13 YEARS AFTER KARGIL WAR - AN ARTICLE BY GEN VED MALIK, FORMER COAS
The strength of a military force lies in the quality of its human resource, weapons and equipment, and its morale. There is no better time to reiterate this than now, exactly 13 years after the Kargil war.
Twenty days after taking over as Army Chief, while addressing the Prime Minister and his CCS colleagues in a Combined Commanders’ Conference (October 20, 1997), I had described the state of the army as ‘the spirit is strong but the body is weak’, and then proceeded to indicate the high deficiencies of arms, ammunition and equipment.
In March 1999, just before Kargil war, I wrote to Defense Minister George Fernandes stating “The army is finding that major acquisitions get stymied for various reasons and a feeling of cynicism is creeping in. By and large, the prevailing situation is that nothing much can be done about the existing hollowness in the army. By denying essential equipment, the armed forces would gradually lose their combat edge which would show adversely in a future conflict...”
And then in May 1999, despite the Lahore Agreement, Pakistan surprised us strategically and tactically. Before melting of the snows, Pakistan Army units lodged themselves on several heights in Kargil and Southern Siachen sectors to dominate the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway. When the fog of war cleared and reality emerged that the intruders were not Mujahideen but Pakistan Army units, the whole nation was shocked.
During the war, while briefing the media, a journalist asked me as to how the army was going to fight in the face of its severe weapons and equipment shortages. My spontaneous reply was: ‘We shall fight with whatever we have.’ Someone from the Ministry of Defence complained to the Prime Minister about my statement. He asked me whether I should have made such a remark. I explained that my response was to a direct question from a journalist. Any attempt to cover up the true state of affairs would have conveyed an impression to the army rank and file that their Chief was indulging in double talk. If that happens, they would lose confidence in me.
To get away from long faces and depression in New Delhi and to boost my own morale, I went to the Kargil and Siachen front and addressed troops regularly. Interacting with them and seeing their commitment and motivation, I would get re-assured.
When the Prime Minister asked a wounded Garhwali soldier in Srinagar hospital what can he do for him, the response was “I want to rejoin my battalion as soon as possible” and “Please get us some lighter weapons and equipment so that we can climb mountains much faster.”
The spirit was strong; the morale high. We were confident that we would throw the intruders out from Kargil and Siachen sectors. And if the situation demanded, we could also attack across the border.
Looking back, however, I cannot help wondering that if we had the required quantity and quality of weapons and equipment; would Pakistan Army have dared to attack us in Kargil or would we have suffered that many casualties?
How has the situation changed today? Let me deal with the weapons and equipment state first.
On 12 March 2012, former Chief of Army Staff wrote a letter to the Prime Minister ruefully informing him that the army’s air defense weapon systems were obsolete, the infantry was deficient of crew served weapons and lacked night fighting capabilities, and its tank fleet was devoid of critical ammunition. He alleged that there was ‘hollowness in the procedures and processing time for procurements as well as legal impediments by vendors’.
For the military and informed strategic community, there was nothing new in this letter. The surprise was that none of our worthy politicians, bureaucrats or media persons owned up that this was a chronic problem which had dogged the nation for decades. The Government had failed to rectify it.
Publication of this letter in the media created a furore in the Parliament and outside: less due to its serious strategic implications, more because a classified letter from the Army Chief to the Prime Minister had been leaked.
What about the military spirit?
In the recent past, we have witnessed an unhealthy row over the age of the last Army Chief, attempted bribe to purchase Tatra vehicles from BEML, and the deep-lying suspicion of the military over movement of some units for training near Delhi. The last mentioned incident reflects the lack of trust that continues to bother officials in the Government after 65 years of independence and after what the armed forces have contributed for the nation.
There is deep discontent among the armed forces veterans and widows. They feel cheated over pension disparities and anomalies. As a result, they have been organizing rallies, fast unto death agitations, and surrender of war and gallantry medals to the President to draw public and political attention. Less visible is the unhappy feeling among serving soldiers over automatic promotion and up gradation rules that the civil services have managed to secure for themselves. The general impression is that the political leadership takes little or no interest in the armed forces’ welfare and to protect their hierarchal status in the government and society.
A few days ago, the Prime Minister announced a Committee under the Cabinet Secretary to look into these anomalies and grievances. Against all organizational norms, the Committee had only civil secretaries as members; no representation from the military.
The Government may have forgotten Kargil war but in military history, it will go down as a saga of unmatched bravery, grit and determination. The army responded with alacrity and with its characteristic steadfastness and perseverance. How will it fight the next one? Not differently. Because the Indian soldier is a remarkable human being: spiritually evolved, mentally stoic and sharp, physically hardy and skilled. And his institution remains proud of its traditions of selflessness, devotion to duty, sacrifice and valour.