Kargil Review Committee Report, Indian Airforce
Kargil Review Committee Report

A.B.Vajpayee receiving the report from K. Subrahmanyam on January 7, 2000.

On July 29, 1999 a committee under the Chairmanship of Sri K. Subrahmanyam, a defence studies expert, was constituted by the Indian Government to go into what went wrong at Kargil, with the following Terms of Reference:

"i) To review the events leading up to the Pakistani aggression in the Kargil District of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir; and

ii) To recommend such measures as are considered necessary to safeguard national security against such armed intrusions."

The Committee comprised four members namely K. Subrahmanyam (Chairman), Lieutenant General (Retd.) K.K. Hazari, B.G. Verghese and Satish Chandra, Secretary, National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) who was also designated as Member-Secretary.

The Committee has sought to analyse whether the kind of Pakistani aggression that took place could have been assessed from the available intelligence inputs and if so, what were the shortcomings and failures which led to the nation being caught by surprise.

The Kargil Review Committee Report was tabled in Parliament on February 23, 2000. Here are Findings from the Executive Summary of the Report:

I - Developments leading to the Pakistani aggression at Kargil

The Review Committee had before it overwhelming evidence that the Pakistani armed intrusion in the Kargil sector came as a complete and total surprise to the Indian Government, Army and intelligence agencies as well as to the J & K State Government and its agencies. The Committee did not come across any agency or individual who was able to clearly assess before the event the possibility of a large scale Pakistani military intrusion across the Kargil heights. What was conceived of was the limited possibility of infiltrations and enhanced artillery exchanges in this Sector.

A number of former Army Chiefs of Staff and Director Generals of Military Operations were near unanimous in their opinion that a military intrusion on the scale attempted was totally unsustainable because of the lack of supportive infrastructure and was militarily irrational. In the 1948, 1965 and 1971 conflicts, the Indian Army was able to dominate the Pakistani forces on these heights. This area has been the scene of fierce artillery exchanges but minimal cross-LOC military activity. These factors, together with the nature of the terrain and extreme weather conditions in the area, had generated an understandable Indian military mindset about the nature and extent of the Pakistani threat in this sector.

The terrain here is so inhospitable that the intruders could not have survived above 4000 metres for long without comprehensive and sustained re-supply operations. They were even running short of water at these heights towards the end of the operations. Though heavily armed, the intruders did not have rations for more than two or three days in many forward 'sanghars'. Re-supply could have taken place only if there was no air threat and the supply lines could not be targeted by Indian artillery. In other words, it would appear that the Pakistani intruders operated on the assumption that the intrusions would be under counter attack for only a few days and thereafter some sort of ceasefire would enable them to stay on the heights and be re-supplied.

Such an assumption would be totally unsustainable in purely military terms. It would only be logical on the expectation, based upon political considerations, that Pakistan would be able to engineer international intervention to impose an early ceasefire that would allow its troops to stay in possession of the territory captured by them. Such an assumption could not have been made without close consultation with the Pakistani political leadership at the highest level. General Musharraf has disclosed that the operations were discussed in November 1998 with the political leadership and there are indications of discussions on two subsequent occasions in early 1999. The tapes of conversations between General Musharraf and Lieutenant General Aziz, Chief of General Staff, also revealed their expectation of early international intervention, the likelihood of a ceasefire and the knowledge and support of the Foreign Office.

Several Pakistani writers agree that the 'Kargil Plan' was formulated in the eighties in the last years of General Zia-ul-Haq. There are different versions on whether it was sought to be operationalised during the tenures of Benazir Bhutto and General Jehangir Karamat, Chief of Army Staff. General Musharraf's disclosure that it was discussed with the political leadership in November 1998 soon after he assumed office has been referred to in the Report. It is difficult to say whether the initiative for this move came from the Army or was politically driven. There was a heady combination of circumstances and personalities.

Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister, had successfully removed from the office of the President, the Chief Justice and the then Army Chief, General Karamat, in whose place he appointed General Musharraf who superseded two others. General Musharraf himself served in Afghanistan and had ties with Osama Bin Laden and other extremists. He is a Mohajir and an ambitious, hard driving man. He had served in the Northern areas for several years and had been associated with the crackdown on the Shias. He had commanded the Special Services Group (SSG) which launched an attack on Bilafond La in Siachen but was frustrated.

Some Pakistani columnists claim that Nawaz Sharif thought that if he succeeded in seizing a slice of Indian territory in Kashmir, he would be hailed as a 'Liberator' and thereby enabled to gain absolute power through amendment of the Shariah law. There is no clear evidence on the basis of which to assess the nature and extent of Nawaz Sharif's involvement in the Kargil adventure. The balance of probability suggests that he was fully in the picture. This is borne out by the tapes referred to earlier and the repeated assertions of General Musharraf. Those who know Nawaz Sharif personally believe that he has a limited attention span and is impatient with detail. Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume that Nawaz Sharif was at least aware of the broad thrust of the Kargil plan when he so warmly welcomed the Indian Prime Minister in Lahore.

The Committee has not come across any assessment at operational levels that would justify the conclusion that the Lahore Summit had caused the Indian decision-makers to lower their guard. This has been confirmed by the discussions the Committee had with a number of concerned officials.

The Committee has attempted a partial reconstruction of Operation BADR based on diaries and notebooks recovered from Pakistani personnel during the operation as well as intercepts. It would appear that reconnaissance parties comprising officers started crossing the LOC in the late January/early February 1999. They established a first line of administrative bases within a limited distance across the LOC in February. March saw heavy snowfall and so they could move further forward only in April. At that stage, more men joined them and perhaps the bulk of intruders entered Indian territory in late April. This sequence of events appears logical as earlier induction of larger numbers would have added to logistic problems and increased the risk of detection. Care was exercised by the intruders to move only in the gaps between the Indian winter posts and to avoid detection by Winter Air Surveillance Operations (WASO). They were equipped for extreme cold and snow conditions. In the initial advance, they used Igloo snow tents and constructed 'sanghars' of loose rock. Perhaps late in April, they moved up a further two to three kilometres. WASO helicopters and operational reconnaissance flights repeatedly flew over them as is evident from one of the diaries captured in Mashkoh Valley. A combination of factors prevented their detection: camouflage clothing; helicopter vibrations which hampered observation; opportunity for concealment on hearing the sound of approaching helicopters; and peace time safety requirements of maintaining a certain height above the ground and a given distance from the LOC. Since the effort was largely to detect infiltration, most flights flew along valleys and not across the ridges. All these factors made the WASO patrols of negligible value as is also evident from the records of previous years.

After a lull in the winter from late December 1998, there was very heavy snowfall in March 1999 which compelled 121 Infantry Brigade to vacate one of its 25 winter posts in the South West Spur of Point 5299 in the Kaksar sector, popularly known as Bajrang post. Winter patrols sent out in early April 1999 were unable to carry out their task due to adverse snow conditions. The Pakistani creeping forward also suffered avalanche casualties in the month of March 1999 as revealed by a diary captured in the Mashkoh Valley. All the Indian military commanders the Committee met emphasised the point that while it would have been possible for patrolling to be carried out even under these conditons, it would have required the troops to be specially equipped to withstand glacial conditons, as in Siachen, and a willingness to accept possible casualties. Until now, this had not been considered necessary or acceptable.

The intrusion was detected on May 3, 1999, by "shepherds" who are occasionally retained by the Brigade Intelligence Team for forward information gathering. The patrols sent out in the next few days confirmed the presence of intruders on May 7. The Indian Army's response was very rapid and by May 9, two well acclimatised battalions returning from Siachen had been concentrated in the Batalik sector to contain the intrusion. In the next few days, three more battalions were moved from the Valley into the Kargil sector to counter known and possible intrusions in other sub-sectors. By May 24, two additional Brigades had moved into the area and the Indian Air Force was committed on May 26. By the end of May an additional divisional headquarters had been inducted to take over command of a portion of the Kargil Sector from 3 Infantry Divisions. This rapid and strong Indian reaction was obviously not expected by the Pakistanis. It was now their turn to be totally surprised.

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Simultaneously, Pakistan tried to lobby with the international community for a ceasefire, which would leave it with some Indian territory and thereby justify its misadventure. Initially, there was support for a ceasefire but once Tololing fell and the Indian Government and Army exhibited their determination to clear the entire intrusion, the international community called on Pakistan to withdraw from and respect the sanctity of the LOC.

There are obvious discrepancies between the documented responses of 15 Corps and the Northern Command and the information regarding the nature and extent of intrusions at that stage, then available in the Ministries of Defence and Home in Delhi as is evident from the statements of concerned officials.

The Committee found that though the Corps Commander had moved adequate forces to contain the intrusion in the Batalik sector and followed it up with a similar deployment of forces in the Kaksar, Dras and Mashkoh Valley sectors, there was still no clarity in the assessment of the magnitude of the intrusions and the composition of the intruders. This is evident from the statement of the Corps Commander on May 10.

There was inadequate coordination at the ground level among Army intelligence and other agencies. This was lacking even at the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) because of the low level of representation by DGMI at the assessment process and the DGMI representative not coming fully briefed on the latest situation. It is also apparent that the assessment was conditioned by the two decade old mindset that Kargil was unsuitable for cross-LOC military action.

There are reports in the media, some of which are said to have originated from young officers, JCOs and other ranks, that in the initial stages, the Indian Army suffered avoidable casualties, taken as it was by surprise. However, the progressive data of Indian casualties from May to July 1999 obtained by the Committee does not entirely support this hypothesis.

The Army had prescribed extra-cold clothing meant for heights between 9,000-13,000 feet in this sector for use in normal times, and special (glacial) clothing for heights above that. Special clothing were issued for use in the Siachen area and certain limited reserves were held in stock. When hostilities commenced, this reserve clothing was issued to the men.

Troops returning from Siachen duty discarded their special clothing which is then usually disposed of by auction. However, in the previous year, the Corps Commander had ordered that part-worn serviceable (PWS) Siachen clothing be preserved. This PWS stock was also issued to the troops during the Kargil action. Despite this, there was still an overall shortage. This warrants a review of standards of provisioning for reserves as well as a policy of holding special clothing for a certain proportion of other troops in the Kargil and other high altitude sectors.

Though the new light rifle (5.56 mm Insa) has been inducted into service, most troops are yet to be equipped with light rifles. Adequate attention has not been paid to lightening the load on infantry soldiers deployed at high altitudes. In broader terms, increasing the firepower and combat efficiency of infantrymen has also suffered as has the modernisation process as a whole. This needs to be speedily rectified.

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In order to ensure that Pakistan would be deterred from any adventurous escalation, the Indian Armed Forces progressively moved to deploy in a deterrent posture. These measures sent out a clear message to Pakistan and the rest of the world that India was determined to oust the invader by military means. The Western and Eastern fleets of the Indian Navy were concentrated in the North Arabian Sea. From intercepted signals, it would appear that these steps had a healthy restraining effect on the Pakistani Armed Forces. This was impliedly admitted by Nawaz Sharif in his address to the nation on July 12, 1999.

The Kargil action saw the deployment of a limited number of troops and aircrafts on a restricted front in response to a shallow Pakistani penetration across the LOC of no more than eight to nine kilometres at most. Nevertheless, given the terrain and political implications, were a "new LOC" to be created, and in the background of nuclear capability on both sides, this was not a minor skirmish but a short, sharp war in which the Indian Army and Air Force suffered 474 killed and 1109 wounded (as of July 26, 1999). To regard it as anything less would be mistaken. The consequences of its failure for Pakistan are there for all to see.

II - Intelligence

It is not widely appreciated in India that the primary responsibility for collecting external intelligence, including that relating to a potential adversary's military deployment, is vested in R & AW. It is primarily R & AW which must provide intelligence about a likely attack, whether across a broad or narrow front. Unfortunately the R & AW facility in the Kargil area did not receive adequate attention in terms of staff or technological capability. Hence intelligence collection, coordination and follow-up were weak.

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) is meant to collect intelligence within the country and is the premier agency for counter-intelligence. This agency got certain inputs on activities in the FCNA region which were considered important enough by the Director, IB to be communicated over his signature on June 2, 1998 to the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Cabinet Secretary, Home Secretary and Director-General Military Operations. This communication was not addressed to the three officials most concerned with this information, namely, Secretary (R & AW),who is responsible for external intelligence and had the resources to follow up the leads in the IB report; Chairman JIC, who would have taken such information into account in JIC assessments; and Director-General Military Intelligence. Director, IB stated that he expected the information to filter down to these officials through the official hierarchy. This did not happen in respect of Secretary (R & AW) who at that time was also holding additional charge as Chairman, JIC. The Committee feels that a communication of this nature should have been directly addressed to all the officials concerned.

The critical failure in intelligence was related to the absence of any information on the induction and de-induction of battalions and the lack of accurate data on the identity of battalions in the area opposite Kargil during 1998. Prisoners of War have disclosed the presence of 5, 6 and 13 NLI battalions and 24 SIND in the FCNA region from October 1998 onwards. The Indian Army has also assessed that elements of 5, 6 and 13 NLI were amongst the units that were initially used by Pakistan to launch the intrusions in April/May 1999. These units did not figure in the Order of Battle (ORBAT) supplied by R & AW to the DGMI dated April 1998. Since then, and until Indian troops came into contact with these battalions in May-June 1999, there was no information of their presence in the area.

R & AW issued another ORBAT on June 1, 1999 which also did not show any changes in the area opposite Kargil between April 1998 and May 1999. An analysis carried out by the Committee on the basis of information now available shows that there were in fact a number of changes in the ORBAT of Pakistani forces in the FCNA region during 1998/early 1999.

These changes included the turnover of some units, induction of two additional battalions over and above the 13 already in this Sector as reported by R & AW in April 1998 and the forward deployment of two battalions from Gilgit to Gultari and from Skardu to Hamzigund (near Olthingthang) respectively. In other words, if no de-inductions took place, for which the Committee lacks evidence, there was a net increase of two battalions in the FCNA region over and above R & AW's projections as well as forward deployment of two battalions within the sector during the period April 1998 to February 1999. The responsibility for obtaining information on them was primarily that of R & AW and, to a much lesser extent, that of DGMI and the Division or Brigade using their Intelligence and Field Surveillance Unit (IFSU) and Brigade Intelligence Team (BIT) capabilities.

The Kargil intrusion was essentially a limited Pakistani military exercise designed to internationalise the Kashmir issue which was tending to recede from the radar screen of the international community. It was, therefore, mainly a move for political and diplomatic gain. The armed forces play their war games essentially within military parameters. Unlike other countries, India has no tradition of undertaking politico-military games with the participation of those having political and diplomatic expertise. If such games had been practiced, then the possibility of limited military intrusions to internationalise the Kashmir issue might have been visualised.

One of the most realistic assessments of Kashmir developments as they unfolded during Pakistan's proxy war was "Operation TOPAC", a war game written by a team of retired Indian Army Officers in 1989. It is interesting to note that "Operation TOPAC" has since been mistakenly attributed even by high placed Indian officials and agencies to Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. This shows how close the authors of "Operation TOPAC" were able to get into the mind of the Pakistani establishment in relation to their aims in J & K.

As mentioned earlier, WASO did not provide intelligence inputs of significant value. Those of the Aviation Research Centre (ARC) of R&AW were no doubt extremely valuable. The Army makes six-monthly indents and, wherever necessary, special indents on the ARC.

These indents and their prioritization depend on the nature of the threat perception which, in turn, is shaped by inputs from R&AW. This circular process entails the Army having to depend upon its inputs from R&AW for its own threat assessment. In other words, the Indian threat assessment is largely a single-track process dominated by R&AW. In most advanced countries, the Armed Forces have a Defence Intelligence Agency with a significant intelligence collection capability. This ensures that there are two streams of intelligence which enable governments to check one against the other.

The Indian Intelligence structure is flawed since there is little back up or redundancy to rectify failures and shortcomings in intelligence collection and reporting that goes to build up the external threat perception by the one agency, namely R&AW, which has a virtual monopoly in this regard. It is neither healthy nor prudent to endow that one agency alone with multifarious capabilities for human, communication, imagery and electronic intelligence.

Had R&AW and DGMI spotted the additional battalions in the FCNA region that were missing from the ORBAT, there might have been requests for ARC flights in winter and these might have been undertaken, weather permitting. As it happened, the last flight was in October 1998, long before the intrusion, and the next in May 1999, after the intrusions had commenced. The intruders had by then come out into the open.

The present structure and processes in intelligence gathering and reporting lead to an overload of background and unconfirmed information and inadequately assessed intelligence which requires to be further pursued. There is no institutionalized process whereby R&AW, IB, BSF and Army intelligence officials interact periodically at levels below the JIC. This lacuna is perhaps responsible for R&AW reporting the presence of one additional unit in Gultari in September 1998 but not following it up with ARC flights on its own initiative.

Nor did the Army press R&AW specifically for more information on this report. The Army never shared its intelligence with the other agencies or with the JIC. There was no system of Army authorities at different levels from DGMI downwards providing feedback to the Agencies.

There is a general lack of awareness of the critical importance of and the need for assessed intelligence at all levels. JIC reports do not receive the attention they deserve at the political and higher bureaucratic levels. The assessment process has been downgraded in importance and consequently various agencies send very junior officials to JIC meetings. The DGMI did not send any regular inputs to the JIC for two years preceding the Kargil crisis.

The JIC was not accorded the importance it deserved either by the Intelligence Agencies or the Government. The Chairmanship of JIC had become the preserve of an IPS officer who was generally a runner-up for the post of Secretary (R&AW) or DIB. The post was in fact left unfilled for 18 months until December 1998. During this period, Secretary (R&AW) doubled as Chairman, JIC.

There are no checks and balances in the Indian intelligence system to ensure that the consumer gets all the intelligence that is available and is his due. There is no system of regular, periodic and comprehensive intelligence briefings at the political level and to the Committee of Secretaries. In the absence of an overall, operational national security framework and objective, each intelligence agency is diligent in preserving its own turf and departmental prerogatives.

III – The Nuclear Factor

President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto committed Pakistan to acquiring nuclear weapons at a meeting held in Multan on January 24, 1972 in the wake of the country’s defeat in the Bangladesh war. As has been highlighted by a number of eminent Pakistani writers, the primary motivation for this effort was to deter India’s conventional arms superiority. According to Pakistani perceptions, it was able to do so on three occasions. This was well before the Pokhran and Chagai tests in May 1998.

According to a statement made before the Committee, R&AW had assessed that by 1981-82, Pakistan had enough weapons grade enriched uranium to make one or two uranium weapon cores. Former President Venkataraman and the then Scientific Adviser, Dr. V.S. Arunachalam, both said that Indira Gandhi agreed to a nuclear weapons test in 1983 but called if off under US pressure.

A report published in 1984 indicated that Pakistan had obtained from the Chinese the design of its fourth nuclear weapon tested in 1966. It was therefore a proven design. By the early 1980s, Indian intelligence was aware of the China-Pakistan nuclear weapons deal. So also the US, as evident from a declassified document of 1983.

In 1987, Pakistan conveyed a nuclear threat to India at the time of Operation BRASSTACKS. This was officially communicated by Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Zain Noorani to the Indian Ambassador in Islamabad, SK Singh. It was also communicated by the Pakistani nuclear scientist, Dr. A.Q. Khan to the Indian journalist Kuldip Nayyar.

In January 1990, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Sahibzada Yakub Khan, visited Delhi and spoke to the Indian Foreign Minister, I.K. Gujral and the Prime Minister V.P. Singh in terms which they regarded as verging on an ultimatum. Some time later, the Indian Air Force was placed on alert following the Pakistan Air Force being similarly ordered. The Indian Prime Minister inquired of the then Air Chief whether it was possible for the IAF to intercept hostile Pakistani aircraft carrying nuclear weapons. Air Chief Marshal Mehra replied that no such guarantee could be given and that the only logical answer for India was to acquire a nuclear deterrent of its own. American accounts describe Robert Gates’ visit to Islamabad in May 1990, and his warning to President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and General Aslam Beg against any rash action against India. The Pakistanis describe this as one more instance when their nuclear deterrent prevented Indian aggression. During this crisis, the Kahuta establishment was evacuated, a fact that the Indian mission in Islamabad communicated to Delhi. On the 1990 events referred to above, there are varying perceptions among Indian officials. The majority view is that there was an implied threat.

In August 1990, information was received from a sensitive intelligence source that in any future confrontation, Pakistan might use nuclear weapons as a first resort. V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral have a vivid recollection of this report. In October 1990, the US imposed sanctions on Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment, implicitly confirming to the world that Pakistan possessed nuclear explosive capability.

The Committee was informed by former Air Chief Marshal Mehra that flight trials for the delivery of Indian nuclear weapons were conducted in 1990 and that efforts to adapt the delivery system to the weapon commenced even earlier. V.P. Singh said that he inherited the programme from Rajiv Gandhi and pursued it further. Gujral added that every Indian Prime Minister sustained the nuclear weapons programme. While all Indian Prime Ministers treated this programme as strictly confidential, they reassured the public that the country’s nuclear option was being kept open. On the other hand, Pakistan’s Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and its Chief of Army Staff, General Aslam Beg, openly talked of Pakistan having acquired nuclear weapons.

The 1998 Pokhran tests were the outcome of a policy of consensus on nuclear weapons development among Prime Ministers belonging to the Congress, Janata Dal, United Democratic Front and BJP. For reasons of security, none of these Prime Ministers took any one other than Chairmen of the Atomic Energy Commission (not all), and the Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister into confidence. The Chiefs of Staff, senior Cabinet Ministers and senior civil servants were kept out of the loop.

The nuclear posture adopted by successive Prime Ministers thus put the Indian Army at a disadvantage vis-ŕ-vis its Pakistani counterpart. While the former was in the dark about India’s nuclear capability, the latter as the custodian of Pakistani nuclear weaponry was fully aware of its own capability. Three former Indian Chiefs of Army Staff expressed unhappiness about this asymmetric situation.

Pakistan fully understands that nuclear deterrence can work both to its advantage and detriment. At the height of the Cold War, when mutual deterrence was in operation between the superpowers, it used to be argued by strategists that "salami slicing" of small pieces of territory which the adversary would not consider worth escalating to nuclear levels was always feasible. What Pakistan attempted at Kargil was a typical case of "salami slicing".

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Since India did not cross the LOC and reacted strictly within its own territory, the effort to conjure up escalation of a kind that could lead to nuclear war did not succeed. Despite its best efforts, Pakistan was unable to link its Kargil caper with a nuclear flashpoint, though some foreign observers believe it was a near thing. The international community does not favour alteration of the status quo through nuclear blackmail as this would not be in the interest of the five major nuclear powers. Pakistan obviously overlooked this factor.

The P-5 statement of June 4, 1998 and the Security Council Resolution 11172 of June 6, 1998 condemned the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests. It exhorted both countries to sign the CTBT and NPT and referred to Kashmir as a root cause of tension between them. This could have encouraged Pakistan to conclude that what its caretaker Prime Minster in 1993, Moeen Quershi, claimed as the objective of linking Kashmir with the nuclear issue had been achieved and that Pakistan was in a position to implement a strategy outlined as far back as 1980, namely, to seize Kashmir in a bold, brash move when the Indian leadership appeared weak and indecisive.

Some accounts claim that the Kargil intrusion was planned in 1997 and that preliminary reconnaissance and training of personnel commenced that year. If this is accepted, while Pakistan’s reliance on its nuclear deterrence to prevent India from escalating would still be important, the actual nuclear tests conducted in May 1998 would not in themselves be all that significant as nuclear deterrence between the two was in place as far back as 1990.


Kargil Review Committee Report(Part 2)