Will there be a Modi’s “Kargil moment”?
In February 1999, the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee went to Pakistan and signed a peace agreement called the Lahore declaration. It was hailed as an achievement on both sides.
But before the summer of 1999, Pakistan was busy infiltrating its forces into the Indian side of the Line of Control. And the infiltrators were occupying the very same bunkers Indian soldiers had vacated for the winter.
They did this at Kargil, Dras and Batalik sectors overlooking the crucial NH 1D highway connecting Sri Nagar to Leh. Their aim was to choke off all the supply lines for the Indian army to Siachen and probably capture it.
This was called Operation Al-Badr and was masterminded by General Pervez Musharaff. The Pakistanis were so successful that India detected them only in May 1999 when they were all set and dug in.
That also happened only because of a grazer who alerted a nearby Indian Army post to the movement on the mountain tops. What was India doing? It was taking it easy due to the peace agreement signed earlier in the year.
Once the Pakistani presence was established, what followed was a months long war to evict them that took more than 500 Indian soldier lives. It also needed the use of Indian Air Force and pressure from the US.
Or else Pakistan would have achieved its objective easily. It is said that’s why after the war, General Musharraf did a coup to siege power as he felt betrayed by the civilian Govt of Pakistan which buckled to US pressure.
Kargil was one of the worst intelligence and strategic failures of Indian Government and defense forces to have allowed it to happen, believing Pakistan on peace.
This debacle got etched in Indian parlance as “Vajpayee’s Kargil Moment”.
Fast forward to 2021, I see a repeat of a similar scenario. Starting with a ceasefire agreement in February between India and Pakistan. Just like it happened in 1999, though it is not that grand a peace agreement.
Only that at present, the civilian as well as military of Pakistan is under Chinese control. And no international pressure may work if Pakistan chooses misadventure in May with China backing them.
In my opinion, China’s biggest aim is to destabilize the Indian govt and make it fall. For the first time in two decades, China is dealing with a majoritarian, strong, soverign Govt. in India. They simply don’t like it.
They tried something in Ladhak during the peak of Covid in India, which didn’t end well for them militarily. So in my opinion, from now instead of fighting directly, China will use Pakistan to wage a kinetic war with India.
Pakistan can be used by China because both the Govt. and the military in Pakistan seem to be under Chinese influence. And Pakistan has its own ambitions to teach India a lesson and gain a victory in conflict.
China hates war and especially longer ones. So their mission objective would be simple — capture some territory, kill some Indian soldiers, declare ceasefire, then claim victory and drum it up using propaganda.
The rest will follow in India, which is their main mission objective — instigated by Chinese propaganda, fueled by Indian media and opposition furore, Indians themselves will bring down the Modi Govt.
Compared to 1999, sure India will be very wary of both the countries now. And India has much better intelligence gathering and Intel sharing agreements to know what they may do. To preempt any infiltration from its side.
India is also launching an eye in the sky very soon that will permanently watch the border areas at high resolution. So it may not be possible to do Kargil type of infiltration these days with India watching keenly.
But Indians should not forget what happened in April of last year when India was caught napping until the PLA had come in large numbers into Galwan, Hotsprings, Depsang, and Pangong quickly.
Similarly, I believe it may be a fast deployment of forces this time too. From both Pakistan and China, but mostly Pakistan first with little intrusions here and there. India will mirror it quickly — Exactly what they want.
Now if India is forced into this conflict, and if at the same time after short initial gains, China-Pak offer a cease fire and withdrawal, there will be tremendous pressure internationally on India to end the conflict.
If Pakistan aims for Siachen again like Op Al-Badr, aided by China, the best compromise India may get is to agree not to occupy it and militarize it by all parties. Which is a win for both China and Pak.
So the risk is there for a “Modi’s Kargil moment". Even as early as this summer. Am sure the Indian Govt., their strategists and military planners would be prepared. But the best preparation should be diplomatic.
India must make it clear to the international community that if Pakistan or China do infiltrate or try to draw India into a conflict, the war will last until India depletes its last military option to protect its sovereignty.
Which means no ceasefire will be accepted and there will be a total devastation of all the three countries. The World may never recover from it. This is a serious threat.
And this is enough to make China back off from its sinister designs. It will also pressure the World into condemning any such instigation by either Pakistan or China at the outset.
That’s how I believe Modi should carry forward a policy of “peace through threats” against sinister designs by China while preventing his Kargil moment from happening.