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Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Triumphant Loser Part 1

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: October 11, 2012

Memories may have faded but this scribe clearly remembers it like yesterday. I think I have used this opening sentence in the past, but cannot think of another one as apt as this one to jog some rusty memories. The summer of 1999 was an extra hot one back home. The news and buzz was sizzling that some ‘changes’ were about to occur on the political scene. The late Pir Pagara took out his crystal ball and made the usually chirpy prediction about martial law on the horizon. Most people including this scribe dismissed the late Pir Sahib as being in one of his typically light and jovial moods. Behind the scenes, perhaps the groundwork had begun. In the mysterious town called Islamabad, things were turning. Most of the public was oblivious to what was really ahead of them.

Some of us may have conveniently forgotten but there was a war-like theatre opened at the heights of a rather unknown place called Kargil. Many gifted analysts and war strategists have written about that fiasco. I am a civilian, devoid of any military training or any know how of military strategy. The closest I can get to battle strategy is ‘Business Strategy’, which interestingly finds its roots in books on war strategy. Therefore, I am not going to bore the readers with inordinate details that will fly over their heads. The usually detailed and painstaking analysis that has so much jargon that an average person scratches his head, simply remaining confused and too embarrassed to admit it.

Here is the very simplified scenario in my signature style (if there is any such thing at all). Look back at 1965 when we launched ‘Operation Gibraltar’ with overly optimistic bets. What transpired from there is common knowledge. We celebrate every 6th of September as our Defence Day, but we very conveniently ignore the fact that we initiated that conflict with the hope of getting to Kashmir. The neighbour, like any other country, responded when it found infiltration into its territory. Kargil, which is now dubbed as a ‘misadventure’, was perhaps a sequel to that aforementioned operation. The goal was perhaps still the same:: to get to the disputed territory of Kashmir. Life permitting, one of these days I will touch on Kashmir as well, and both of my Indian and Pakistani readers (if any) will be equally surprised.

But going back to the subject at hand, in simple words, the Indians vacated a post at the heights of Kargil. Our soldiers decided to infiltrate and gained control of the post. The idea was perhaps that when we were in a position of advantage we could inflict maximum harm to the returning Indian soldiers, and perhaps from there make advances into the Kashmir Valley, which was again an overly optimistic plan in this simplistic strategist’s utterly unprofessional opinion. It perhaps discounted two very distinct possibilities. One, if the returning Indian soldiers outnumbered, let us say four to one, our occupying soldiers were going to be at the maximum disadvantage, because at the heights they were going to be paralyzed. The back up at those spots becomes next to impossible. Secondly, the grand plan of advance into enemy territory without being undetected was highly farfetched. Hence, how it ended is again common knowledge. 

Ordinarily, anyone behind this miserable debacle would have been court martialled, or to say the least would have been relieved of his duties with some sort of reprimand. But it was not meant to be. In our land, some men are not ordinary at all. Some are above from the rest, way above. They know how to change the narrative in their favour. No matter what. I think, in one of my previous write-ups, I had expressed my awe and gratitude for men who move in unison on one single order of their superiors. They embrace death with fervour as a call of duty. I will salute them until my last breath as their valour and dedication is unquestionable. Nevertheless, I often wonder about those who send them in harm’s way, knowing that the odds are so humongous that it will require divine intervention to overturn the inevitable. If my memory serves me right, close to 500 soldiers became the victims of this flawed strategy. But all they got was some minor recognition, a meagre pension perhaps to their loved ones and the eternal abode of six feet under.

The architects of this grand plan of death, of course, dubbed it a misadventure and called it a day. I wondered back then and will continue to question the strategy of advance to Kashmir. I will repeat I do not know much about military strategy, but as an ordinary person, I will question this much. Looking back at that particular year, was it wise to make that move when our neighbour had demonstrated its nuclear prowess? God forbid, if it would have escalated into a full-scale war, and that either side had exercised the dreaded nuclear option, what would have been left of this part of the world? However, this question or possibility was perhaps not in the contingency plan of the grand architects. Perhaps not. Perhaps until the powers from Washington gave the right signals and perhaps when the casualties of jawans (soldiers) and the inevitable retreat became clear as day.

(To be continued)

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