Book Review: Kargil - From Surprise To Victory





A definitive account of the Kargil War by the then Chief Of Army Staff General V. P. Malik... 


The Indian Army (or rather, The Armed Forces) occupies a special place in India... and this, in my opinion, is unique to our India. The Armed Forces are considered special, inviolate, upright, decent, relatively corruption free - in fact, the last bastion against corruption. Anything that involves the Armed Forces immediately captures the national attention - especially news relating to unsavory happenings, be it war preparedness, military corruption, ex-soldiers etc. The incident of the anonymous leakage of the Army Chief's letter is still fresh in the public memory... which is why this book in particular holds special relevance in the current context. 

I am not implicating that the Kargil War is not of central importance - it is, and always will be - but more of that later. The book is not just about the Kargil War - it has a very vast scope. It is an analysis of how the intrusion by Pakistan happened, how it was planned, what were the Pakistani compulsions and strategic objectives behind the plan, the historical perspective of Siachen and its relevance to Kargil & roles of various military and political personnel in Pakistan in the planning and execution. The book  details failures on the Indian side- Army, Intelligence, Political, Bureaucratic, Procurement and Planning failures - why were we not able to detect the intrusions. Thereafter, the book describes the war and its implications in terms of strategic and military challenges, improvements, implications for Indo-Pakistani Dialogue & implications of South East Asian security. It examines the Nuclear question in some detail and looks at both sides of the coin. 

The author is pretty much brutal, contemptuous and merciless on the bureaucratic and political class when it comes to defence planning and procurement. The disgust is apparent, and the Chief has made no bones about deficiencies as they existed in the Army. No only that, he has also expressed dissatisfaction with the progress on a number of fronts of cooperation with the civilian authorities. "Besides lack of funds, our procedures are unresponsive, cost escalatory, frustrating and demoralizing." "March 1999: Major acquisitions get stymied, a feeling of cynicism is creeping in, the prevailing situation is that nothing much can be done about the existing hollowness in the Army""23 June 1999: We shall fight with whatever we have" The total lack of awareness (as it existed at that point in time) among civilian officials in the Ministry of Defence has been brutally exposed - "The Army does not fight on rifles alone" - in response to a MoD question as to requirement of weapons, noting the thousands of rifles!!!!!!!!!!! 

While the prompt political reaction (as can be seen today as well) has been noted, appreciated and highlighted by the General - who seems to be a fair man -the question remains as to the role of the Ministry of Defence officials in procurement. The plain fact is that they are simply not prepared for, have no idea of and no knowledge of a defence setup and its genuine needs. The current problem that the Army is facing is not a new one - it is a very old one! A telling comment by the author: "From then onwards, I found them  -Cabinet Committee On Security CCS - and the secretaties of various ministries spending more and more time discussing elections rather than the War Situation" All in all, a blunt, brutal and merciless account that spares no one - Army or otherwise. Yes, where praise is due it has been effusively given -even on MoD or political leadership. But faults - whether systemic or otherwise - have also been equally harshly dealt with .And a no holds-barred approach is precisely what an Indian expects from an Army Chief!

The best part about the book is its transparent approach and blunt statements of facts - even where the Indian side is wrong, The author, in true Indian Military fashion, has not minced words in criticizing anyone- Army or otherwise. Similarly, he has been profuse in terms of praise. It is this balanced, transparent and fair approach - one that gels well with the average Indians' perception of an Officer - that is the hallmark of this book. The book examines Indian shortcomings with brutal frankness. In the same sequence, the author deftly changes the tenor of the prose to detail how the shortcomings were catered to and overcome. The compromises and decisions made as to men, weapons and ammunition; the adjustments made and the decisions taken are so well laid out that the layman reader appreciates both, the problems as well as the decisions taken. The prose almost gives you a ringside seat as decisions are taken - all in a few short pages.  

The section on the Armed Forces failures in monitoring has been equally bluntly written, and the decisions taken have also been laid out alongwith relevant reasoning. There is a bit of defensiveness that is detectable, but that is justified in the overall scenario as it plays out. The General has been merciless on everyone in this part, with no one being spared - all in a very few selected words. Similarly, intelligence failures have also been pointed out mercilessly. The General has taken pains to point out that there was no actionable information given at any point of time by anyone to the Armed Forces. 

The part on the War.... no comments. Read it for yourself. I can only say one thing, the entire War has been strategically explained with adequate references and maps, reasons of strategic importance of various features, tactics employed and units participating. For those of us for whom Kargil was only about 4-5 Battalions picturised in the movie "LOC Kargil" this part will be a revelation. Further, the narrative is taught and well formed, and does not slacken at any point. The entire war has been covered in majestic detail in about 100 - 120 pages (one third of the book). You can see the situation unfurling right in front of your eyes, which enables a deep understanding of the entire sad episode. You are left breathless with the descriptions of bravery, at times with a lump in your throat...

The second great part of the book is the part covering the diplomatic maneuvers undertaken by various nations culminating in the Pakistani withdrawal, and the reactions of Pakistani Illuminati - both civilian as well as ex-military. The reader gets a ringside seat as the story plays out - you realise that you are getting an inside view of the momentous episode. The China chapter is a classic as it dissects China, its reactions and reasons in detail, enabling a fundamental understanding of the China angle. The Nuclear angle -the threat that Pakistan was preparing its Nuclear arsenal - has also been covered, as also the deterrence factor of the Bomb. This finds space throughout the book, and is a central theme, although covered in a very few short pages. Of interest is the section regarding the Indian Army and Political reaction to the Pakistani Sabre-rattling. 

The book concludes with an examination of the India-Pakistan relationship after Kargil. The Agra episode has been well covered, and you have to appreciate the General's far-sightedness as he notes before the Agra Summit "we could expect him to be courteous, apparently honest, and like all of them, good in the art of military and political deception. However, Pakistan's military and Political history tells us that Military Presidents tend to be politically shortsighted" "Would his own mindset, his militray colleagues and jihadi elements allow him flexibility on the J&K issue?"

"There is no alternative to a gradual incremental peace process though political, economic and military confidence building" These are the words of a General of the Army! What more can anyone say? It is only one para in the book, but the closing makes a powerful pitch for peace, and states that building economic bridges will go a long way towards negating the possibility of another confrontation alongwith the normal dialogue... However, in the same tone, the essentiality of dismantling the terror mechanism has also been made... 

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