PAKISTAN: Kargil Conspiracy Still Unravelling
By Amir Mir, IPS, June 5, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Jun 5 (IPS) - The ill-fated Kargil episode of 1999 continues to haunt Pakistan nine years after the crisis rocked South Asia. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif continue to exchange allegations and counter allegations as to who was in fact responsible for orchestrating the misadventure that resulted in hundreds of deaths and finally ended up in a huge diplomatic embarrassment for Pakistan.
The Kargil conflict exploded in May of 1999 in the Kargil district of Kashmir after the infiltration of Pakistani soldiers and Kashmiri militants across the Line of Control (LoC), which serves as the de facto border between India and Pakistan. Initially, Pakistan blamed the incursion on independent Kashmiri insurgents. The Indian army and air force -- with international diplomatic support -- eventually forced the Pakistani force to withdraw across LoC.
In a new development that has generated a fresh debate across Pakistan over the Kargil issue, Musharraf's former close aide, retired Lieutenant General Jamhed Gulzar Kayani, who was the corps commander of Rawalpindi at the time of the Kargil war, said that then Premier Nawaz Sharif was not informed about the Kargil operation by then Army Chief General Musharraf.
Jamhed Gulzar told Geo television in a detailed interview that it was the Kargil issue that actually caused differences between Sharif and Musharraf, eventually leading to Sharif's ouster in October 1999. "Being the corps commander of Rawalpindi at the time of the Kargil operation, I can say with authority that Nawaz Sharif didn't know anything about the Kargil operation. Despite the fact that he was the prime minister, he was never briefed on the issue," Jamhed Gulzar said.
Speaking for the first time on the Kargil operation, Jamhed Gulzar said: "I am not sure from where he [Sharif] came to know, but it wasn't through the army since the Kargil operation was being kept as a closely guarded secret from Nawaz Sharif. It was because of Sharif that the forces from Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir were withdrawn which otherwise might have spread to a large- scale war."
Jamshed Gulzar pointed towards Musharraf without naming him. "After Sharif came to know of the Kargil operation, he immediately called top military commanders and his close cabinet members to discuss the situation. None of the military and political leaders favoured Kargil and all the blame was on one person," he said.
On Jun. 1, while asking the PPP government to set up a high level judicial commission to hold Musharraf accountable for the deaths of thousands of army jawans in the Kargil "misadventure", the Ex-Servicemen Society -- a group of the retired Pakistan army generals -- demanded an open trial of Musharraf on treason charges under Article 6 of the Constitution. Over 250,000 members of the Society are expected to join the Jun. 10 long march of the lawyers' community for reinstatement of deposed judges if Musharraf does not resign.
"The nation wants the new government in Islamabad to unmask the real culprit behind the Kargil misadventure that caused deaths of over 2,500 army jawans," said a former ISI chief retired Lieutenant General Hameed Gul, while addressing a news conference in Islamabad.
As the debate over Kargil goes on, neither Musharraf nor Sharif is ready to take blame for the Kargil action, with both holding each other responsible.
Normally, there should have been two versions on the issue -- the Pakistani and the Indian. The Indian version is well known: many Indians, civilians and retired generals, have written about it from both political and military points of view and have sought to establish the truth behind what for the Indians was initially a shock. Later, the Indian government appointed a four-member committee to determine what caused the debacle from their point of view, especially the failure of the Indian intelligence to get wind of Pakistani plans to move into the Kargil heights. Establishing the truth on the Indian side was easy, because there was only one party that was in overall command and that was the elected civilian government; the military merely carried out the orders.
However, on the Pakistani side of the border, the task of ascertaining the truth is difficult because there were two centres of power at that time. Musharraf has all along insisted that all parties involved, including the civilian authority, were on board. However, Sharif, who was then prime minister, insists that he was kept in the dark and that the army top brass had planned the operations on its own. The publication of two books -- Nawaz Sharif's "Ghaddar Kaun" (Who is the Traitor?) and Pervez Musharraf's "In the Line of Fire" -- has only added to the confusion, with the truth being a major casualty.
In his 2006 autobiography, "In the Line of Fire", Musharraf -- while rejecting Sharif's claim that he did not take him into confidence on the Kargil issue -- had furnished pictorial evidence of Sharif's visit to Kel in Kashmir in the south of Kargil and his briefing there by the army high command on Feb. 5, 1999, weeks before Premier Vajpayee's Feb. 19, 1999 visit to Pakistan during which the Lahore declaration was signed.
However, in his 2007 biography, "Ghaddar Kaun?", Sharif accused Musharraf of misleading the nation by distorting facts about the Kargil operation, saying "I have in my possession the audio recordings of General Musharraf's May 26 and May 29, 1999 telephonic conversation with General Aziz Khan which proves that the general wanted to keep me [Sharif] in the dark about the Kargil operation."
In his press briefing before leaving for London on Jun. 3, Sharif said the recent interview by a close aide of Musharraf has vindicated his long- standing position that he [Sharif] was kept in the dark by Musharraf about the Kargil operation. "Musharraf should be tried for treason charges since it has now been proved that he resorted to the Kargil misadventure without approval from the prime minister. Musharraf should also be tried for the deaths of over 2,700 jawans of the Northern Line Infantry of the army who were eliminated in the ill-conceived and uncalled-for war," he added.
However, according to Ayaz Amir, a noted political analyst and a member of the National Assembly, the real question about Kargil is not whether Sharif knew or not. "It is something else. What accounts for the army's institutional capacity to dream up ventures lacking any geo-strategic or political context? The 1965 war which ended up by derailing Pakistan and paving the way for the eventual separation of East Pakistan was one such venture. The army crackdown on the Awami League in East Pakistan in 1971 was another. And the Kargil misadventure makes up the third of this holy trinity," Amir explained, adding, "Sharif was supposed to have a limited attention span. Kargil throws up an intriguing question. Whose intellect span was more limited, Sharif's or that of the army command?"
In the words of retired Lieutenant General Ali Kuli Khan Khattak -- who quit the army after the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed Musharraf as Army Chief in 1998 over him -- Kargil was flawed in terms of its conception, tactical planning and execution. "The Kargil incursion was a far bigger tragedy for Pakistan than the civil war which led to the creation of Bangladesh and damaged the country's Kashmir cause, contrary to Musharraf's oft- repeated claim that his misadventure had helped revive the Kashmir issue at the international level," he said, stressing, "The Kargil episode was an unprofessional decision by someone who had served in the Pakistan Army for 40 years. As the architect of Kargil, Musharraf must answer critical questions as to whose brainchild it was and what exactly the broad strategic aim behind the operation was. Let the government appoint a Kargil Commission as had been done in India to hold a thorough investigation and let the nation know the truth about Kargil."