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New Delhi

Cloud over Kargil

Jatin Gandhi has covered politics and policy for over a decade now for print, TV and the web. He is Deputy Political Editor at Open.
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Even after more than a decade of the Kargil War, uneasy questions remain unanswered. Why was the Pakistan army allowed in the first place to intrude into areas under the command of the Indian Army?

In Indian military history, Kargil is a word synonymous with the triumph of the hardened Indian soldier’s resolve against intruders perched at vantage points on Indian soil. The troops pushed the intruders out but not before many young men lost their lives. Every year on 26 July India celebrates Vijay Divas— to mark that day in 1999 when Indian troops took command of forward posts along the Line of Control (LoC) vacated by pushed-out intruders. Yet, even after more than a decade, uneasy questions remain unanswered. Why was the Pakistan army allowed in the first place to intrude into areas under the command of the Indian Army?

An ongoing case being heard by the Chandigarh bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) could unveil some uncomfortable truths that the Army might be trying to cover up for years now. Yet, the Army seems reluctant to part with the information that could take the case to a conclusion.

For the time being, the bench has slapped a fine of Rs 10,000 on Army authorities, after admonishing the force’s counsel, because the Army has been evading the issue of supplying the necessary documents in response to a petition filed by Brigadier Surinder Singh. Brigadier Singh, in his petition first filed in 2001 in the Delhi High Court and later moved to the AFT, has sought an independent probe into the Kargil War. He was commander of the Kargil-based 121 Brigade in 1999 and was sacked in 2001 by the Army on charges of incompetence during the Kargil War.

The bench has also directed the Army to produce the required documents by the date of the next hearing on 3 March. Brigadier Singh was sacked even without a general court martial (GCM) by the Army. Hearing the matter, Judicial Member Justice NP Gupta and Administrative Member Lieutenant General NS Brar imposed the fine after the Army counsel pleaded that the authorities needed more time to part with “confidential documents”. Brigadier Singh has sought documents to be placed before the tribunal which could prove that he had on different occasions informed higher authorities of escalated shelling and activity in the Kargil sector. He has also claimed in the last 11 years that he sought reinforcements for reconnaissance and necessary equipment which he was denied. The Army sacked him by blaming him solely for the Kargil intrusion. The said documents could reverse the Army’s claim.

In three different hearings, the counsel for the Army pleaded on various grounds—claiming some of the documents were “confidential and sensitive in nature” to “untraceable” to “destroyed by fire by a board of officers”. Singh’s counsel, on the other hand, has contended that Army authorities are making a “mockery of the system by making excuses and contradictory statements”. Some of the documents have already been published in books written by General VP Malik, the then Army Chief, and Captain Amarinder Singh—former Chief Minister of Punjab and military historian—and in the report of the KS Subramaniam Committee.

Many young officers—some on their first field posting—led their men into battles till the war was won or lives were lost. But surely, it was those far higher up in the command chain, with their years of experience, who had allowed matters to slip so badly. “The generals’ role can only be proved after the documents are produced. They have always tried to hide under the word ‘secret’,” Brigadier Singh tells Open. About time someone blew the lid off.