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The hills grow distant

The hills grow distant

Author: K. Subrahmanyam
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: July 10, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-hills-grow-distant/487422/0

After the end of the Kargil war, a veteran Pakistani journalist and confidante of Field-Marshal Ayub Khan wrote a series of four articles in the Pakistani daily Nation titled "Four wars, one assumption." The four wars he referred to were the the Kashmir conflict 1947-48, the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, the war of 1971 and the Kargil war. He asserted: "The point is that all these operations were conceived and launched on the basis of one assumption: that the Indians are too cowardly and ill-organised to offer any effective military response which could pose a threat to Pakistan. Ayub Khan genuinely believed that as a general rule Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of hard blows at the right time and place." Though Pakistan had lost the three earlier wars, that did not prevent them from attempting the Kargil adventure because they indulged in myth-making about all previous campaigns to condition themselves to believe that the 1971 war was lost due to Soviet help to India, and in the other two wars they did not lose but their political leaderships sold the military short. The same myth the Pakistani military has sought to advance in respect of Kargil as well. The assumption Altaf Gauhar has referred to also underlies their conviction that their jehadi terrorist campaign will ultimately win and India could be bled through a thousand cuts.

In the Kargil war, Pakistan presumably set out to test a number of its assumptions. After becoming a declared nuclear power, they wanted to try out what the US strategists termed in the fifties as "salami slicing" tactics, as holding good in the sub-continental context. When the US was excessively focusing on building up nuclear arsenals in the fifties, the then US army chief of staff, General Maxwell Taylor, raised the issue whether nuclear capability could succeed in preventing a similarly armed nuclear adversary to salami-slice one's territory through limited actions under a mutually deterred nuclear situation, discouraging escalation on the part of the attacked nation. The Pakistanis were already committed to their basic assumption that India would be deterred from escalating once they had occupied the Kargil-Dras heights. They relied on their assessment that the NDA government in New Delhi was relatively inexperienced and in the previous few years, under Narasimha Rao, the defence budgets had been cut in real terms. They were already wedded to their basic assumption that the Indian response would be inadequate once presented with the fait-accompli. They expected the matter to go to the Security Council and with a consequent ceasefire leaving them in possession of the captured territory. Kashmir would also have been brought to the international agenda since the secretary-general was for removing Kashmir from the UN agenda as it had not figured in any discussion for decades. Lastly, even a nominal victory in terms of altering the line of control in their favour would have been a big morale booster for the jehadi terrorists in Kashmir.

While all this was planned by the army command and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the political leadership went along with it. The published account of retired Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail about the planning of Pakistani operation and the role the Pakistan air force was called upon to play is available (CLAWS Journal, summer issue, 2009, special number on the Kargil war). It is clear that even as Nawaz Sharif was exchanging hugs with Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lahore he had consented to the Kargil operation which was at that time under implementation. It speaks volumes about the gullibility of our political leadership that they continued to believe in Sharif's innocence for quite some time thereafter. Our leaders should have heard of the Ribbentrop-Molotov or Matsuoko-Molotov pacts where the signatories, even as they signed the pacts, were aware they were going to break them. This experience has some relevance to today's situation when Pakistan's political leadership assures India of its intention to take action against jehadi terrorists.

The Pakistanis, as they had earlier, woefully miscalculated. They failed to take note of the fact that mutual nuclear deterrence deters both the aggressor and aggressed from escalating, but the international community was not likely to consider it an escalation if the victim used superior force to evict the aggression and refrained from entering the aggressor's territory. For this very correct evaluation of the international opinion credit must be given to Vajpayee and his advisers. After the initial delay the Indian armed forces rapidly mobilised to signal to Pakistan that India was ready to use necessary force to evict the aggression. The use of the air force was critical. Kaiser Tufail's account reveals that the Pakistani air force was not in a position to confront the Indian air force.

This mindset about the Muslims being more martial than the Hindus and that they have a manifest destiny to prevail, is not shared by all Pakistanis. Certainly it is prevalent in the Pakistani army, ISI, a large section of the clergy and certain sections of the political establishment. While Pakistani mythology, partly reinforced by the Hindu extremists, had it that India was ruled for eight hundred years by Muslims, the myth received a further boost with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan after nine years of campaign against the mujahideen. The jehadi cult was inculcated in them at that time by the Wahabi clergy under the supervision of the ISI with the support of the CIA.

They believed they had defeated a superpower and were prepared to take on the remaining superpower and others. The Kashmir terrorist campaign, Talibanisation of Afghanistan and 9/11 followed. The Pakistani army and the ISI believe that they were able to outsmart the US and extract their acquiescence in their acquiring nuclear and missile capability from China. Even after 9/11 they have been able to milk the US for military and economic aid while giving in return, in Obama's words, very mixed results in the war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

This sense of manifest destiny, and their own myth-making, their overconfidence in their ability to outwit the US, gave them as they did to the Nazis - a sense of their superiority and the inevitability of them emerging victorious. This is not a universally shared feeling in the Islamic world. But this cult intensely believed in by the Pakistan army and the ISI led to the Kargil war and poses an international threat in the Af-Pak region. Kargil was an episode in the campaign of this jehadi cult.

- The writer, a defence analyst, was chairman of the Kargil Review Committee in 1999

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