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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Pakistan’s Blunder in 1999

In the run-up to the Kargil war, the Pakistani establishment’s idea of its army’s position on the LoC was flawed

August 5, 2021 7:53:27 pm
Army chief General Musharraf’s own orientation was that military force would play the key role in resolving the Kashmir issue. (Express archive photo)General Pervez Musharraf was the Pakistan army chief during the war. (Express archive photo)

Written by Azad Singh Rathore

It’s been 22 years since the Kargil War and the success of Indian Army’s Operation Vijay. This was Pakistan’s fourth failed military attempt after independence against India. But what were its motives? Why did Pakistan generals want to jeopardise peace between two neighbours? Why did they plan Operation Koh-e-Paima (Op KP), a misadventure of crossing the LOC?

After the war, in an interview, former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, admitted that a Kargil-like plan had been presented to her as well. General Pervez Musharraf was a part of this team that presented the plan. Bhutto said she refused immediately, anticipating the possible consequences of such misadventure. However, later in the Nawaz Sharif regime, Musharraf as the army chief got an opportunity to execute the plan in 1999.

Pakistan’s assumptions in the Kargil sector aggression were: First, its nuclear capability would forestall any significant Indian move, particularly across the international border involving the use of India’s more extensive conventional capabilities. Second, the international community would intervene at an early stage, leaving Pakistan in possession of at least some gains across the LOC. Third, China would adopt a favourable posture on its side and the Indian Army would not muster adequate forces with high altitude training and acclimatisation.

Pakistan Army’s Initial plan was to capture as many posts as possible on the heights across the LOC vacated by the India Army due to snowy winters.

They wanted to be in a better bargaining position to negotiate on Siachen by capturing a chunk of Indian land and to seek international support for Pakistan’s goal on the Kashmir issue. It planned to block the strategic national highway 1A so that the Pakistan army could easily cut the rest of India from northern parts of Kashmir and disrupt supplies and reinforcements to Indian troops at Siachen. The plan to alter the status of LOC was driven by the desire to give impetus to insurgency in Kashmir Valley and other parts of the region.

The Kargil plan was the brainchild of a group, infamously known as the “Gang of four” of the Pakistan army, comprising four generals — Army chief General Pervez Musharraf, Chief of General Staff, Lt General Aziz Khan, Corp commander of X Corps, Lt General Mahmud Ahmad and the Maj General Javed Hasan, commander, Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA). The Navy and Air Force Chiefs were kept uninformed at the planning level. While execution started in early November 1998, the subject was discussed very casually with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf presented a plan according to which their Kashmir movement required support from the Army, and there was a need to push more “mujahideens” in Kashmir. He also informed that Pakistan needed to establish a few firm bases, but did not mention the crossing of LOC to support the entry of “mujahideens” in the Valley and provide logistic support for them.

By planning an intrusion into Indian territory, Musharraf dishonoured the Lahore Summit and betrayed his political leadership. The Pakistan Army never accepted the dead bodies of many of its soldiers. Later in his book, Musharraf admitted that around 350 soldiers died. Nawaz Sharif also admitted to deaths.

Sharif has always claimed that he was utterly uninformed of Musharraf’s intentions and his Kargil plans. However, it seems he was aware of the plans though he did not anticipate the bitter consequences. So, the more relevant question is why did he approve of the plan?

It seems that the then Pakistani PM was ill-informed about the relative strengths of the two armies on LOC. Sharif was confident that his men would get Kargil and later Siachen. The Kargil operation proved to be Pakistan’s biggest blunder after the 1971 war.

Rathore is a defence and foreign policy analyst and author of Kargil The Heights of Bravery

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