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`Pak needed Kargil to revive Kashmir issue’

Lt Gen. (Retd) V.R. Raghavan commanded a division in Leh and then went on to become the Director General of Military Operations. He has c...

Written by Manvendra Singh |
June 6, 1999

Lt Gen. (Retd) V.R. Raghavan commanded a division in Leh and then went on to become the Director General of Military Operations. He has contributed significantly to the confidence-building measures with Pakistan. Since his retirement, he has emerged as a keen and credible voice on the country’s military strategy. He spoke to Manvendra Singh on the present conflict in Kashmir. Excerpts from the interview:

  • From a military perspective how do you assess Pakistan’s military objectives from the operation they have launched in Kargil?
  • The Pakistani military objectives cannot be unrelated to their political or their geo-political objectives. And in formulating an understanding of Paksitan’s geo-political objectives, their military has had a long tradition of participatory role. And sometimes a totally influential role. So, it is apparent that the geo-political objectives are closely linked with the military objectives, as the Pakistani military sees it. That is, the detaching of Jammu & Kashmir from India,and if they cannot detach it, use it as an instrument of leverage to obtain for themselves a position of advantage.

    Pakistan made a concerted attempt over 10 years to raise the levels of their involvement in Kashmir. It was a direct assistance with money, weapons, ideology, motivation, camps, everything. But it has been nullified. And I think around 1995 or 1996 when the tide had turned in our favour, they came to the conclusion that this wouldn’t work. It had reached the Law of Diminishing Returns. It is also possible that the decision to test nuclear weapons after India had tested, in a smaller manner, had something to do with this plan. That this plan can’t go through, if they don’t have a weapons status.

  • The question is, why now? Is there any significance in the timing of the incursions?
  • They must have come to the conclusion that they can attempt a physical encroachment. And that was the instrument, because one of the bigger failures of Pakistan’s policy over 10 years was the eroding role ofthe international community. Certainly the major powers had given up and the bilateral thrust was becoming stronger. So they needed to break clean from that pressure, and one method was to create a condition on ground, of conflict, controlled, but conflict. Which can be portrayed to fit the widely held view, in the international power structures, that this is flashpoint. If they can raise the ante, when two armies are at each other, that makes it imperative for others to see that it doesn’t get out hand. Perhaps they had anticipated that with an ingress like this, India is bound to respond. When it responds in a large way, they can make the noises. You see signs of it now from Islamabad.

  • Was it a ploy to open another theatre of conflict like the Siachen glacier? Or created a disputed LoC?
  • Pakistan knew they would have to disregard the Line of Control, or blur the meaning. And we see signs of it. No less than the Foreign Minister has said this. Ultimately, the LoC was beginning to look as the mediumthrough which this problem can in some manner be resolved. Because if it did happen they would have wasted 50 years of effort to be left with all they have, and no more. Therefore, a clearly defined, hostile, unilateral, extremely well planned, ingress across the Line of Control with a clear determination to hold ground, to stay and fight for it. That I think explains the objectives. I think this new dimension that has been added by Pakistan about the LoC is the essential factor. The LoC is for India one of its national interests. Without it you can’t talk Kashmir.

  • Does the scale of this operation surprise you? Secondly why was Kargil chosen as the launching pad, not Gurez or somewhere else?
  • Because the place you mentioned (Gurez), or many others, are very heavily held. And nothing less than a division attack or a war can make any rupture in those positions. Why Kargil? Because it was thinly held. It has no bearing directly on the Valley, other than the adjacent areas near Mushkoh, through which theyhave tried to push (infiltrators) even in my time.

    But that is not the real reason. I think the scale was essential to raise the ante so that the Indian response would also be be massive. Second, it had to be large enough to draw international anxiety and concern and involve them directly or indirectly. And thirdly, give an opportunity for the Pakistani establishment (to say), “now this is what has happened”. You can see in that there is a pattern in what they are attempting to do. But to think they have pulled off a great coup would be mistaken. Kargil was chosen, I think, perhaps because they felt that if it misfires in a big way, they can always pull back. Without prejudice to what is happening, what they are doing in the Valley. Anything closer to Srinagar everybody would sit up.

  • So at the end of this Kargil episode, what should be our objective? Should it be a clear decisive defeat to the Pakistani military in the form of much higher casualties on their side?
  • Well if necessary, it will haveto be done. There is another dimension by which international pressure can force Pakistan to understand that this won’t do. They may be persuaded to find another way. But that will come only with Pakistan being made to realise that this won’t work. If they hadn’t done this, the LoC in some way was going to get imposed. The LoC concept as a possible boundary was getting cemented. It is in our strategic objective that LoC should first become what it was. We can talk about Kashmir, work out a solution, but let the LoC remain undisturbed. To that extent the LoC should be pushed, not only to its valid position, but also the LoC as a possible solution.

  • How do you see our military response? The response in terms of conduct of operations, mobilisation of resources, including air strikes, from a division commanders viewpoint as well as the DGMO’s viewpoint?
  • Well, the division commander really had no resources, as a result of the situation in the Valley. But what he had he pushed them forward, as smallergroups to identify what is happening. If he hadn’t done it, then we would have come to realise the magnitude much later. To that extent I think we must give them credit. Some patrols were lost. Obviously, all that energised local formations. From within the corps some formations were moved. I feel that at the governmental level, the response by air, was sensible, practical and timely. It gave a message of national will. There is a great symbolism in the use of combat aircraft. Everybody knows, the soldier knows, that aircraft don’t win wars. It has to be a combination of ground and air war, a land-air war. No Air Force in the world can do it, no way. But it has to be done, and the Indian Air Force has shown that it is capable of doing it, and it has developed the skills. It is another matter that some aircraft were lost.

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