The Kargil Conflict 1999, Separating Fact from Fiction-Book Review

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About the Author

The book “Kargil Conflict 1999, Separating Fact from Fiction” is written by Shireen M Mazari and published by Feroz sons Islamabad in 2003. Author joined Quaid e Azam University Islamabad as Associate Professor later led the department of Strategic Studies as Head of Department  before joining Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad in 2002. She started her political career in 2008 after joining Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf. She has been Minister for Human Rights during Imran Khan’s government from 2018 to 2022.

The Book

This book was written under the banner of government funded Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad during Musharraf regime as an effort of Pakistan’s version of account of Kargil Conflict to the world. Book becomes significant as being one of the earliest academic works on the conflict when information and communication gap from the government did extreme loss to Pakistan.

Even the perceptions and assumptions based on half knowledge or Indian side of version still persist among the masses without viewing the second party’s stance. Ms. Shireen Mazari interviewed key military officials during the battles and decision making and national politicians along with books and articles written by Indian officers and analysts. This book is divided into seven chapters and a prologue briefly narrating the Siachen dispute. Chapters include Introduction, Background, Military geography, Conflict, Conclusion of conflict, Lessons from the conflict and Conclusion of the book.

It was agreed between India and Pakistan in Shimla agreement to respect the sanctity of Line Of Control by both sides. Siachen and other ingressions across LOC by India after the Shimla pact 1972 effectively rendered the agreement to respect the sanctity of border breached. The area north of Point NJ 9842 on LOC was not demarcated after the partition and Kashmir war because it wasn’t inhabitable at the time.

This is where Siachen glacier is located near the Chinese border in north. India in 1984 without consultation with Pakistan sent its troops and captured the 1000 miles square area under Operation Meghdoot. Afterwards India in similar fashion captured area in Qamar sector south of Siachen glacier in 1988 across the LOC. There have always been unoccupied patches of LOC between Various sectors.

After the insurgency of Kashmir flared up in late 1980s and early 90s, India increased the troops presence to fight militants which author has called freedom fighters. The sanctity of LOC has been violated multiple times by these ingressions and unprovoked shelling of civilian populations along the border causing fatalities among non-combatants. Indian military started interdiction of supplies in 1992 on Muzaffarabad-Neelum highway forcing Pakistan to build two alternate bypasses of Leswa and Keran.

In early 1999, Pakistan intelligence picked hints of a new buildup of forces by India around Kargil region concurrent with the statements of political and military leaders of the country. This raised the fears of old Indian method of transgression into Pakistani territory by force. Force Command Northern Areas or FCNA was alerted and instructed to prepare for preemptive advance up to border to prevent any such Indian move.

Author has stressed that such military practices continued 1971 onwards and never amounted to act of war and escalation ladder was restrained. It was India who raised the ante by introducing Indian Air force and Bofor guns significantly altering the balance of forces.

Pakistan didn’t follow suit to introduce PAF to avoid the escalation into a wider conflict between two nuclear armed nations. Pakistan never possessed offensive capabilities in this theater and didn’t even have a wish to do so.

Author maintains that Pakistani troops only went a kilometer or two deep into Indian side to prevent any Indian advance and didn’t want to capture Kargil or interdict its supply route through Srinagar-Leh highway as it was achievable from Pakistani territory. Hostilities began on 3 May 1999 and ended on 26 July with Pakistani troops withdrawing to their territory after Nawaz Sharif’s dash to Washington.

India bombed the Pakistani positions by Air force and blasted it with Bofor guns capturing only 10-11% of territory. Shireen Mazari denies another claim that Pakistani troops ran out of supply due to negligence of commanders and fragility of supply line. She says that troops were well supplied for the mission assigned to them which was to deny Indian troops any advance into own territory.

Shireen Mazari maintains that Pakistan Army held the upper hand at tactical level humiliating Indian troops despite their numerical and technical superiority on the ground. Although, strategically and politically whole conflict was mishandled due to poor leadership and lack of a long-term strategy. The fallout was due to ill timed responses by top leadership of the country at political, communication and diplomatic levels.

Pakistan couldn’t build the narrative of its own in right time and had to face the consequences when International community refused to believe it’s side of version. Author also categorically refutes the claims of independent military action without any permission from top political leadership of the country.

She maintains that incumbent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was repeatedly briefed about the situation developing in Kargil from January 1999 but he failed to respond systematically to the challenge on strategic and diplomatic level. This narrative was built by civilian leadership after things started to fall out with military leadership after Kargil to save the faces in public.

Due to the perception bias created by India for Pakistani aggression across and Line Of Control and Pakistan’s consent to it led to the negative outcome for the country. This perception of Pakistan as a reckless nuclear state gave more credence to the belief that it might plunge the region into nuclear annihilation through its continued hostilities.

India skillfully deployed its diplomatic and communication resources into building the narrative of its innocence and victim hood. The legacy of secrecy from British times and information blackout by government led to only one voice in whole world to listen to and that was of India giving it immense advantage in lobbying support of International Community.

Myths have vilified Pakistan as unprofessional military force due to one sided propaganda. United States initially decided to stay out if fray but as situation developed and Indian lobbying gained momentum, it had to come in and diffuse the situation of so called nuclear exchange. Pakistan never deployed its nuclear forces during the kargil conflict which has been later confessed by Indian Army Chief at the time of conflict.

Kargil conflict manifested the professional conduct of Pakistan army as it held its ground against superior forces. But then the information gap between government and public made the political situation untenable domestically as Indian news channels bombarded the populace with their side of narrative which further led to confusion at home.

Even ministers and Parliament was kept in dark failing to generate a coherent national response. No information of talks between American President Bill Clinton and Nawaz Sharif was provided to even cabinet members and a small kitchen cabinet influenced the thinking of Prime Minister. Late diplomatic response gave India much needed lead in lobbying against Pakistan.

Although as the book was written during Martial Law regime of Musharraf who was commanding Pakistan Army at the time of Kargil conflict it mainly blamed Nawaz Sharif and India exempting military generals of their alleged roles in fiasco. Although it doesn’t give the exact numbers of troops participating, dead, wounded or any battle accounts of conflict but still this book is a good read to know the official Pakistani account of Musharraf regime.

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