“The Secretary, NSCS (National Security Council Secretariat), pointing towards the heads of R&AW and Intelligence Bureau, whispered to me, ‘General Malik, inki bhi to laaj rakhni hai‘. I cannot forget this remark,” recalls General V.P. Malik (Retired), the Chief of Army Staff while talking about the 1999 Kargil War.
The then head of R&AW, Arvind Dave and the head of the Intelligence Bureau, S.K. Dutta, were not ready to admit that there had been a major intelligence failure on India’s part in detecting the composition of the Pakistani intruders in Kargil, he adds.
The initial reports in the beginning of May 1999, had mentioned that there were approximately 70% militants and 30% Pakistani regulars. However, after doubts were raised by the Army chief at a Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting, the Prime Minister ordered the NSCS to review the reports. The drastically different results of the review mentioned that 70% of the intruders appeared to be Pakistani regulars and about 30% could be jihadi militants.
Malik said this while referring to the recent remarks by Pakistan’s General (retired) Aziz that Kargil was a product of India’s intelligence failure, Gen Malik says that the intelligence reports were faulty all along. He adds that though the initial reports turned out to be incorrect, the reviewed reports could also not be completely trusted.
“The first of the intruders were seen wearing black salwar kameez by our boys, and were mistaken as jihadis.” The civil intelligence agencies validated the supposition that the intruders were jihadi militants from Pakistan. “However, I was sceptical as militants never defend territories and hold on to it for long. That is when I decided not to bank entirely on Indian intelligence reports and sent forces to get as much enemy identification as possible,” recalls Malik.
“This report (the second version) came towards the end of May when we changed our military strategies. If we had better information in the beginning itself, the turn of events might have been different. The Army takes a different approach when it has to drive away some militants, but is much more prepared when it’s the army of another country attacking us,” says Malik.
He adds that he had always maintained that it was a strategic and tactical intelligence failure in assessing the real situation. He had even questioned the later intelligence reports which mentioned 30% jihadis, pointing out that all the evidence available with the Army indicated that the intrusion was by the Pakistan Army. “Except the radio intercepts, which could be a well-planned deception, we had not obtained a single piece of evidence suggesting the presence of militants amongst the intruders.
When asked about the improvements in Indian intelligence, he says, “I would even today take any intelligence report with a pinch of salt. This is why I would always tell my men to rely on their hunches.”
Regarding Aziz’s statement about Nawaz Sharif having full knowledge of the Kargil intrusion, Malik says that this is not a revelation at all. He mentions that there is much evidence to believe that Nawaz Sharif was kept in the loop all along. “Some post-war reports indicate that Nawaz Sharif was briefed about the Kargil plan first in December 1998-January 1999 and again in March 1999. There is also evidence to support the claim that Nawaz Sharif was using the Kargil intrusion to set up a fixed timetable for a solution to the Kashmir dispute in exchange for using his influence on the Mujahideens.”