New Delhi: Intelligence deficiencies led to the bloody 1999 clash with Pakistan in the Kargil sector of Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Army chief at the time admitted Thursday, vehemently denying suggestions that information provided a year before the operations was ignored.
Gen. (retired) V.P. Malik also brushed aside suggestions that there was lack of coordination between the three service chiefs and that this had delayed the deployment of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the area.
Speaking at the release of his book "Kargil: From Surprise to Victory" here, he said that while the cabinet had specifically ordered the army not to cross the Line of Control (LoC) while evicting Pakistani intruders from Kargil, "there was nothing sacrosanct about this and we would have taken permission to go across if that had become necessary".
Mallik rubbished suggestions by former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief A.K. Doval that intelligence on Pakistan’s intentions in Kargil had been provided June 2, 1998, a year before the Indian Army was ordered to clear the area of intruders.
"I don’t accept his premise," Malik asserted during the interactive session that followed the book release.
In the book, Malik is forthright about intelligence deficiencies.
"The failure to anticipate or identify military action of this nature on the border by the Pakistan Army reflected a major deficiency in our system of collecting, reporting, collating and assessing intelligence.
"This failure can be primarily attributed to the fact that, over the years, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) had not been accorded due importance by the government," Malik writes.
The JIC, once the key intelligence coordinator, was in 1998 merged with the newly formed National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) headed by a secretary-level officer who reported to the National Security Advisor (NSA). Thereafter, JIC assessments were prepared and issued from the NSCS.
Simultaneously, the heads of external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and IB began reporting directly to the prime minister and the home minister "and assiduously looking after their respective turfs," Malik writes.
"They developed a tendency to work more vertically and less laterally. Even the Military Intelligence (MI) Directorate became complacent when it came to providing feedback and attending JIC meetings regularly at the appropriate level," Malik states.
"Many of us in the strategic community believe that by merging the JIC with the NSCS, the independence and objectivity of the intelligence assessment process at the national level have been adversely affected. We now have a single organisation – the NSCS – which is responsible for making intelligence assessments and appraisals, as well as coordinating and monitoring follow-up actions," the former army chief states.
On inter-services cooperation during the Kargil conflict, he said this couldn’t have worked better.
"The assessment in the early days was that it was a localised action, the (then) air chief (Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis) was of the view that use of air power at that stage would only serve to escalate the conflict. The (then) defence minister (Jaswant Singh) was of the same opinion. And don’t forget, Jaswant Singh is a former army officer," Malik said during the interactive session.
"Everything else apart, we didn’t have the kind of helicopter gunships to operate at that altitude (12,000-14,000 feet). So, we went in incrementally. First we sent in a Canberra (reconnaissance aircraft. Then a MiG and finally, when the conflict peaked, the Mirages," Malik pointed out.
"In sharp contrast to the planning and conduct of operations by the Pakistan Army, which did not consult the other two services, not to mention many senior officers within its own ranks, our groundwork and execution were done on an institutionalised basis. Barring an odd incident, there was complete synergy and unity of effort among the three services," Malik writes in a chapter titled "Partners in Victory".