EDITORIAL: Kargil: a blessing in disguise?
The PML-N chairman, Raja Zafarul Haq, is asking the government to set up a judicial commission to inquire into the Kargil Operation of 1999 and inform the nation about its origins and what really happened in its aftermath. He is armed with two autobiographies, one by former CENTCOM chief General Anthony Zinny and the other by President Bill Clinton. Both were players in the drop-scene of the Operation. The PML-N has been contesting the facts of the Kargil Operation as presented by General Pervez Musharraf’s spokesmen and cronies after the takeover in 1999. The military’s ‘official’ version is that, irrespective of whatever gloss is placed on the Operation by experts on both sides, it was okayed by the PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif when he was prime minister of Pakistan. The most significant part of the now ‘official’ story — given dubious weight by the fact that many who worked for him in 1999 are now in the Musharraf-backed PML government — is that General Musharraf mounted the operation with the consent of the prime minister and that the prime minister then scuttled it by calling it off in a most pusillanimous fashion after a meeting with President Clinton.
Mr Nawaz Sharif has now revealed a different set of facts in the weekly magazine India Today. He says the operation was never really revealed to him in its full scope. He was given to believe that the ‘non-state warriors’ called the mujahideen were to go over the Kargil heights to challenge the road to Leh. At the risk of being too credulous — surely a prime minister has to be very dumb to accept the mujahideen story — we have to digest part of the version he wants us to believe: that he was not approached with a proper briefing with the short and medium term implications of the move and that he gave his go-ahead without consulting anyone in his entourage. But the strongest factor going in his favour are the two books that say that it was General Musharraf who got him to call off the Operation. This is important because the conservative thinking in Pakistan over which Mr Sharif presided in those days thought that he had colluded with the Americans to call off something that was eventually going to ‘highlight Kashmir internationally’ and hurt India and force it to come to terms over Kashmir. He has named the four generals who took the much -rejected Kargil Operation and recycled it: General Pervez Musharraf (who was then army chief), General Muhammad Aziz (who was then Chief of General Staff), General Mehmood Ahmed (then Corps Commander Pindi) and General Javed Hassan (then in command of the Northern troops). He has also made public the total number of Pakistani dead in the ill-fated operation, 2,700, which is more than in the 1965 and 1971 wars.
Pakistan is not very good at fact-finding commissions, especially if they relate to military actions. The Hamoodur Rehman Commission was set up after 1973 by a civilian prime minister, ZA Bhutto, after the military generals had gone home. He used to keep a secret copy of it in his bedroom. The nation never got to see it till decades later it surfaced in India, its authenticity still clouded by doubt. Another prime minister, Mohammad Khan Junejo, ordered an inquiry into the tragic Ojhri Camp explosion near Islamabad in which many innocent lives were lost, but was kicked out of his job instead by General Zia ul Haq. Another relevant example is that of the Justice Shafiur Rehman Commission set up in 1992 to inquire into the death of General Zia. The commission pleaded non-performance because of obstruction by the military! Therefore there is no chance that a judicial commission would be set up when one of the four engineers of the Operation is army chief and president of the country and two other generals are still holding key positions in the army. Clearly time has not yet come for an inquiry into the Kargil Operation and, and if the past is any guide, such a time may not come for a long time.
Still, whether or not Pakistan wants to know the truth about the Operation, the world will go on examining the thinking behind it and the actual fallout of it on Pakistan’s foreign policy and regional status. General Javed Hassan, one of the key players on our side, has written a glowing book on it, just as one Pakistani academic in the service of the government. Half a dozen Indian generals have also presented their military perspective. But international opinion is negative on the professional soundness of the Operation. One American intelligence study states that Kargil was yet another example of Pakistan’s (lack of) grand strategy as it repeated the 1965 and 1971 war scenarios without support from the international community. Kargil was unprecedented in the history of Indo-Pakistan ‘violent peace’ in Kashmir in terms of its rapidity and the degree of India’s counter-response. The study concludes that Kargil confirmed for India Pakistan’s identity as a reckless, adventurist, ‘risk-acceptant’, untrustworthy state, spearheaded by a military that controlled the state. It blunted India’s inclination to resolve the Kashmir issue with Pakistan as a party to the dispute. It also persuaded India to diversify its old strategy of not allowing any extra-regional inputs into the resolution of its disputes with Pakistan. It woke up to favourable international attention on the Indo-Pak disputes.
Kargil also pricked the bubble of Pakistan’s self-induced triumphalism over its ‘moral cause’. The government of Nawaz Sharif did not get the expected support on Kargil from China despite visits by foreign minister Sartaj Aziz and the prime minister himself. The army was forced to deploy a ‘rhetoric of peace’ with India, offering ceasefires and partial withdrawals of troops from the border. In the end, it may be argued that Kargil may have affected Pakistan’s military policy-makers in a profound manner and contributed to a long overdue paradigm shift in Pakistan’s thinking about the region and the world. In that sense, it was probably a blessing in disguise for Pakistan. *