Millennium Post

Kargil’s haunting remembrances

The famous German strategist, Carl Von Clausewitz had written in his seminal book ‘On War’ that, ‘War is merely the continuation of politics by other means.’ If one were to view this statement through the prism war literature, so are the writings of former warriors – conducting politics by the means of one’s computer keyboard.

Retired general, VP Malik’s recent offering (2013) India’s Military Conflicts and Diplomacy: An Inside View of Decision Making is one such exercise where the retrospective vision is always 20/20. The content of the volume is interestingly conceived; something none of the former service chiefs have done till now.

Malik has picked up five important Indian military engagements from the 1980s in which he had been involved first as the deputy director general of military operations (DDGMO) of the Indian Army and, later as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

From the disastrous Operation Pawan through to successful Operation Cactus and Operation Shakti to Op Vijay at Kargil, Malik had first described the missions with a strong and lucid enunciation of the circumstances of the events and incidents that have cumulatively piled up for them to become subjects of military interventions.

Operation Pawan, for the uninitiated, was the Indian Peace-Keeping Force’s (IPKF) foray into Sri Lanka to first ‘establish’ peace and later ‘enforce’ peace in the 1980s, after the Rajiv Gandhi government had brokered a peace and reconciliation deal between the Colombo government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Malik then goes on to analyse various decision-making processes in New Delhi and Colombo that led to a disastrous show-down between the IPKF and Sri Lankan Tamil, LTTE. In the course of this process, he provides the reader a rare glimpse of the higher defence management system of the country in those early days of establishing Indian hegemony in South Asia.

However, a reader will really be attracted on the two operations that the former COAS described to have happened under his watch: Op Shakti and Op Vijay. In the former a discerning reader should be happy that Indian atomic energy establishment, with the prime minister at its apex, actually cares enough about bringing in the armed forces that it brought in the three service chiefs into the decision-making loop – even just to be informed about an impending nuclear test, albeit only couple of days in advance. The reason for writing the above statement will be amply clear to the reader when s/he reads the chapter. But the longest chapter of the book is also the chapter that Gen (retd) Ved Prakash Malik would rather forget. This is about the Kargil conflict: a battle that, almost, rudely established the glaring deficiencies of the Indian military establishment, beginning with the utter intelligence failure in detection and then, identification of the Pakistan army units capturing the mountain heights of Kargil severely endangering the National Highway 1A connecting the Kashmir valley with Ladakh.

Malik remains contained in the cocoon, in which the Indian politico-military-bureaucratic establishment likes to withdraw into, each time a Kargil or a Mumbai-like incident occurs. This cocoon they call the ‘intelligence failure.’ This is a rather convenient tool to not attach accountability to anyone for any failure, as the faceless and shadowy ‘intelligence’ arena does not identify the individuals or groups who fail to do their job.  Thus, India’s national security managers buy their longevity, remain immune to any depredation. Malik too does not prove to be an exception.
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