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Facts and fiction

Zahid Hussain Updated May 30, 2018//

The writer is an author and journalist.

LIES and deception have often been used to cover up blunders, conspiracies and military misadventures spanning Pakistan’s 70-year history. Facts are hidden from the nation though known otherwise. Failure is celebrated as victory. As a result we could never learn from our mistakes and wrongdoings.

What happened in the 1965 war and the causes behind the dismemberment of the country in 1971 have not been acknowledged publicly. Mystery continues to shroud the presence of Osama bin Laden in a high-security garrison town and the raid on his hideout by the US forces in May 2011.

Enquiry commission reports on all these incidents have been consigned to the back room in the name of national security. More shocking is the fact that some of these reports were leaked through foreign sources, though they may still not depict the whole truth.

This situation has caused a widening trust deficit between the public and the authorities. Unsurprisingly, the people tend to believe the foreign publications on the issue, however unrealistic they may be. So sensitive have the security agencies become that even public debate on these issues is seen as breach of national security.

A new book offers illuminating details about the Kargil fiasco.

The Kargil military misadventure is one such event that has not been fully probed largely because of the same reason. The incursion that embroiled Pakistan in serious military and diplomatic embarrassment and ultimately led to yet another military coup has only been discussed and examined in a civil versus military binary.

But a new and well-researched book From Kargil to Coup authored by veteran journalist Nasim Zehra has examined the fiasco in great detail. Chronicling how the entire Kargil operation was conceived and carried out, it also analyses in a historical context the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir that has led to three wars between the two nuclear-armed nations.

Indeed the misadventure exposed the civil- military gap, but that was only one aspect of the story. The real issue was how a coterie of generals could bring the country to the brink of a nuclear conflagration. So much so that even the senior military leadership was unaware of the operation until things started unravelling.

The Kargil clique, as the author described the “group of four top generals” who later usurped power overthrowing the elected government, declared it a brilliant strategic move that failed to achieve its objective because of “spineless” civilian leadership. The book has assumed greater significance because the Kargil issue had not even been discussed or critically examined at various military forums.

From Kargil to Coup confirms that the civilian leadership was never taken into confidence on the operation, leave aside getting its approval that is legally required. It was in May 1999, almost six months after the start of the operation, that the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet was given a full briefing by the military leadership about it. By then, the incursion had already become known. “This was near identical replay of the operation Gibraltar with the only difference that in Kargil the civilian and military leadership were not on the same page,” the book points out. Operation Gibraltar was the code name for the incursion into Kashmir that led to the 1965 war.

The Kargil operation, code-named operation Koh-e-Paima, was launched a year after both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests that made them nuclear weapon states. The secret operation led by the then army chief General Pervez Musharraf was based on the assumption that the control of strategic peaks overlooking the main highway that worked as a supply line to the Indian forces in Siachen could force New Delhi to come to the negotiating table.

According to the author, the decision to go ahead with the operation was based on several factors that included drawing international attention to the Kashmir issue. “The clique of generals was confident about achieving its objectives.” Contrary to the calculation the operation turned into a fiasco. Pakistan was forced to pull out without any preconditions. In fact, the Kargil misadventure dealt a huge blow to the Kashmir cause, with Pakistan losing support of the international community on the issue.

Inevitably, the operation further intensified civil-military tension, resulting in the military coup by the same Kargil clique. Understandably, no enquiry could be conducted into the debacle that cost the country hugely. The book provides much needed information on the secret military operation that has been missing from the public debate.

Its objectivity and non-binary approach has earned the publication positive response. However, another book that also came out last week has evoked intense reaction from the security agencies and political leaders.

The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI, and the Illusion of Peace, co-authored by former ISI chief retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani and A.S. Dulat, former chief of India’s premier intelligence agency RAW, was launched last week in India. The book contains remarks by the former Pakistani spymaster on some of the issues obstructing peace efforts between the two South Asian neighbours.

General Durrani, who is also a central character in the infamous Asghar Khan case, is barred from leaving the country as he faces inquiry for potential violation of the military code of conduct. What has probably angered the military most are his comments that the Pakistani military leadership may have had prior information about the US raid on Bin Laden’s residence.

One may agree that because of his sensitive position the general should have been more discreet in his remarks, but there is nothing he has said that has not been written about before. The reaction reflects the narrow-minded perception of the military about national security. Even a former general is not spared. General Durrani has certainly not revealed any state secrets and the travel restriction on him appears extremely harsh. What is most interesting is that some other senior military officers, including former military ruler Gen Musharraf, have written much more candidly. An open debate on our mistakes and bungles can only strengthen the state, not weaken it.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2018


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