COMPARED with the two major wars that India fought against Pakistan-in 1965 and 1971-The Kargil war was limited both in its scale and spread, but could have led to a full scale war if our soldiers had not succeeded in regaining the posts that Pakistan had taken control of. Since both countries had nuclear capability, it was viewed with concern in the U.S. Perhaps because of this, the Centre for Contemporary Conflict in the United States put together a team of experienced army personnel and experts to do research on it, and to provide what the editor calls “the most objective and authenticated version and analysis” of the conflict. The essays in the volume cover three areas: causes of the conflict, its conduct, and its consequences.
The research exposes the Pakistani lie that the intruders into the Indian areas vacated by the army for winter were “freedom fighters.” Although they were personnel of the Northern Light Infantry, who are not considered at par with regular troops in Pakistan, the incursion was planned by a select small group of high-ranking army personnel.
The strategic context of the conflict brings out that the Pakistani attempt was a part of a continuous reaction to Indian forward policy on Kashmir that culminated in the occupation of Siachen Glacier in 1984. Pakistan actually aimed to control the areas near Kargil, but got too ambitious and moved ahead to capture positions overseeing the road to Leh, and thus to gain a better bargaining position. But it failed because it tried to do more than what it had planned and erred in its timing. Pakistan’s move was widely criticized because India had demonstrated its keenness to start a dialogue to sort out their problems, and Vajpayee had taken a bus ride to Lahore to signal India’s intent.
Based on solid research to which the army heads of the two countries also contributed, the essays are interesting and informative. The Introduction by the editor is a masterly effort at putting the conflict in its proper perspective and weaving the major findings of the essays into it. Though meant ostensibly for defense and security experts, the essays can be read with profit by laymen too.