Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif and the inside story of Pakistan's Kargil blunder

Last Updated: Thu, Jul 26, 2018 16:12 hrs
lT general Aziz khan

"Sir based on the wisdom and experience of my entire professional career, I could guarantee the success of the operation."

This is what Gen Musharraf said to his PM Nawaz Sharif in a meeting on May 17, 1999 in Ojhri Camp near Islamabad. The projected agenda of the meeting was to brief Sharif on the status of 'upgraded Kashmiri struggle' but the real agenda was to use this meeting as a proof of keeping the political leadership involved in the Kargil operation- Op Koh Paima.

Let's go back in history and see how it all started and why?

Brief History:
The roots of Op Koh Paima can be traced to the Siachin Conflict. To give a brief history, after the ceasefire on January 1, 1949, the Ceasefire Line was demarcated till the Point NJ 9842 dividing the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan (Pakistani Occupied Kashmir - PoK). It was considered that the vast glaciated territory beyond NJ9842 was not suitable for inhabitation and inaccessible, hence beyond NJ9842 the ceasefire line was delimited as thence north to the glaciers.

Neither India nor Pakistan was supposed to setup any post or allow anyone to visit that area. But in the 1970s, Pakistan started showing the entire Siachen glacier as a part of PoK and their maps started drawing a line joining NJ9842 with Aksai Chin as shown below. While India denied several international mountaineering expedition requests, Pakistan started allowing them in the late 70s.


(Credit: Wikipedia)

After a few protests, India moved swiftly in 1984 and occupied the Saltoro Ridge in Operation Meghdoot, which is the longest running operation in the history of modern armies - it has been running for last 34 years!

Pakistani Army tried hard but could not dislodge Indian Army from the glacier. They planned a different operation designed to force Indiato vacate the Siachen Glacier. As per the plan, strategically located peaks dominating Indian highway NH-1A were to be captured so that supply line to Siachen Glacier can be chocked and force Indian Army to withdraw from the glacier.

It was first presented to Gen Zia-ul-Haq, who was the third dictator of Pakistan. He had his hands full with Afghan Jihad and did not want any misadventure in Kashmir. He rejected the plan. But the plan was never trashed and was war-gamed in National Defence University, Pakistan.

When General Musharraf was DGMO (Director General of Military Operations), he war-gamed and presented the plan to GeneralJahagirKaramatand the then PM Benazir Bhutto.The plan was rejected again.

The plan was reborn again when GeneralMusharraf became the Army Chief.

Operation Koh-Paima:
A 'Gang of Four' (as they call it in Pakistan) prepared and executed this operation of silently occupying peaks in Kargil and Dras sector on the Indian side of the LoC. They called it Op KohPaima. These four were:
General Parvez Musharaff- Chief of Pakistan Army Staff
Lieutenant General Aziz - Chief of General Staff
Lieutenant General Mehmud- 10 Corp Commander, Rawalpindi
Major General Javed Hasan - Force Commander Northern Area

On December 18, 1998, Captain Nadeem, Captain Ali and Hawaldar Lalikjaan (Nishan-e-Haider) of Northern Light Infantry were sent across the LoC for reconnaissance. They were not given any objective for the recce mission. The recce party came back with general information about the snow-capped terrain. Subsequently, Northern Light Infantry* (NLI) units, 31 Azad Kashmir, 24 Sindh units were sent to occupy peaks overlooking Indian NH-1A.

Because the operation had not gone through the regular army process, it was not properly planned and peaks were captured randomly. Only Musharraf's Gang of Four and the participant units knew what was afoot. Directorate of Military Operations or Directorate of Analysis or even ISI had no clue. Applying normal military tactical thinking would have forced Pakistan Army to capture peaks overlooking Zojila Pass as well. Nonetheless, by December 1998 Pakistan troops from 3NLI, 5NLI, 12NLI,13 NLI, Azad Kashmir rregiment and Sindh regiment had come 7 KMs inside Indian territory and had made n number of sangars.

Involving Pak Army:

January 16, 1999

Then came the moment to take formal approval for 'record keeping' and Pakistan DGMO was asked to give Op KP an underpinning. On January 16, 1999, General Musharraf chaired a meeting in Military Operations Directorate. Colonel Nissar Ahmad presented the 15 pages long plan. DGMO Lieutenant General Tauqir Zia, who heard it for the first time, was least interested but knew that plan was already in progress.

Noticing the same, Musharraf asked if the operation will not turn into a disaster. Major General Javed Hassan was quick to offer his neck, "If anything goes wrong, my neck is available." His commander Lieutenant General Mahmud did not want to be left behind and said, "Why yours? My neck will be on the line since I have cleared it." And showing Generalship of the highest order, Musharraf said, "No, it would not be your neck, it would be my neck."

And when the time came, they put their PM’s neck on the line.

Lieutenant General Mahmud finally proposed to call this operation Op Koh-i-Paima, same was accepted and the meeting ended with a formal approval.

Not everyone was naive:

Lieutenant General (R) Shahid Aziz was a Major general back then and was DG Analysis (Director General-Analysis) , during a briefing in National Military Operations Center, he raised objections to the bedrock of the Op KohPaima. Aziz informed General Musharraf that cutting NH-1A will not cut off the Siachen Supply line - the very objective of the operation. Musharraf asked Aziz to discuss with GS Staff to clear his doubts.

Aziz sat with GI staff and he proved how Indian could continue the supply to Siachen using Manali-Rohtang road or Leh-based airstrip. But his objections were brushed aside as the peaks had already been occupied. Aziz later called it "An unsound military plan based on invalid assumptions, launched with little preparation and in total disregard to the regional and international environment, was bound to fail. That may well have been the reason for its secrecy. It was a total disaster."

Major General Kiyani (Later Pak Army Chief Of Army Staff from 2007 to 2013) was commanding 12 Division under Lieutenant General Mahmud (10 Corp). In a meeting at the Corp Commander's house, Kiyani expressed a different opinion. He believed that NH-1A is of great strategic importance for India and the Indian Army will not attack anywhere else but the captured peaks and will attack with its complete might.

But the Gang paid no heed.

On March 28, 1999, General Musharraf and Brigadier Masood Aslam flew across the LoC in a helicopter, came 11 KM deep inside Indian territory and spent a night in a post 'ZikriaMustaqar'. The postwas held by 12 NLI troops commanded by Colonel Amjad Shabir. Indian Army Chief General VK Singh also mentioned this incident in his biography -Courage and Conviction.

"Involving" Civilian leadership:

May 17, 1999

This important briefing was given to PM Sharif, Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz, Secretary Defence Lieutenant General(R) Iftikhar Ali Khan, Minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas Lieutenant General (R) Majeed Malik, the Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad, and PM's Principal Secretary Saeed Mehdi.

Indian media was giving reports of an increased number of infiltration moves all across the LoC and was claiming that Pakistan had again stabbed India in back. Nawaz and his colleagues came for a briefing on regular mujahideen activities. They had no clue that they were about to be briefed about something else. General Musharraf used this briefing to fool the civilian leadership.

Pakistan Army's DGMO Lt Gen Tauqir Zia gave the detailed presentation to the civilian leadership and it was a bag full of wishful thinking and conclusions. As senior journalist and Defence Analyst from Pakistan Ehjaz Ahmad said 'They had no logic whatsoever'. We will see how?

General Zia explained that the first phase of the five-phased operation had been completed and he showed a number of position that had been occupied. He continued, "In the second phase, 'freedom fighters' will be infiltrated in Jammu, Leh and Ladakh, who will start an insurgency in those areas."

In the third phase, the General said, "Indian Army would panic and rush to above mentioned areas to tackle the 'Mujhahideens', leaving the Kashmir valley vulnerable." (Not sure why it was included as a third phase of the operation. It was clearly not a course of action but purely a wishful conclusion of how the Indian Army will react.)

In Phase 4, Pakistan would infiltrate large number of mujahideens into the valley, who would block the Manihaal Pass and Zojila Pass and occupy the Kashmir valley (Again a wishful conclusion!) and in phase 5, GeneralZia proudly said, the Indians would be on their knees begging for negotiations and Pakistan would be able to dictate its terms.

Clearly Pak Army somehow managed NOT to learn anything from the history. Ironically, the root cause of 1965 Indo-Pak war was Operation Gibraltar, that Pak Army launched in Aug 1965 with the same exact wishful conclusions. And they did it again in 1999! How could they be so naive to have concluded that they would capture peaks, passes and entire Kashmir Valley and Indian side would simply watch them doing it?

General Tauqir Zia gave the answer in that briefing. He shared a few assumptions with the audience that was the basis of the Op KohPaima and would also guarantee its success. These were: -
1. Each captured peak will be an impregnable fortress.
2. Indians lack the will to fight the Pakistan Army head on. (In the 1960s, somehow PakistanArmy's leadership convinced itself that the Indian Army ('Army of hindubaniyas' as they called) is no match to the Islamic soldiers of the Pakistan Fauz. Nothing changed since the 1960s. The mastermind of Op KohPaima, GeneralJaved Hasan believed that Indians only talked of a defensive battle and they were not even capable of that. When an officer expressed concerns about a tough Indian response, Javed Hasan's unprofessional, prejudiced refrain was: "The timid Indian will never fight the battle."
3. There would be no considerable pressure on Pakistan from the international community. Rather, because of the nuclear tests of 1998 and South East Asia being the nuclear flashpoint, the international community will force India to come to the negotiation table.

So they prepared a flawed plan based on wishful assumptions and drew wishful conclusions. Well, history repeats itself when men repeat their mistakes.

It is important to note that General Zia never said that the positions captured in phase 1 were actually across the LoC. LoC was not even clearly demarcated on the map!Of course he did not mention that Pakistan army had captured dozens of peaks 8-10 KMs inside Indian territory across the LoC.

The briefing was followed by a salvo of flattering remarks for the PM - "“Sir, Pakistan was created with the efforts of the Quaid and the Muslim League and they will always be remembered for creating Pakistan and now Allah has given you the opportunity to get India-held Kashmir. Your name will be written in golden letters," and "after Quaid, it is a unique opportunity to be remembered as the Fatah-i-Kashmir." And then came General Musharraf's personal guarantee (opening sentence of the article) that flattered the PM, only for him to get deceived later.

People who raised concerns were Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz and Minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas Lieutenant General (R) MajeedMalik, who had served in that difficult mountainous area. He asked about logistics support and how Pakistan army would maintain the supply chain under adverse weather conditions and hostile environment. Musharraf's blue eyed boy Lieutenant General Mahmud casually answered that the deployed troops were fully covered. Time proved him totally wrong.

Lieutenant General (R) Majeed even warned - What if Indians do not remove troops from the valley and deploy their Air Force? But the warning fell on deaf ears.

Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz raised the concern that the USA and International community will react adversely because the OP KP was in sharp contrast to the spirit of the Lahore Declaration signed by Vajpayee and Shariff on February 21, 1999. This time Shariff came forward to defend OP KP and asked Aziz,"Aziz Sahib, can we take Kashmir through paperwork? Here we have an opportunity."Clearly, the flattering had started working.

Nawaz Shariff still had no clue that the Pakistan Army was across the LoC. He was still dreaming of winning Kashmir through proxy war and Mujahideens.But by the time, the PM's caravan came back home in the late evening, Defence Secretary Lieutenant General (R) Iftikhar Ali Khan had figured out the Pakistan Army's intention and was sure that the Army was up to something big!

He stopped Nawaz at around 9PM and asked if they can talk about something very important? Nawaz asked if it can wait till next morning. The Defence Secretarydid not pause and asked if he (the PM) gave permission to the Army to cross the LoC? To a clueless Nazwa, he asked again, "Didn't you note all those 'hundreds of posts' and that NLI troops, not freedom fighters, have crossed the LoC? Crossing the LoC, Mian Sahib, you know has implications for war?"

Panicked Nawaz asked, "Why a war? And who has crossed the LoC?" Iftikhar then told him the real truth of the briefing. Surprised and panicked, Nawaz asked for a cabinet meeting next morning. Iftikhar gave him and others a detailed briefing on the `briefing` a day before.

Nawaz summoned his Army Chief and Gen Musharraf reported at PM house within one hour. There were just three of them there - the PM Nawaz, Army Chief Musharraf and Defence Secretary Iftikhar. Nawaz asked if he has crossed the LoC. Musharraf replied, "Yes, sir, I did." The PM asked again "And on whose authority?." The chief responded, "On my own responsibility and if you now order, sir, I will order the troops' withdrawal."

This was a watershed moment. Had Nawaz thought rationally and responsibly, he could have tried to revert all the wrongdoing. Instead he turned to Iftikhar and said, “Did you see? He has accepted his responsibility! Since the army is part of the government, from today onwards we will support the army." Perhaps being flattered that he could be Fateh-i-Kashmir were still fresh in his mind.

The rest is history. India lost 527 brave soldiers and the exact number of brave Pakistani soldiers killed or wounded has never been known. This number ranges from 400 to 2000, depending on which source you pick. All those brave lives lost or disabled because a few believed that they can do it and get away with it. They actually got away.

* Northern Light Infantry was a para-military force working under Pakistan's Interior ministry but operationally, it was under the Pak Army's command. Its officers were from the regular Pakistan Army and Force Commander Northern Area (FCNA) used to be its Director-General. After the Kargil war, General Musharraf made NLI a regular infantry regiment of the Pakistan Army.

Bibliography
1. “From Kargil To The Coup: Events That Shook Pakistan” by NasimZehra.
2. Witness to Blunder by Col (R) Ashfaq Hussain who was Deputy Director of the ISPR (Inter-Services Personal Relations)
3. Ye KhamoshiKahaTak by Lieutenant General (R) Aziz.



Sumit Walia is an IT Specialist, based in Germany . He is also a military history buff who continues to explore & research various facets of the Indian Military history in his spare time.

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