Ayaz Amir

India may agonise over Kargil, over the shortcomings and failures of its army when the conflict broke out. Indians are welcome to soul-searching. That’s not how things are done in Pakistan. The Pakistani response to failure or folly is simple: just forget about the damned thing. We did this with the ‘65 war, no one at the top ever publicly admitting that far from India being the aggressor, our actions in Kashmir invited Indian retaliation. No internal army analysis about how the Ayub command walked into that mess. No admission of atrocities committed in East Pakistan. There was the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report kept under wraps for years and released by the present regime only after portions of it were carried in some Indian papers. No room for criticism where army conduct is concerned. For 20 years the army and its intelligence agencies played baffling games in Afghanistan aimed at keeping Afghanistan forever in Pakistan’s orbit of influence. Acquiring ‘strategic depth’ is what our military geniuses called it. What were the fruits of that policy? Guns, drugs, religious extremism, a proliferation of religious schools, the rise of mullah power, a refugee population that Pakistan could have done without, and, worst of all, a reputation for backing the Taliban and supporting ‘jihad’.

There is no point in nursing an inferiority complex vis-à-vis India. Everything Indian is not golden and everything Pakistani is not shabby. But as far as looking Kargil in the eye is concerned, the contrast couldn’t be sharper. India’s failures or shortcomings lay in the realm of omission, of not being adequately prepared for the threat from Pakistan. Pakistan’s failure was one of commission, of starting a mini-war whose objectives seemed clear to no one.

Kargil was a piece of military folly which sabotaged the peace process begun by Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee; painted Pakistan in a bad light of “cross-border terrorism”; and reinforced the status of the Line of Control. Pakistan suffered more casualties in the Kargil than in any of its previous wars with India. But the precise number of the dead and wounded remains a secret. Kargil may not have liberated Kashmir but, indirectly, one thing leading to another, it set the stage for October 12, 99, when the present set-up came to power.

But Kargil was a real watershed in another sense. The actual operation as much as its aftermath finally put paid to the idea much favoured by military minds that Pakistan could take on India in an armed conflict or that there was a military solution to the Kashmir problem. Kargil proved to be the last frontier of Pakistani militarism in Kashmir. But many factors lie behind it.

Even so, the deeper roots of Indo-Pak détente can be traced to the Kargil standoff, the sheer stupidity and futility of that great expenditure of blood and treasure. Quite a paradox: a senseless conflict becoming the necessary prelude to peace. Meanwhile, the psychological transformation of the military resulting in a subtle shift from one kind of dedication to another, from guns to butter. The new ethos, which has the military class in thrall is more conducive to producing entrepreneurs than warriors. This is a welcome development for it augurs well for the future of Indo-Pak detente, making the Pakistani military, once an outpost of unabashed jingoism, the leading stakeholder in sub-continental peace.

Ayaz, a columnist for Dawn, writes for THT from Islamabad