Book Discussion

11th February, 2019

The Pakistan At Hundred initiative hosted a book discussion on ‘From Kargil to the Coup' on February 11, 2019. Ms. Nasim Zehra, analyst & anchor of Channel 24, discussed her book ‘From Kargil to the Coup’ with Syed Hassan Akbar, director programs at Jinnah Institute. The speaker for this talk, Nasim Zehra, is a prominent journalist, MBA from Quaid-e-Azam University, with a Masters in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. She has also been a Fellow of the Harvard University Asia Center. The moderator is Syed Hasan Akbar. He is Director Programmes at the Jinnah Institute, where he manages the strategic security and open democracy initiatives. He is a graduate in international affairs from Columbia.

The discussion is based upon Nasim Zehra’s book, From Kargil to the Coup. This book accurately captures the events that led up to Kargil and after it. After the War on Terrorism, the events of Kargil left the imagination of most scholarship. This book has brought it back into focus. There is a need to evaluate if there have been any lessons learned and decision making has evolved.

The first question raised in the discussion was: why Kargil? How long did it take to conceptualize this idea? Nasim Zehra responded that this book started with Pakistan-India relations. Up until nuclear test of 2002, this relationship underwent extremes, with the Lahore Summit, Kargil, the 2002 near-clash. In the case of Kargil, the author had access to the key policy makers of the time.

She explained that it always seemed to her there were issues with Pakistan’s policy making- of incompetence, civil-military distrust, linear thinking, not fully comprehending the context in which the country was functioning. The tragic fact was that Pakistan’s potential could not get actualized. As a journalist, she saw this happening time and again.

She was then asked how she thinks the idea of Kargil came about, especially in terms of the secrecy- even within the military, different factions not aware of the process. She responded that it seemed incredible to her that those who were planning such a military undertaking, where there was a plan to attack the adversary and occupy the Line of Control on the Indian held Kashmir, had made the assumption that there will not be a response.

She elaborated that within Pakistan, there is a sense of having been wronged by India- seen in the case of 1971, the issue of Kashmir, Operation Gibraltor. It is difficult to fathom how such a mistake could have been repeated in the case of Kargil, but perhaps the assumption was that the Indians will not respond militarily, the international community will step in and settle the Siachen and Kashmir issues.

Hasan Akbar then commented upon the confusion about the strategic aim of the operation. Initially there were about 20 posts the army wanted to occupy, but eventually led to approximately 140 such posts. When the Indians started responding, people asked the Generals what their intentions were. In such a case, was there confusion within the army about the strategic aim?

Nasim Zehra responded that there is no doubt that the operation snowballed into something much bigger than anticipated. It is difficult to see what strategic thinking even went into it. If we look at military strategy or history, the operation fails every test- planning, implementation. There was criticism even within the army as well e.g. General Ashfaq Kayani, who was heading the Murree brigade at the time, did not send his troops when asked. The army had soldiers fighting at 18,000 feet and logistic support was completely cut off.

The big elephant in the room was addressed, namely the question of whether the political leadership was aware and gave the go-ahead of the operation. The first date when the operation was discussed was 17th May. In that meeting, two former military generals who were in a political position- Iftikhar Ali Khan and General Majeed Malik- realized that this was a cross Line of Control operation and would have repercussions. Whereas for the political leadership, it dawned on them slowly the magnitude of what was being planned.

Nasim Zehra posited that there was no hard thinking by the political leadership. The account of the 17th March meeting, which she addressed in detail in her book, is based upon 15-20 interviews. Up until this meeting, the elected leadership cannot be held at fault at all for the operation. In case of the army, it is not until mid-June that it began to concede that there were problems arising- up until then there was a lot of bravado.

Another important issue raised was the civil-military distrust. Nasim Zehra claimed that the army’s lack of trust in the elected leadership is an abiding problem. There is a real issue of distrust, but why? For this it is important to ask a series of questions: How much coordination is there? How much des the elected leadership make use of the institutions which are there? How often are stakeholder meetings held? It is apparent that there are issues on many fronts. The solution is to effectively use the institutions which are present.
The emergence of India and America’s to-become strategic relationship was also briefly discussed, with Nasim Zehra acknowledging the blunder of Kargil as a contributing factor to the strengthening of that relationship.

The talk was concluded with ambiguity on whether there is any learning from Kargil. The basic understanding is that institutions are critical. That is the only way to ensure that policy making is coherent and encompassing in terms of understanding the context, otherwise policy gets sacrificed at the altar of gossip and mistrust.