26 October 2006

"Kargil: from surprise to victory" by General V P Malik

The head of Indian army is one of the best persons to provide a first person’s account of the Kargil war. If he happens to be an engaging writer, even better. If he has the intellectual honesty to be truthful, it would be a delight.

General V P Malik has done an exceptional job in this book.

He is quite honest, without being critical, about the flawed intelligence; flawed reporting from the frontline; a few failures; and lack of sufficient equipment. However, the story of how the armed forces mobilized its response; how every point was captured back reads well.

Malik gives due credit to the political leadership in India for having the courage to increase the intensity of response without the fear of a nuclear backlash; but is frustrated with the moral high ground of not letting the army cross the line of control into Pakistan.

Malik gives an insight into the strategic thinking in India. Pakistan has the advantage of surprise in a low intensity conflict. Pakistan has parity (thanks to its bomb) in a high intensity conflict. However, India has the advantage in a medium intensity conflict due to a much larger armed forces. (India is a $ 3,800 billion economy while Pakistan is a $ 374 billion economy; in the end, sheer budgetary support would differentiate the two armies in a conventional war).

Pakistan’s thinking was that its nuclear capability would prevent India from escalating the war from low intensity. The political leadership and military leadership in India surprised Pakistan by escalating the response and engaging in a medium intensity conflict without being worried about nuclear responses.

Malik excels at the anecdotal level too. There are heroic stories about how individual peaks and points were captured back. The photographs of the terrain show how difficult the job was.

Reading this book along with Musharraf’s book “In the line of fire” would provide a contrast between India and Pakistan.

One, Malik appears proud of working under his political leadership and seems happy with their support though there are a few disappointments. Musharraf thinks all his political masters were useless.

Two, Malik does not describe Pakistan as an enemy in a passionate way. Malik sounds like a person who would not have minded a vacation in Pakistan if the two nations were friendly. Musharraf whips up passion in Pakistan by painting India as an arch enemy.

Three, Malik is happy to vanish into the wall paper in the political process. The highest level of interference Malik was willing to do was to call the Election Commissioner and complain that it would have been convenient for the army if the EC fixed the election dates after the war was over! Malik and his colleagues are apolitical professionals. Musharraf has emerged as a military dictator.

Four, Malik is quite critical of his country, his army and his political bosses – because he wants his successor to have a better probability of protecting his country. Musharraf cannot find one fault with Pakistan army.

Good book. Reads well.

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