My (armchair) experience of the 1999 Kargil war (Or, “Actionable Intelligence” in the Internet age: How the Kargil effort got a little help from a desktop)

My (armchair) experience of the 1999 Kargil war
(Or, “Actionable Intelligence” in the Internet age: How the Kargil effort got a little help from a desktop)

by Subroto Roy
First drafted July 20 1999,
revised and published January 5 2009

“The pilots who launched the strike and recce missions have caught the public eye but the backroom boys worked equally hard. Even in IAF stations far away from the action, the officers held brain-storming sessions and sent in their suggestions.” — Air Chief Marshall AY Tipnis, Indian Air Force press conference July 15 1999.

On the night of June 1/2 1999, I had been looking on the Internet for a good map of Jammu & Kashmir for use in a research paper.  I was in my office as a “full professor” at an “Institution of National Importance”.  A year earlier, on June  23 1998, I had been in the United States and given a talk at Washington DC’s Heritage Foundation titled “Towards an Economic Solution for Kashmir” based on my research originating in the late 1980s with the academic volume that WE James and I created, Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s.  Now again there was a plan to talk and I needed a proper map.  We had lost two fighter aircraft and a helicopter in the Kargil fighting, and the Indian Army seemed to be facing reverses.  The country seemed despondent and tense yet in a trance too over the ongoing cricket World Cup.  Neither the Army nor the IAF seemed to quite know where the enemy had entrenched himself or in what strength. Television and newspapers were showing crude schoolboy sketches of the battlefield.  Could the Internet be of help in finding a better map, I asked myself?  I had been an early enthusiast of Google since its launch some months earlier and the Internet was still a wild and untutored place.

Imagine my surprise when before my eyes that night came to be unveiled the American CIA’s own detailed declassified contour maps, or “Tactical Pilotage Charts”, of  Kargil, Drass, Srinagar and the Line of Control; then to the west Muzaffarabad, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Kahuta etc., and to the east, Ladakh, Aksai Chin and the Line of Actual Control with the Chinese.   Produced by the US Government’s Defense Intelligence Agency for the CIA, there they were now available to me at my desk thanks to the Internet!   The Pakistan map stated in bold letters that all aircraft planning to enter Pak airspace must request permission with at least 15 minutes notice.

Did our folks have these maps, was my first thought. Perhaps we didn’t, we had been caught unawares after all by the Pakistani attack, even if we had the maps somewhere perhaps they were unavailable right now, we had just lost aircraft and Squadron Leader Ahuja had been killed, our artillery fire at the time somehow seemed not as accurate as theirs; after years of close military collaboration with the West, Pakistan surely had all these maps in the original while we did not  —  that was an advantage that needed to be neutralized.   Such were the thoughts that rushed through as the maps downloaded slowly (very slowly, excruciatingly slowly) before me that night.

Yet here I was in my distant office just before midnight; how could these maps reach those they ought to reach?  I had not even a direct phone line outside campus or a phone directory.  Thinking aloud, I woke up the campus security chief who was a friend and a retired soldier; could he please phone the commander of a nearby IAF station, a Group Captain, and ask him to call me on campus straightaway because I had just downloaded American “Tactical Pilotage Charts” of Kargil and Drass onto my desktop computer?

The Group Captain knew me because he happened to be a distant cousin; he not only called back but responded to my plea to drive over at once to take a look at the maps.  He was a fighter pilot by training and I thought he, if anyone, would be able to assess their usefulness.  I did not wish to know from him if he thought we had them or did not but I was happy to give them to him anyway.  He taciturnly said these might be useful, so we printed out all the maps right then at 2 am, which he would send on first thing in the morning.

Campus bureaucrats later objected to Air Force officers having visited my office in the middle of the night and used computer-equipment (to print the maps) without higher bureaucratic authorization; I was told faculty-members ought not to meddle in such matters unless and until a formal inter-Ministry request had been received and approved.  This seemed to me bizarre if not absurd in the circumstances.  I replied that I was acting as a citizen and a professor in an area of my published research, and besides our government academic institution was supposedly “dedicated” to the national interest and, excuse me, but there just happened to be a war going on up north in Kargil right then!

Over the next several days, the Internet began to freely reveal all sorts of things which in years gone by would surely have been top secret – pure James Bond stuff.  Here from the Federation of American Scientists, maps included, were nuclear and missile facilities:  Chagai, Chashma, Dera Ghazi, Dera Nawab, Fateh Jung, Golra, Gujranwala, Isa, Islamabad, Jhang, Kahuta, Karachi, Kundian, Lahore, Lakki, Malute, Multan, Okara, Quetta, Rawalpindi, Sargodha, Sinhala, Wah.  Here was the Southern California supplier saying that Pakistan had gone about buying and manufacturing under license more than sixteen hundred armoured personnel carriers; why would you buy so many APCs?  Because you wanted a very large strike force in an attack on India.   Here were details of the latest submarine they had bought from France – a highly lethal machine that could play havoc.  Here too was information that their naval officers had been jailed for accepting bribes in the deal, on which the French Embassy in Islamabad had no comment to make.  Here was the yet-to-be-produced Chinese FC-1 fighter-bomber – which was going to be sold to Pakistan but whose production was stalled by apparent lack of funds.   Here were Pakistan’s own military providing news and propaganda — from whose mixed pronouncements it became clear Squadron Leader Ahuja had been captured alive by Pakistani border guards and then shot dead in cold blood as a surrendered POW.

Air HQ responded quickly enough, and on the evening of June 10th, with four young officers in my office, I sent on all this publicly available material by email.   In the meantime, on June 6, I released the contour map of Kargil to all faculty-members with a request to try to send it up to in any way they might know how to.  I figured that our adversary already had the map in the original, so it would only be to the good if every jawan and airman on our side did too. I also went to see a well-known computer science specialist on campus.  Connections had been established with the Air Force, I told him; now how do we get it to the Army?  He grasped the problem quickly and established a firm connection with an officer in the appropriate location who once had been a student of his.   On June 11, that officer wrote to me:

Dear Sir,
It is very heartening to note the kind of interest that you and Prof C are generating. I have done full justice to the info that you have sent me by sending them to the people to whom they matter. We really do appreciate your efforts in this regard. I am sure as a true patriot of our country, you will continue your valuable efforts and keep us posted… …(we) may lack a proper ‘actionable intelligence’ in terrains like Kargil and Dras simply because of the nature of the terrain and the inhospitable climatic conditions that prevail at such heights. And our countrymen are braving all these and fighting tooth and nail to give back a suitable reply to the infiltrators. What peps us is the solid backing that is given by the citizens of our country who come out in all forms to help assist us in overcoming such a crisis, such as your invaluable contribution. …. the quality of the maps that I had forwarded greatly help in interpreting things more clearly….

I wrote back on June 12:

Dear G,
.… We are very happy to know they are proving useful… It is all in the public domain…There is nothing clandestine about it. ……. there is definite if circumstantial evidence on the basis of Pakistani admissions that Squadron Leader Ahuja was captured alive by the Pakistan Army and then shot dead by them. This evidence consists of Pakistan admitting in the initial moments that they did not know his name but believed it to be UHJA of 6 Squadron out of Srinigar. Ask yourself, how did they make that mistake instead of AHUJA? They could not have made the mistake if they had read the name AHUJA from his flying suit after he had crashed dead, as they claim. The only way they can make that mistake is if they asked him personally what his name and squadron was; he told them, then they shot him. It is an international war crime which our government should take up immediately with the International War Crimes Tribunal. With regards

In creating the Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy book in the 1980s and 1990s while in America, I had been a most sympathetic student of Pakistan. Writing in Hawaii in 1989-1990, I had said in the Introduction to the book that “the arms race and elite rivalry has greatly impoverished the general budgets of both Pakistan and India. If it has benefited important sections of the political and military elites of both countries, it has done so only at the expense of the general welfare of the masses. So long as the arms-race continues, the economies of both countries are likely to remain severely distorted…” Some of this appeared too in my work for Rajiv Gandhi, as published in July 31-August 2 1991 of The Statesman‘s editorial pages. A few years later in 1993 in Washington DC, I articulated “An Economic Solution to Kashmir”.  About 1997 or 1998, the then-Pakistani envoy to India at a luncheon in Calcutta where I was not present, received a copy of the book gifted by me through a colleague who had been at the lunch. The book had been published in Karachi and Delhi in 1992-93, and had been quite intensely reviewed both in Pakistan and in India at the time.  But all my optimism about a peace process with Pakistan vanished during their Kargil aggression in the summer of 1999, and I was totally appalled and horrified by their sadistic torture and murder of Lt. Saurabh Kalia and his platoon, and their cold-blooded murder of Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja while POWs.

In the July 1999 Kargil issue of New Delhi’s  Security and Political Risk Analysis Bulletin, I published an article titled “Was a Pakistani Grand Strategy Discerned in time by India?”.  A longer analysis and prescription dated June 11 1999 had been sent by me to the Vajpayee Government.  I began my analysis with the sentence: “When Pakistani military and political men make statements as they have done recently like (a)they can win a war against India (Pak COAS),(b)    they can hit any target in India and inflict unacceptable losses on us  (Pak nuclear and missile chief), (c) they are prepared to use any weapon (Pak foreign secretary), (d) a fourth war with India is imminent (“Prime Minister” POK),(e) Pakistan will be a responsible nuclear weapons’ country (Pak information minister), these should be taken seriously….” I ended my analysis with the sentence: “If the Pakistani military insists on plunging the entire subcontinent into an abyss of destruction and chaos for generations, then so be it.   There will be no Indian defeat in either Delhi or Kashmir because it will have been preceded by the end of Pakistan’s physical existence…. We must wake up immediately and go to battle-stations at once.  There is no time to lose.”

Now in 2009, as war clouds still linger after the Mumbai massacres, I am reminded of all this experience ten years ago.  If my proposal gets followed of a trial of the terrorist masterminds for piracy, murder and conspiracy, held by the Pakistan and Indian Navies jointly in international waters under maritime law, my hopes for civil government in Pakistan and peaceful cooperative relations may become restored.

Kolkata, January 2009

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