|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
The 18th Vjay Diwas will be celebrated with the usual aplomb on July 26; wreath laying, homage and tributes to the martyrs who sacrificed their lives in evicting the treacherous enemy. This year is more special since the Chinese appear resolved to stoke instability in J&K in concert with their protégé Pakistan, latter achieving a new low in targeting schools through cross-border firings.
In 1999, Musharraf must have wretched that had his army maintained surprise till the time the snows shut off both the road axis leading to Ladakh, Indian operations would have been that much more difficult especially with Pakistan’s next phase of operations aiming to wrest the Siachen area. Eventually the grit and determination of the Indian Army was on display and the world watched with admiration as hill after hill, barren, devoid of cover and occupied by well fortified Pakistani regular army soldiers were assaulted and recaptured, with the barrage of a hundred Bofors guns providing cover. The result was an emphatic military and diplomatic victory for India, greater glory to Indian Military and a blow to Pakistan as it stood shamed; two Pakistani Prime Ministers later acknowledging that “Kargil war was Pakistan's biggest blunder and disaster.” Musharraf himself appeared shameless refusing to accept bodies of Pakistani soldiers killed under pretext of them being freedom fighters. The ultimate shame for Pakistan was some 500 dead bodies of Northern Light Infantry (NLI) soldiers dumped at doorstep of their homes in the dead of night without ceremony – as brought out by ‘Dawn’ later.
However, the scale and extent of the intrusions that the enemy could undertake proved massive intelligence failures both at the strategic and tactical levels by India; R&AW and the Joint Intelligence Committee should have kept the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) informed of all enemy movement beyond Skardu, as should have the military observed and blocked enemy occupation of hilltops especially Tiger Hill and Tololing overlooking Dras. R&AW’s claim that they had sent a note to the military about possible intrusions was an absolute joke. Unfortunately even today our strategic intelligence is based more on technical intelligence including satellite monitoring than human intelligence. This is just one failure of learning from the Kargil Conflict. Of course, during the Kargil conflict Special Forces were hardly used for the type of tasks they are supposed to be tasked, even used in direct assaults for which they are not organized, resulting in needless casualties. They could have easily hit the main support base of the enemy, as also enemy helipads. The Kargil intrusions were deep into our territory and the IAF could have literally knocked out enemy positions on the hilltops provided they had laser guided weaponry, which they did not possess.
It is only towards the end of the conflict that some improvisation was resorted to and enemy logistic support echelons and one support base could be targeted. There had been apparent lack of imagination, forethought, prioritization and budgeting on this count knowing full well conflict along the loC and LAC will require targeting such positions. If the IAF had the laser guided bombs during the Kargil conflict then coupled with Bofors fire, enemy positions particularly on Tiger Hill and Tololing could have been pulverized thoroughly and saved precious lives of troops assaulting uphill without cover. Inter-Service synergy continues to be an illusion sans a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) despite the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) and the follow up Group of Ministers (GoM) reports had both recommended early establishment of the CDS. HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) that was supposed to have come up as “part of MoD” has been allowed to come up as a separate HQ, losing the advantage of synergy that it had been raised for. No effort has been made to amend Government of India Allocation of Business (AOB) and Transaction of Business (TOB) Rules 1961 that task the Defence Secretary (not Defence Minister) for defence of India. Under these rules, the Services HQ continue to remain “attached offices” to MoD continuing the British era legacy that gives the bureaucrats all the authority sans responsibility. Moreover, where the requirement is to have Service Chiefs as part of CCS and select military officers in the NSCS, NSAB, SPD and MoD, only some ‘middle level’ appointments are being identified in MoD for being occupied by military officers. This is grossly inadequate especially with enemy knocking at our doors. The logic being given by some inside sources that the bureaucracy entrenched for the last 70 years cannot be shaken up easily is illogical and smells adverse to national security requirements.
Surely we cannot afford to wait another few decades to acquire requisite defence synergy even as we have been fighting hybrid wars over the past three decades. Finally are the vital voids of a National Security Strategy and a Comprehensive Defence Review, both of which contributed towards why the Kargil intrusions happened in the first place. Unfortunately virtually no progress has been made on these counts. There is little sign of the DRDO, DPSUs and OF being reorganized. On the contrary, the DRDO has been brought into ‘Strategic Partnership’ through the backdoor whereas the Dhirendra Singh Committee had recommended Strategic Partnership purely for the private industry. Unless we have serving military professional inducted at senior and below levels in MoD, unless we have serving military professional at various levels including control and management in the DRDO, DPSUs and OF, we are likely to continue in the same state. The recent statement by General Ved Malik, former Army Chief “Military no longer right choice” should have raised eyebrows unless the “entrenched bureaucracy” is too hot for the government to handle. Besides, with all the big-ticket projects of Make-in-India, why are we neglecting the arming and equipping of soldiers at the cutting edge. It is actually quite baffling why the Modi Government is not looking into these issues seriously.