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Kargil Debacle: Musharraf's Time Bomb, Waiting to Explode

By Rauf Klasra

ISLAMABAD, August 3: Five years have passed since Kargil but it continues to be debated in Pakistan mainly because it led to the fall of Nawaz Sharif and the rise of General Musharraf, changing the fate of both on the same day, one going to jail and the other crowned the king.

Kargil, nevertheless, established a bitter fact that Pakistan Army will continue to exercise its domination over the vulnerable civilians, both in political and militarily domains irrespective of the losses in the process to the country and its unfortunate 140 million people.

The five years since Kargil have also established the fact that the truth will not come out until the Army rules the roost. A Kargil Commission will never be set up like the Hamoodur Rehman Commission, unless a genuinely elected political government takes over.

The controversy, however, rages on. In a fresh interview, exiled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told an Indian magazine a judicial commission was inevitable to determine who was responsible for the disaster.

Nawaz Sharif sounded quite aggressive and threatening in his latest interview when he made it clear that whenever he regains power, he would not spare those who staged Kargil.

Earlier, ‘Battle Ready’, a new book by American General Anthony Zinni, who worked closely with former president Bill Clinton during the infamous Pakistan-India stand off, revived the five years old controversy in Pakistan.

Despite claims and counter claims both from the military and civilians, the situation is still blur as General Musharraf claims that Nawaz had cleared the plan and military could not be held responsible for the debacle.

In a series of political profiles of leaders of the Nawaz government who were actively involved in all Kargil decisions, this scribe tried to get to the bottom but could only go so far as leaders who know would not talk and those who talk don’t know.

Ch. Shujaat Hussain, the current Prime Minister who was leading the ruling PML-Q when I interviewed him, was the first political leader who had disclosed many inside stories leading to the Kargil crises.

His disclosures had unleashed a storm in the political and military circles. However, when this scribe met Ch. Nisar Ali Khan who had accompanied Nawaz Sharif to meet President Clinton on July 4, 1999, a different perspective of the situation emerged.

Ishaq Dar who was the then finance minister and directly pumping money for defence requirements, gave another account of these events.

But one potential witness to Kargil, Mushahid Hussain, otherwise considered to be a bold writer, had flatly refused to talk over the issue after becoming a senator on the ruling party ticket.

Despite my best efforts, I could not interview the then Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz as he had refused to come on record though he confirmed to me that he knew much about Kargil. Likewise, General (Retd) Abdul Majeed Malik, who also knew a lot also shied away from talking on the subject.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid, also an important member of the Nawaz cabinet had simply told this scribe, without going into details of Kargil, that he endorsed the views of Ch. Shujaat Hussain.

Shujaat Hussain was interviewed in April 2003 and he was at best evasive and did neither support Musharraf nor Nawaz Sharif. He rather narrated a tale of one such meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Defence in which Kargil issue was discussed.

Shujaat said a Brigadier was briefing participants of the meeting including Sartaj Aziz, Shujaat, Nawaz and General Musharraf who was then the COAS.

Shujaat claimed that at one stage Musharraf observed that Nawaz was not following what the Brigadier was trying to convey on Kargil. So Musharraf himself sprang from his seat, took the stick from the Brigadier and started to explain.

According to Shujaat, when at one stage of the briefing by General Musharraf, the dismal picture of Kargil and its implications sank home, Nawaz Sharif almost shouted at Musharraf by saying: ‘This means an open war with India’.

Nawaz genuinely complained to Musharraf as to why was he not told earlier that this kind of military activity on Kargil could lead to a war like situation with India, Shujaat continued.

“Upon this, Musharraf produced a pocket note book and started to give details of all those meetings in which, he claimed, Nawaz was given briefings about Kargil. But this further annoyed Nawaz. At this stage a cool and diplomatic interior minister (Shujaat himself) proposed that what had happened was past now. He proposed that it was better that a press release should be issued after the meeting saying that both the military and political leadership was on board on Kargil.

Shujaat said his proposal greatly annoyed Nawaz as he refused to do so. “Nawaz was so annoyed with me for making the proposal that when he left the meeting he did not even bother to look at him or shake hands.”

When this scribe met Ch. Nisar Ali Khan, he gave a different account of events leading to the fall of Nawaz. Nisar had clearly said during the Kargil crisis that Nawaz had decided to visit the US to protect the honor of the military endangered in face of Indian threats.

Ch Nisar held important ministerial portfolios in the governments of General Ziaul Haq and Mohammad Khan Junejo and was also a leading figure in both the tenures of Nawaz government from 1991 to 1993 and 1997 to 1999.

Nisar said, "Kargil was badly conceived, badly planned and badly executed". He said the timing was so bad that when the political leadership was told about this misadventure, the PM could not reverse or stop it even if he wished to because it would have had serious fallout, both for the army and the government.

Nisar said Nawaz and his team were told by military leadership only what was needed according to their requirements and perception. The nation, he said, should be told about the reaction of the then Naval Chief Admiral Fasih Bukhari and Air Chief Pervez Mehdi when like civilian leaders they came to know about Kargil for the first time.

Declining to discuss what these reactions were, Nisar said let the nation ask that question from the former naval and air chiefs and they should tell what their comments were about the possibility of war with India.

Nisar said if Nawaz had been aware of the Kargil adventure, he was not so foolish to invite the Indian prime minister to Lahore.

About Nawaz’s mad rush to Washington, Nisar said he received a call from Nawaz who asked him to get ready to go to the US. Nisar opposed his visit saying: "Mian sahib let those people face the music who had planned all these things without taking politicians into confidence." But, Nawaz replied: "No Nisar, I cannot see my army face humiliation at the hands of India".

Nisar said Shahbaz Sharif is a witness to his opposition to Nawaz dash to the US. He recalled: "ZA Bhutto, with his political wisdom, saved 90,000 Pakistani POWs but was later hanged by the military. The same happened with Nawaz after 27 years. Nawaz went to US risking the negative fallout but saved the military honor that was under serious danger because of Indian threats". Nisar lamented that the same army rescued by Nawaz sent the man to hell.

Ishaq Dar, who was the then Finance Minister, said he knew too much about the troubling issues between military and the civilian leadership of that time. Dar demanded that a judicial commission should be set up where he would give all the inside information and details that would shock the entire country.

He said that the most important details pertain to briefing of General Pervez Musharraf to Dar and Sartaj Aziz in the Military Operation Room of the GHQ towards the end of May 1999 and the meetings of the Defence Cabinet Committee (DCC) during May and June 1999 under the chairmanship of PM Nawaz in which Majeed Malik, Raja Zafar ul Haq and Mushahid Hussain also participated in addition to permanent members of DCC.

But, Dar said before Nawaz dashed to the US for the July 4 meeting with Clinton, two important meetings were held to review the situation. Nawaz had gone to US only to bail out the Pakistan Army. Dar said General Musharraf was very keen to involve US for mediation between India and Pakistan.

Was Nawaz Sharif on board about Kargil operations from the beginning? Dar categorically denied this by saying "not at all".

Most of the Corps Commanders, Air Force and Naval Chiefs were also not aware of the operation on day one. PM Nawaz was in fact informed on May 17, he claimed.

However Ishaq Dar revealed another interesting fact that supported the point of view of General Musharraf that Nawaz Sharif was informed about Kargil, although he might have not taken it seriously.

Dar revealed that many months before the Kargil operation, a strategic briefing on different locations including Kargil was held in Skardu. But, Dar hastened to add that this causal briefing could in no way be termed as an approval from Nawaz for the Kargil Operation.

He said Kargil was launched without meeting the required formalities and a proper approval. The then political leadership was approached for immediate rescue only when operational problems started to surface at Kargil. When Musharraf briefed Nawaz about troubling development, the first abrupt question Nawaz asked from his army chief was: why he was not informed in advance about the operation, Dar claimed.

Dar said Nawaz had gone to the US not on his own but on the personal request and insistence of Musharraf who saw Nawaz off at the Airport. Dar said Nawaz had sincerely tried to save the dignity and honor of Pakistan Army and to protect the Mujahideen on Kargil front lines for whom inadequate arrangements were made by the Army.

But, Dar was not ready to speak more on Kargil though he claimed that he knew much more. He said he would tell everything to a judicial commission if formed on the issue because he believes that such revelations would not be in the national interest.

So, no one, neither the military nor the political leadership, is ready to accept the responsibility of this disaster that not only brought two neighboring countries to the brink of war but also led to the dramatic fall of Nawaz and rise of Musharraf.

The issue, however, is far from dead and sooner than later, Kargil will blow into a real crisis for the Pakistan Army.

The writer is a senior journalist working for The News, Islamabad. E-Mail: klasra@hotmail.com

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