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Beyond the Intelligence Failure

Lapses in Ladakh

By P. Stobdan

THE Pakistani intrusion in Kargil is reminiscent of the Chinese intrusion of 1962 in Ladakh’s eastern flank, when the PLA caught the incometently-led and ill-equipped Indians by surprise. Internally, the issue of intelligence failure was raised then too. The Chinese troops withdrew to positions north of the McMohan Line under strong international condemnation. The same way, the intruders may withdraw now to the LoC position. But questions will continue to haunt the people as to why Indian territory repeatedly gets encroached upon and the Indian security forces are caught napping.

In 1948 also, the day was May 9, when the Pakistani Ibex and Eskimo Forces captured Kargil and Drass and advanced further up to Leh and pushed back towards the onset of winter in  November. Military history since the 13th century has proved Kargil to be the most critical strategic point. The very name Kargil has a strategic meaning: kar (white) akhil (location/place) in Tibetan also spells as gar-gil meaning a cross-junction. The name signified its location at the cross-point between Skardu and Leh and Kashgar and Srinagar. Kargil has a unique strategic position which opens up four valleys (Drass-Suru-Wakha-Indus). The Pakistani military always considered Kargil a check-point for operation in Ladakh.

The three-pronged strategy this time was to cut off Drass and Kargil from Leh and Srinagar, before Zojila is opened, enter the Indus Valley through Batalik and Chorbatla to capture areas upto Khaltse, and enter Shayok Valley to recapture 254 sq miles of Turtuk, comprising five villages, Chalungka, Thang, Tyakshi, Pharol and Turtuk. But for the early opening of the Zojila in April, the Pakistani Army would have certainly accomplished its objectives.

Pakistan has been eyeing Ladakh for years, primarily to regain areas it lost to India since 1971. However, it has faced difficulties on two accounts.

First, unlike in the Valley, Ladakh was not ripe for an Islamic revolution, though efforts had been made to communalise the region through subversive means. Secondly, the topographically feature (naked mountains) was not favourable for guerrilla operation.

To overcome these, since the summer of 1997, Pakistan has resorted to large-scale occasional artillery shelling in Kargil. The aim was to terrorise the sequestered people so as to push and scare them away from the high ridges. This tactic has helped the Pakistani Army significantly in undermining Indian intelligence-gathering abilities.

Pakistan has also been using the battle-hardened Afghan militia who fought the opposition in the Hind Kush and Pamir heights. Pakistan also has a militia raised locally to suit the terrain and climate. The objective was to disrupt communications, destroy supply dumps and gain the aid of the local populace in a hope-for general uprising.

New Delhi’s assessment has been that the area north of Valley along the frontier with Baltistan is not prone to infiltration and subversion. On the surface, it has appeared that the Shia Purig-pa and Wahabi Shinas of Ladakh would be averse to Pakistani game plan. The situation on the ground, however, reveals as well-thought-out Pakistani plan for an Islamic uprising in Ladakh too-a plot hatched nine years ago.

What made it worse was the Indian government’s own decision to separate Kargil from Ladakh as a separate administrative zone. This was done on July 1, 1979, a year after the Iranian Revolution. The step has helped the Pakistani cause considerably.

By the early eighties, the Shias of Kargil not only refused to support a Union Territory status for Ladakh but also rejected the offer of an Autonomous Hill Council status, essentially to mark their solidarity with the Kashmiri cause. The communal division of Ladakh has created a host of issues with wide implication for national security.

The Kargil crisis, therefore, is not a case of intelligence failure but an utter intellectual failure. The faulty military command and deployment strategy has been evident. To have left the entire stretch of over 75 kilometres of a vulnerable border to a sole brigade in Kargil was a criminal mistake, though the trend of the Pakistani thrust in the Ladakh sector was clear since 1997.

While intruding into Kargil, Pakistan has opened qualitatively a new front vis-a-vis India. While gaining control over the mountain heights, it has managed politically to widen the scope of Kashmir conflict on the ground.

Pakistan has also the impression, as evident from the broadcasts from Radio Azad Kashmir and Radio Skardu, that the Buddhist Ladakhis too are getting averse to India’s rule. In the absence of India’s inaction to regain the PoK through offensive means, the Pakistanis would only like to alter the existing LoC to their own advantage. Particularly in view of what is regarded as an erosion of India’s ability to checkmate Pakistan after the Soviet collapse. India has been pushed on to a geopolitically defensive position after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. Pakistan has certainly managed to gain a "strategic depth" for its rivalry against India.

The trend also indicates Pakistan’s ideological agenda beyond Kargil--and into China’s Xinjiang. The attempt by Pakistan-based Islamic militant outfits to penetrate western China has been foiled by Central Asian states, especially by Uzbekistan when it threatened Islamabad with severe consequence should it try to push the Islamic agenda beyond Afghanistan.

There are reports about hundreds of Chinese Ughur militants trained by the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Tablik-e-Jamaat stranded in Pakistan due to China’s strict vigilance. The possibility of the militants looking for a passage via Kargil into Xingjiang cannot be ruled out.

Clearly, the government’s naive policies with regard to Ladakh have contributed to Pakistani designs. New Delhi’s shortsightedness to bifurcate Ladakh on communal grounds will have disturbing implications for national security for a long time to come. New Delhi’s policy of giving a free hand to Srinagar to deal with Ladakh’s affairs has only compounded the security vulnerability.

Reversing the situation may not be an easy task as Pakistan has devised sufficient ways and means to sustain high-altitude guerrilla warfare tactics in Ladakh ranges. If India is serious about defending Ladakh, it will have to reshape its policy not only by politically regaining the confidence of the people but also by gearing up military preparedness while raising and strengthening the existing local armed forces, the Ladakh Scouts. This could only be done if the Ladakh infantry units are conferred with a regimental status. After all, India can live with the Kashmir problem but neglecting Ladakh will be suicidal.

The author is Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

Pakistan's Role

Kargil 1999



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