Recently, the former Chief of Army Staff wrote a letter to the Prime Minister regarding the ill-preparedness of Indian troops and ammunition in case of a war. This prompted a lot of discussion in the media about the relevance of the letter and whether the Chief was justified in writing it. As someone who fought the Kargil war in 1999 and also commanded hundreds of troops, I completely agree with the contents of the letter.
When the Kargil war happened, we were taken by surprise. No one had ever thought that Pakistani troops would venture to cross the Line of Control. I was given a 12-hour notice to move my troops to the border. I pointed out to my immediate senior that the equipment we possessed belonged to 1970s and 1980s vintage. With such obsolete ammunition, we were in no position to cross the treacherous mountain passes and reach the operational area. Concerned, I demanded better equipment. My request was met with outrage and my senior refused to comply with my demands. In fact, I was told, “I don’t know how you are going to manage. Start pushing your guns if need be. I couldn’t care less.”
Eventually I moved my regiment by seeking help from locals and pooling the vehicles used by them. After reaching the operational area, I found that we did not even have radio sets. We had to use field telephones, which get easily disrupted in situations of shelling. The new equipment we were promised never came until the war got over.
As a nation, we are ruled by complacency. The top brass of the Army has to speak up and take charge if things are to change. But no one wants to bell the cat and upset the order of things. Why would anyone want to be held culpable when they are only at the strategic level and not the ones fighting the actual war?
(The individual served in the army for over 40 years)
As told to Sujatha Subramaniam