the Pakistan Army in the intrusion. I told him that it was around the second we ek of May, and, with the prior permission of the official concerned, disclosed my source of information. The issue was critical, for if Indian officials did know by that time of Pakistan Army involvement, their failure to mobilise until considerably late r that month was inexcusable. The Chief of the Army Staff, General V.P. Malik, for example, remained on tour in Poland until well into the war, and military deployments remained chaotic until the third week of May.

Hazari promptly joined issue with my observations that suggested that the Army could not have acted earlier on the basis of available information. The Army, he is minuted as having stated during the deposition, "could not make any such claim without adeq uate verification". "There was," he said, "a difference between an odd sprinkling of regulars and complete Pak(istan) Army involvement. Even today, complete evidence of which units of the Pak(istan) Army were involved was not wholly clear." I replied tha t there was little evidence of direct Pakistan Army involvement in terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir until some years ago, but that had not stopped the Army from working on the basis that it did indeed have a hand in the violence.

Just why the Army could not make an "adequate verification", Hazari proceeded at length to explain. Just one post, he said, had been withdrawn from along the Line of Control in the winter. But the mere presence of posts and patrols, the General continued , was not adequate to detect an intrusion. Subrahmanyam proceeded to add that routine helicopter surveillance, which documentation suggests was minimal in the months preceding the intrusion, was of little use because the Cheetah helicopters used for the purpose vibrated too much for accurate visual sighting. I responded by asking why field patrols and air reconnaissance continue to be in place if they are incapable of detecting a large-scale intrusion.

None of this, of course, really made clear why the Army could not act when media reports from May 13 onwards left little doubt of the involvement of Pakistan regulars. Hazari's general observation that all posts were in place was again perplexing. Among the documents I referred to was a report in The Times of India quoting General V.P. Malik as admitting that the levels of the posts along the Line of Control had declined over the last two years. Lieutenant-General (Retired) Moti Dar's assertion that such an intrusion could not have passed undetected if posts and patrols had been in place also came up. Dar had pointed out that patrols along the LoC in sectors such as Kupwara and Uri, where dense forests make detection difficult, routinely interdict intruders from Pakistan.

ANU PUSHKARNA
A.B.Vajpayee receiving the report from K. Subrahmanyam. Lieutenant-General (retd.) K.K. Hazari, B.G. Verghese, Satish Chandra and the National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra are also seen.

OTHER evidence discussed during the deposition, of the lack of seriousness of the senior Army command at the start of the Kargil war, included the minutes of a Unified Headquarters meeting held shortly after combat began. Lieutenant-General Kishan Pal, 1 5 Corps Commander, told the meeting attended by top officials of security agencies in the Kashmir Valley that no troops would be withdrawn from their counter-insurgency duties. He also asserted that civilian transport would soon be able to move freely fr om Srinagar to Leh. Clearly, Lt. Gen. Kishan Pal had little idea of just what was going on until late in May, a fact that reflected itself in the near-suicidal pushing of small groups of soldiers up the hills in Drass, Kaksar and Batalik.

Discussion of the linkages between the Pokhran nuclear tests of May 1998 and the engagement in Kargil took an even more peculiar turn. The minutes of my deposition record Subrahmanyam as stating that "both the Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysi s Wing had specifically discussed the possibility of such an engagement and ruled out the possibility of holding of territory at the highest levels as militarily untenable." "The outcome of the war," he argued, "clearly proved it." This line of argument suggested not only that the real failure in Kargil was that of the intelligence agencies, but that Pakistan's Kargil enterprise was doomed to failure from the outset.

This position flew in the face of available evidence. While I admitted that I was unaware of what had happened at the "highest levels", the fact remained that RAW's Srinagar station had specifically warned of an effort to interdict movement on the Srinag ar-Leh highway. The I.B. in Leh, acting on information provided by a Skardu-based informant, had in turn briefed its superiors of the training in Olthingthang of personnel for an intrusion. Finally, Brigadier Surinder Singh's papers clearly indicated tha t the Army was aware of such a possibility as well. Subrahmanyam stated only that "individuals might discuss certain things but they may not necessarily travel up due to the way the intelligence hierarchy worked."

Surprisingly, during the deposition session little time was spent discussing Brigadier Surinder Singh's correspondence with his superiors, which suggests that intelligence warnings and requests for additional deployments were repeatedly ignored. Brigadie r Surinder Singh's correspondence, extensively reported in Fronline, formed a central part of the evidence. Brigadier Surinder Singh appeared before the KRC at least three times, which perhaps accounted for its lack of interest in the subject. The rest of the session meandered over a variety of subjects, not the least General Hazari's vivid reminiscences of his time in Kargil as a junior officer. Some desultory dialogue on the handling of the media in Kargil took up the remaining part of the time .

THREE points, then, clearly emerged. The KRC was unwilling to accept that Pakistan had suffered no serious reverses in its campaign to internationalise the problem in Jammu and Kashmir as a result of the Kargil War. The Army, for its part, had committed no wrong, and had responded in time to information on the Pakistani intrusion. And if errors had been made in assessing the impact of Pokhran-II on the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir, they were the fault of RAW and the I.B., and not of the politic al establishment which ordered the nuclear tests. All of this appeared to mirror the official line. Indeed, much of the deposition had been spent arguing with the thrust of my reports in Fronline, not in recording any information I might have.

What, then, did the KRC find that it saw fit to censor? One possible explanation is that the committee, which had been asked to "review the events leading up to the Pakistan aggression in Kargil district", did indeed discover in the course of its intervi ews with senior security and intelligence personnel that inexcusable errors had been committed. Rather than embarrass the Union Government with the findings, it chose to edit out of its discovery inconvenient documentation such as Brigadier Surinder Sing h's papers. This would leave open for the Union Government the possibility of tabling a suitably vapid account of events for the benefit of Parliament.

Another possible reason for the curious end of the KRC is that its findings clashed with those of Lieutenant-General A.R.K. Reddy, the Chief of Staff of the Northern Command, who conducted the Army's internal inquiry into the War. Lt. Gen. Reddy, sources told Frontline, had held both Brigadier Surinder Singh and his controversial superior, 3 Infantry Division commander Major-General V.S. Budhwar, responsible for errors. But his report exonerated Lt. Gen. Kishan Pal, who was meanwhile decorated fo r his conduct of the war. If the KRC had taken note of the Unified Headquarters' minutes, for example, or, alternatively, found Brigadier Surinder Singh's account of events as being plausible, these outcomes could have been major embarrassments to the mi litary establishment.

If the press release issued by the National Security Council Secretariat is accurate, only three people know what the KRC Report says. Subrahmanyam, Hazari, and B.G. Verghese are not talking. After my deposition, Subrahmanyam said that he only agreed to head the KRC on condition that all its non-sensitive content would be made public. That appears to be a remote possibility today, given that even the Prime Minister is not entitled to read the report in its entirety. With Kargil rapidly disappearing from India's political picture, the National Democratic Alliance Government probably believes that it is dangerous to give room for a reopening of debate. Sadly, the members of the KRC appear to have played along in this game.


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