Recognise thy victories
Friday 6, 2008, Adnan Gill
Starting from days of the Sir Creek conflict, all the way to the Kargil dispute; you will find Indians remembering every armed conflict as a glorious victory for their troops. Neutral observers could dispute all they want, but to Indians’ credit, they always remember their defeats as ‘victories’. Sadly, in a stark contrast, the self-defeating Pakistanis generously concede their victories to be ‘defeats’.
In their ‘Official 1965 war history’, the Indian historians never acknowledged their humiliating defeat at the Sir Creek. In a slight of hand, Indians provided exact numbers of Pakistani casualties, but marked most of their casualties as ‘missing’; not dead or POW (p. 25). However, the Pakistanis put the Indian losses at around 250 dead. If one is to assume even 1/5 of Pakistani numbers to be correct, Indians must have suffered at least twice as many casualties. Even though, Indians miserably lost on every front at Sir Creek front, including Chhad Bet, Sera Bat and Biar Bet; still one would be hard pressed to find any Indian who would honourably admit their defeats.
India first violated Pakistan’s sovereignty when they invaded and annexed the state of Junagarh and Hyderabad, and then Kashmir. Later, India set the precedence of violating the Line of Control (LoC). Between 1996 and 1999 alone, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) recorded around 3,500 Indian violations of LoC. Since signing the Shimla Agreement, India invaded and still illegally occupies three Pakistani sectors, namely Siachin, Qamar and Turbat La.
In 1998, India tested its nuclear weapons. Pakistan answered in kind. By doing so, Indians neutralised their 1/6 numerical superiority over Pakistan. This gave Pakistanis confidence to calculate, India will no longer go to full fledge war with Pakistan. Arguably, Pakistanis were fairly accurate with their calculation; Kargil conflict, and 2002 border standoff vindicated their calculations.
Following the Indian lead of LoC incursions, Pakistan decided to return the favour. They set in motion an ingenious tactical plan to occupy enough peaks, on the Indian side of the LoC, overlooking a stretch of the Leh-Srinagar Highway (NH 1A). The idea was to secure and hold vantage points to direct Pakistani artillery fire to intercept and disrupt Indian logistical supply lines for Indian troops illegally occupying the Siachin Glacier. Suspension of supplies for few weeks could force the Indians to vacate Siachin.
It was a brilliant military/tactical plan, but it was a lousy strategic plan. It was missing support from the political leadership and Foreign Office. The civilians alleged that the military left them out of loop till the last hour, which handicapped their performance. The supporters retorted it was necessary to maintain absolute secrecy. The critics explained that the Pakistani military did not trust the civilians enough to entrust them with such level of secrecy. The ferocity of Indian reaction, punctuated by the Indian Air Force (IAF) close support missions, must have caught the architects off guard. Perhaps that is why the component of air cover was also missing from the otherwise well-conceived plan. Critics also credit the Indian authorities for managing the dissemination of information with near perfection. Indian PR management was credited for shoring up domestic and international support, declaring – supposed – Indian victory; most importantly, for demonising Pakistan.
To the eternal shame of the Indian intelligence, the Pakistani advance went totally undetected till some shepherds tipped off the Indians. Pamela Constable (The Washington Post) reported, initially Indians claimed there were only dozen or two intruders. By the end of the conflict, Indians were claiming there were at least 5,000 Pakistani rebels commanding the heights. After the conflict, the Indians revised the numbers to 20,000 Indian troops (in the theatre) vs. 1,500 so-called infiltrators. However, in 2002, Brig. Shaukat Qadir (Pakistani) claimed, the total number of rebels never exceeded 1,000; which puts the ratio of combatants to 20:1 in India’s favour.
The nature of insurmountable odds Indians faced at Kargil could be judged from the following stats compiled by the Global Security: “Indian artillery fired over 250,000 shells, bombs and rockets. Air Force carried out nearly 5,000 sorties of all types. The aircraft [were] required to fly at about 20,000 feet”. At such dizzying heights, where high winds unpredictably shift velocity every few seconds, fire-control algorithms simply do not work; neither do the other precision weapons. So, one can safely postulate that the accuracy rate of Indian artillery shells and air-dropped weapons could not have been over 3-5 percent. Ms. Constable also reported on the futility of IAF missions, “Indian warplanes periodically strafe the ridges, but officials said most are so steep and narrow that air attacks have only a limited effect.”
A few reporters captured the frustrating predicaments of the Indian troops. On May 18, The Times of India reported, “Painting a grim picture, the sources said the Pakistani intruders had come six km inside the LoC in Mushkoh Valley and the Drass sub-sector, two km in Kaksar and up to seven km in the Batalik sub-sector. The Pakistanis [were] holding strategic peaks which gave them a dominating view of the areas around.”
Week before the conflict ended, when the Indian media was splashing images of brave commandos planting Indian flags on peak after peak; all the Indians were able to reoccupy was one piddly ridge in the Batalik sector. Pamela Constable reported, “Singh and other military officials here admit their progress has been excruciatingly slow… Singh acknowledged, only one of four occupied ridges has been ‘cleared of the enemy’ after weeks of fighting and shelling.” Then she went over the embarrassment Indians were feeling, “India is determined to [make up] for the embarrassment of allowing them to sneak in undetected and keep one of the world’s largest military establishments at bay for weeks.”
Contrary to what the Indian propaganda machine was showing to the world, on emergency basis, their government was silently importing 3,500 caskets for their fallen men. Indians were over their heads and nowhere even close to dislodging more than handful so-called intruders. Ms. Constable caught their farces, “The rebels penetrated nearly four miles inside Indian-held territory there and still control several ridges beyond [Drass].” She further reported, “Indian military officials said more Pakistani troops are still lodged in ridges. They said their positions are so high and fortified that two or three fighters can fend off literally hundreds of Indian troops.” The Hindustan Times quoted Indian military commanders voicing their frustrations, “Every time they hear our aircraft approach they retreat into the caves. No amount of shelling or rockets can prove effective in such a situation.”
Even Indian journalists saw through their propaganda. Arthur Max (Associated Press) asked, “How is it possible that casualties on the Pakistani side were higher [when Pakistanis] had all the advantage of higher ground?” He appropriately reasoned, “Indians should have suffered higher casualties than the Pakistanis.”
Apparently, Pakistanis were also buying the scripted Indian propaganda. Nawaz Sharif’s July 4, panicky dash to Washington dumbfounded many Pakistanis. Clearly, Nawaz Sharif was incognizant of the immense advantage the Pakistanis enjoyed. Apparently, Indian bluff of expanding the conflict unnerved Nawaz Sharif. When the time came to show spine, he begged Washington to save him. He sold Pakistan’s advantage and honour for President Clinton’s word that he will take ‘personal interest’ in the Kashmir dispute. A true statesman would have immediately walked out on Clinton after telling him: Pakistani blood is not so cheap it deserves at least status quo in Kargil and Drass. On July 11, then Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz announced the withdrawal of rebels from mountains. Just like that, the ultimate sacrifices of many warriors, like Capt. Karnal Sher Khan and Hav. Lalak Jan, were wasted. He sold their blood cheaper than his nerves. However the reality proved, despite giving their best, except for reoccupying a handful of peaks in the immediate surroundings of Kargil and Drass, the Indians miserably failed to evict rebels. Victories are there for the Pakistanis to own. All we have to do is, have little pride in ourselves first, and victories will standout like the rising sun.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in the USA