Indian general praises Pakistani valour at Kargil
From Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: A retired Indian general expressed high praise here last week for the valour of Pakistani fighters in Kargil, singling out for special mention Capt Karnail Sher and Capt Hanifuddin, both of whom fell fighting and posthumously honoured.
Addressing a meeting at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Lt General M Y Bammi, who retired from the Indian army in 1995 and has just published a book on the Kargil conflict – Kargil: the impregnable conquest – said the Pakistani troops had fought bravely. It was a brilliant action militarily, which had taken India by surprise. However, diplomatically and politically it turned out to be disastrous. India, contrary to Pakistani expectations, retaliated with full force and though it suffered heavy casualties, the Indian army took back every single feature captured by Pakistani troops. He said initially Pakistan had pretended that those fighting in Kargil were “mujahideen” but it later admitted that they were regular Pakistani troops, though they had a smattering of others. In any case, all doubts as to the identity of those fighting in Kargil were set at rest when Pakistan announced 92 gallantry awards at the end of the conflict, many of them posthumous.
General Bammi, who was commissioned in a Gurkha regiment, said that while bodies found at Kargil by Indian troops at recaptured positions were almost without exception those of “other ranks” or non-officers, it was ironic that quite a few of the 92 gallantry awards had gone to officers. He put the number of Pakistani dead at Kargil between 597 and 1,000. Eight were taken POWs. However, those figures were estimated ones, he added, as Pakistan had provided no official count so far. India, he said, lost 481 men, while 1,151 of its personnel suffered combat-related wounds. Two men were to this day unaccounted for.
The Indian general said Pakistani artillery fire was effective and inflicted heavy casualties on the Indians. He said there were several explanations of why Pakistan launched the Kargil operation. Did the planners assume that India would not respond? Was it an attempt to internationalise Kashmir? Or was it to gain area? He said incendiary statements of the kind that emanate from former Pakistani generals such as Aslam Beg and Hamid Gul “make us pause and think.” Meanwhile, the insurgency continues and Hindus keep getting targeted. India also worries if Pakistani nuclear assets are fully secure and in safe hands. How good is the control and command structure, it wonders?
General Bammi said there were several conflicting signals from Pakistan, such as a statement by Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan to the effect that the Line of Control should be accepted as the permanent dividing line or the statement by federal information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed saying that the Kashmir issue would be resolved in three years. He emphasised that at no time during the conflict in Kargil did the two countries reach a “nuclear flashpoint.” He said the attack on the Indian parliament was a much graver provocation than Kargil. It was clear now that Pakistan had learnt a lesson from Kargil as the international community had come out against the Pakistani incursion. Pakistan had also realised that there could be no more Kargils, he added.
In answer to a question, Gen Bammi said Kargil was an Indian intelligence failure. Indian intelligence failed to read the signs or identify the activities that were going on since 1997. Indian planners were also misled by the Lahore visit of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He said the Kargil Plan of the Pakistan army was a very good one, but it was not new. It dated back to 1987. He added that former Pakistan army chief Gen Jehangir Karamat on a visit to New Delhi had told him that it was not his plan, nor had he ever discussed it with Benazir Bhutto.
Asked if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been “taken for a ride” by the army, Gen. Bammi referred to a statement made by Gen Pervez Musharraf in September 1999 claiming that “everyone was on board” on Kargil. He said Sharif might have been informed but not given “the complete picture.”