Monday, September 18, 2006

Jaswant Singh on Kargil Conflict

Book Review: Dawn, September 18, 2006
Heroism on the heights
Book title: A Call to Honour: In Service of Emergent India

Jaswant Singh, who resigned from the Indian Army to join politics, has served seven terms in the Lok Sabha. He was a member of the BJP-led governments in 1996 and 1998-2004. The book is an evocative account of a crucial period in India’s history. It reconstructs India’s foreign policy in the post-Cold War years when the country emerged as a nuclear power

Jaswant Singh was the foreign minister of India in 1999 when the Kargil war took place. Here he gives his version of the events at that critical point in time:

At a press conference on June 11 on the eve of Sartaj Aziz’s visit, I shared with the press the position of the government of India. It is best that the text of this conference be reproduced in full....

Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz will be visiting Delhi tomorrow …

I wish to share with you, ladies and gentlemen of the media, and through you, with all the citizens of our country, as also the international community some, and I repeat that this is only some, of the incontrovertible evidence that we have obtained about many aspects of this armed intrusion and aggression in the Kargil sector. This establishes beyond any doubt the involvement and complicity of the Pakistani establishment in this misadventure. It raises serious doubts about the professed aim of ‘defusing tension’ as averred by Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz. The evidence will also establish that the management of this enterprise is in the hands of those who put it in place in the first instance. It raises doubts about the brief that Minister Aziz carries and at whose dictates he is actually working ...

Ladies and gentlemen, I will now ask that two recorded conversations between the chief of army staff of the Pakistani army [on a visit to China] and his chief of the general staff be played. The first conversation took place on May 26, the second on May 29. The transcripts of these conversations will be distributed simultaneously.

First recording — May 26

Aziz: How is the visit going?

Musharraf: Yes, very well, okay. And what else is the news on that side?

Aziz: Hamdu-lullah. There is no change on the ground situation. They have started rocketing and strafing. That has been upgraded a little. It has happened yesterday also and today. Today high altitude bombing has been done.

Musharraf: On their side, in those positions?

Aziz: In those positions, but in today’s bombing about three bombs landed on our side of the Line of Control. No damage, Sir.

Musharraf: Is it quite a lot?

Aziz: Sir, about 12-13 bombs were dropped, from which three fell on our side, which does not appear to be a result of inaccuracy. In my interpretation, it is a sort of giving of a message that if need be, we can do it on the other side as well. It is quite a distance apart. Where the bombs have been dropped, they have tried to drop from a good position where they are in difficulty, from behind the LOC but they have fallen on our side of the LOC. So I have spoken to the foreign secretary and I have told him that he should make the appropriate noises about this in the press.

Musharraf: They [Indians] should also be told.

Aziz: That we have told, foreign secretary will also say and Rashid will also say. He will not, generally speaking, make any such mistake about those other bombs falling on the other side, our stand should be that all these bombs are falling on our side. We will not come into that situation. The guideline that they have given, we have stressed that we should say that this build-up and employment of air strike, which has been done under the garb of ... us (?), actually they are targeting our position on the LOC and our logistic build-up, these possibly they are taking under the garb having intention for operation the craft (?) Line of Control, and this need to be taken note of and we would retaliate in kind ... is what happened. So, the entire buildup we want to give this colour.

Musharraf: Absolutely okay. Yes, this is better. After that, has there been any talk with them? Any meetings, etc?

Aziz: Yesterday, again, in the evening.

* * * * *
Musharraf: So that briefing to Mian Saheb [Nawaz Sharif] that we did, was the forum the same as where we had done previously? There, at Jamshed’s place?

Aziz: No. In Mian Saheb’s office.

Musharraf: Oh I see. There. What was he saying?

Aziz: From here we had gone — Choudhary Zafar Saheb, Mehmood, myself and Tauqir. Because before going, Tauqir had spoken with his counterpart. We carried that tape with us.

Musharraf: So, what was he [Indian counterpart] saying?

Aziz: That is very interesting. When you come, I will play it for you. Its focus was that these infiltrators, who are sitting here, they have your help and artillery support, without which they could not have come to J&K. This is not a very friendly act and it is against the spirit of the Lahore Declaration. Then Tauqir told him that if your boys tried to physically attack the Line of Control and go beyond it ... and that the bombs were planted on the Turtok bridge and the dead body received in the process was returned with military honours and I said, I thought that there was good enough indication you would not enter into this type of misadventure, and all this build-up that you are doing — one or more brigade strength and 50-60 aircraft are being collected. These are excuses for undertaking some operations against the various spaces; so I had put him on the defensive. Then he said the same old story. He would put three points again and again that they (militants) should not be supported, and without your support they could not be there, they have sophisticated weapons and we will flush them out, we will not let them stay there. But this is not a friendly act.

Musharraf: So, did they talk of coming out and meeting somewhere?

Aziz: No, no, they did not.

Musharraf: Was there some other talk of putting pressure on us?

Aziz: No. He only said that they (militants) will be given suitable reception. This term he used. He said they will be flushed out, and every time Tauqir said that please tell us some detail, detail about how many have gone into your area, what is happening there. Then I will ask the concerned people and then we will get back to you. So whenever he asked these details, he would say, we will talk about this when we meet, then I will give details. This means, they are possibly looking forward to the next round of talks, in which the two sides could meet. This could be the next round of talks between the two PMs which they are expecting it...

Aziz: So no one was in a particularly disturbed frame of mind.

Musharraf: Even your seat man?

Aziz: Yes, he was disturbed. Also, Malik Saheb was disturbed, as they had been even earlier. Those two’s views were that the status quo and the present position of Gen Hassan, no change should be recommended in that. But he was also saying that any escalation after that should be regulated as there may be the danger of war. On this logic, we gave the suggestion that there was no such fear as the scruff (tooti) of their (militants) neck is in our hands, whenever you want, we could regulate it. Ch. Zafar Saheb coped very well. He gave a very good presentation of our viewpoint. He said we had briefed the PM earlier and given an assessment. After this, we played the tape of Tauqir. Then he said that what we are seeing, that was our assessment, and those very stages of the military situation were being seen, which it would not be a problem for us to handle. Rest, it was for your guidance how to deal with the political and diplomatic aspects. We told him there is no reason of alarm and panic. Then he said that when I came to know seven days back, when corps commanders were told. The entire reason of the success of this operation was this total secrecy. Our experience was that our earlier efforts failed because of lack of secrecy. So the top priority is to accord confidentiality, to ensure our success. We should respect this and the advantage we have from this would give us a handle.

Musharraf: Rest (baki), is Mian Saheb okay?

Aziz: Okay. He was confident just like that, but for the other two. Shamshad as usual was supporting. Today, for the last two hours the BBC has been continuously reporting on the air strikes by India. Keep using this — let them keep dropping bombs. As far as internationalisation is concerned, this is the fastest this has happened. You may have seen in the press about UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s appeal that both countries should sit and talk.

Second recording — May 29

Aziz: This is Pakistan. Give me room number 83315. Hello.

Musharraf: Hello Aziz.

Aziz: The situation on ground is okay, no change. This area but it is not brought down by attack. One of their Mi-17 arms was brought down. Further the position is, we had approached to our position, it was brought down. Rest is okay. Nothing else except, there is a development. Have you listened to yesterday’s news regarding Mian Saheb speaking to his counterpart. He told him that the spirit of Lahore Declaration and escalation has been done by your people. Specially wanted to speak to me thereafter. He told Indian PM that they should have waited instead of upping the ante by using Air Force and all other means. He [Nawaz Sharif] told him [Indian PM] that he suggested Sartaj Aziz could go to New Delhi to explore the possibility of defusing the tension.

* * * * *

Musharraf: If they are assured that, we are here from a long period.

We have been sitting here for long. Like in the beginning, the matter is the same — no post was attacked and no post was captured. The situation is that we are along our defensive Line of Control. If it is not in his [Sartaj Aziz’s] knowledge, then discuss it altogether. Emphasise that for years, we are here only.

Yes, this point should be raised. We are sitting on the same LOC since a long period.

* * * * *

Musharraf: Has this Mi-17 not fallen in our area?

Aziz: No, sir. This has fallen in their area. We have not claimed it. We have got it claimed through the mujahideen.

Musharraf: Well done.

Aziz: But top-wise side, crashing straight before our eyes.

* * * * *

Meeting Sartaj Aziz

Sartaj Aziz was flying in a small aircraft that did not have the standard Pakistani Air Force markings. I had reached the airport in advance; the then high commissioner of Pakistan to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, was also there. He got up to greet me cordially, but seeing my demeanour he perhaps desisted. I felt bad that I should not have had my feelings in control. Ashraf Qazi is an officer of distinction, ability and learning and has served his country with great dedication. A very great pity, for I would have liked to have known him better. Soon after Sartaj Aziz landed, the usual formalities and greetings followed. I informed him that we would meet very shortly at Hyderabad House where he would have an opportunity to say whatever he wished to, thereafter there would take place a small lunch that I had organised and then, if he so wanted, either a joint press conference there itself or an opportunity for him to do so in his own time and wherever he chose. He informed me he would be returning the same day and concurred with the broad programme that I proposed.

A day earlier, on June 11 I had released the text of the taped conversation between Generals Musharraf and Aziz, his chief of general staff. The visiting foreign minister knew well enough the contents of the tapes; his assumed mien of unconcern to me was, therefore, somewhat casual and uncaring. The situation was serious, and that is only how it could, rather had to be addressed. He had obviously not been in the know of what was happening, but that then was his own or his government’s responsibility. When we sat down before going into lunch, I suggested that the visiting dignitary say what he had to. My phraseology then was also not what it should have been: ‘Yes, what do you have to say then?’ This was abrupt, also not warranted, but I really did not know how else to start. For him thereafter to propose that we have a cease-fire, reopen the whole question of the LOC, then decide upon a time frame, so on and so forth, sounded so totally irrelevant that I could scarcely hide my impatience. The talks were soon over and we adjourned for lunch. After which the visiting foreign minister left for his high commission. He was to depart later that evening. I met the press and shared what had happened:

Today I met H.E. the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Janab Sartaj Aziz Saheb. Essentially I made only two points. Firstly, vacation of aggression in Kargil and secondly inhuman treatment of Indian soldiers in Pakistani custody. I emphasised that armed intrusion, amounting to deliberate aggression that has been committed by Pakistan, is not acceptable. Indeed their spokesman admitted that the Pakistani Army has crossed the LOC and is occupying positions on the Indian side. This point was not denied by Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz. I also told him that tension has been created because of violation of the status quo….

I left for Beijing on the midnight of June 13.

* * * * *

The tide turns

The military situation in Kargil hereafter began to deteriorate rapidly for Pakistan. One height fell after another; it was as if the psychology of defeat and withdrawal had seized the entire invading force. I was following this conflict not just on a daily basis but was by then engaged with it much more intimately. I knew Pakistan simply did not have the needed resources of time, commitment and overall balance of local and international forces favourable to it. Therefore, if it did not withdraw at the right time, its forces would suffer major losses.

* * * * *

The Pakistani misadventure was doomed. Its troops would have to withdraw, in consequence of an ‘agreed step back’. If that was not done, Pakistani troops would still have to withdraw, but in that case in near total disorder. The choice was entirely with the intruder. In any event, the conflict was now over a month old; Pakistani troops deployed on these heights had been without any turnover or relief if their logistical chain was any indication, for at least two months. For these two months they had been without any rest and were living in conditions of scarcity with low rations, limited supply of water and prolonged exposure to high altitude, even if it was summer. The accumulated diplomatic pressure was also beginning to tell as a consequence, particularly, of my visits to China and the United States. Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the prime minister, had also gone to Geneva to meet his American counterpart, Sandy Berger. The United States had certain worries about India crossing the LOC. For instance, Mishra had urged Berger’s attention to the point that a stage had come in Pakistan’s continued misemployment of its relationship with United States where it now had to be tempered by the United States by sending a clear message to Pakistan: to publicly urge it to withdraw.

Berger’s reaction was cautious. He felt that for the sake of de escalating the situation, as also for restoring the spirit of the Lahore Declaration, Pakistan needed an exit clause. There was a need too, he felt, for giving Pakistan some ‘face saving’, so that it could withdraw its forces with some degree of credibility. For the present clearly, the United States continued to want that Nawaz Sharif’s ‘face’ be saved, somehow. But this tender consideration of a Pakistani invasion could go on forever and ever. Besides, as Inderfurth had rightly pointed out, there was but a fine line between giving voice publicly to disapproval and a deliberate internationalisation of the situation. For once America earnestly wanted to avoid this, and so, of course, did India. There was another angle. The United States did not wish to publicly embarrass Sharif because the latter insisted he had a ‘personal relationship with President Clinton’, therefore, the Americans did not want him to feel ‘abandoned’. The United States was also of the view that in the circumstances Sharif remained the best option for it, as also for Pakistan. Still?

Meanwhile, Ambassador Celeste came to meet me in the third week of June. He shared his perception of what the United States wanted in substance that an early resolution was vital, and that the sanctity of the LOC, as expressed by India, ought to be fully accepted. Celeste also informed me that the United States was working on a time frame of withdrawal, which really was a matter of ‘days, not weeks’. From Washington, we got news that the State Department would be sending Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gibson Lanpher and General Anthony Zinni, who had known General Musharraf and was at that point commander of the United States’ Central Command, within the purview of which fell Pakistan. The ambassador wanted to know if India would be ready to receive General Zinni, if he flew in from Pakistan especially to brief us. I advised against this. But I did agree that Lanpher could come to Delhi to apprise us of discussions in Islamabad. By then it was already an American assessment that India was militarily well placed. India had (tactically) achieved very rapid ground deployment and advance, thus the ‘balance of power’ was very much in India’s favour. The international community, too, by and large, saw no merit in Pakistan’s continued intransigence. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) route had also been activated.

To India’s request that the IMF send out a ‘strong message’, Michael Camdessus, then the Fund’s managing director, let it be known that ‘the signal had already gone out’: ‘The IMF will look with a cold and searching eye on the fulfilment of the IMF conditionalities and full adherence to the integrity of the members, which is an integral part of the IMF arrangement.’

By the end of June, the situation for Pakistan was desperate. General Zinni had by then left Islamabad, and Lanpher, who had come to brief Indian officials, said that on June 19 Nawaz Sharif had already sent a letter to Clinton about ‘meeting with the conditions that India had laid down.’ I assessed that sense had finally begun to dawn in Pakistan that it was impossible to send General Zinni back to Washington with a ‘no’ as response. The beginning of July saw Indian advances very close, in some cases, up to the LOC. Yet, some pockets of Pakistani elements remained, which is why the State Department volunteered to share the information with us that it was now time to ‘ratchet-up the pressure’. In addition to the Indian Army rapidly regaining those heights of Kargil, the pressure on Nawaz Sharif from the United States was also beginning to tell. He sought to visit Washington.

It is not as if President Clinton had invited or advised him to do so; in fact, he had cautioned the prime minister of Pakistan that he ought to undertake such a visit only if he recognised ‘what great mistakes Pakistan had made and moved in for an immediate rectification.’ Besides, Clinton was absolutely clear there was simply no way that at the end of this uninvited visit to Washington — and that too one on July 4 — the total output was to be just ‘routine fudge’.

Excerpted with permission from
A Call to Honour: In Service of Emergent India
By Jaswant Singh
Rupa & Co. Available with Liberty Books

Absout Jaswant singh's version of the Kandhar Hijack, click here

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