Heights of bravery
By General (retd) V.P. Malik
Kargil war will go down in the history of India as a saga of the nation’s determination to maintain territorial integrity under any circumstances, as well as unmatched bravery, grit and determination displayed by the armed forces. It is a symbol of great pride and inspiration. In a fiercely fought combat on the most difficult terrain, which gave immense advantage to the enemy, we were able to evict Pakistani troops from their surreptitiously occupied positions.
India won a politico-military victory after being surprised by Pakistani political perfidy and military initiative. As two former prime ministers of Pakistan stated, “Kargil war was Pakistan’s biggest blunder and disaster!” The fact that we were surprised cannot be denied. It reflected a major deficiency in our system of collecting, reporting, collating and assessing intelligence as well as poor surveillance on the ground.
As pointed out by the Kargil Review Committee, ‘the Pakistani intrusion was a complete and total surprise to the Government of India and its intelligence agencies.’ These failures prolonged the fog of war and cost us heavily during the initial days of combat. Our challenge was to vacate the intruders under the most adverse conditions. The adversity was compounded by the political mandate that the Line of Control shall not be violated. When the ground situation became clear, the armed forces decided to plan and fight the war jointly with an integrated strategy. It was necessary to maintain strategic balance and a deterrent posture all along the Indo-Pak front—on the ground, air and sea—should there be any escalation of hostilities. Our strategy made it clear that although a victim of intrusion and exercising restraint, India was determined to get the intrusion vacated.
A reflection on the war will never be complete without a mention of the brilliant junior leadership that was witnessed during the battles. Most of the credit for victory goes to the bravery and dedication of the soldiers and young officers on the battlefield. They were upfront, not hesitating to make sacrifices to uphold the regimental and national pride and dignity.
In a Sainik Sammelan at Dras, I said, “The enemy has started the fight, but it is we who will fire the last shot and the war will end only on our terms.” With great determination, high morale and brilliant junior leadership, our troops performed superbly to achieve this mission. There were countless acts of gallantry, displays of steely resilience, single-minded devotion to duty and tremendous sacrifices. Their legendary tales deserve mention not only in military history books but also in the textbooks of our secondary schools to inspire children. It was a privilege for me to lead such officers and men in the war.
Some strategic lessons that emerged from the war are:
u Acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan has not reduced or eliminated the probability of a war between the two countries. A limited conventional war remains possible. A proxy war in the Indo-Pak security scenario can easily escalate into a conventional war.
We need to enhance border surveillance and close defence capability to prevent loss of territory in a surprise attack.
The new strategic environment calls for speedier, more versatile and more flexible combat organisations. The successful outcome of a border war will depend upon the ability to react rapidly in an evolving crisis.
A war these days requires close political oversight and political, civil and military interaction. It is essential to keep military leadership within the security and strategic decision-making loop.
Information operations are important in the growing transparency of the battlefield. Also, to retain moral high ground and to deny that to the adversary, one needs a comprehensive information campaign.
After the war, additional troops were deployed in the sector with enhanced surveillance and logistic capabilities. The Centre also reviewed the national security system. Several systemic changes were made in the ministry of defence. However, the appointment of the chief of defence staff, which is essential for integrated defence and operational planning, is still pending. Modernisation of armed forces continues to lag behind, thanks to inadequate self-reliance and inordinate delays in procuring essential weapon systems like fighter aircraft, submarines and medium artillery guns.
It must be realised that no one is affected more than the soldiers who have to remain prepared to fight in all kinds of contingencies. It was not the first time that Pakistan initiated a war. And we must not assume that it would be the last time. As a nation, we need to develop the will and capability to react with determination, sometimes proactively. The essence of military leadership lies in the manner in which we react to restore a situation in all adverse circumstances. The most important lesson, I believe, is that sound defence makes sound foreign policies.
Malik was chief of Army staff and chairman of the chiefs of staff committee during the Kargil war.