Pervez Musharraf and his India obsession

What irked Musharraf greatly was that being from the Pakistan Army’s SSG, he could do nothing to prevent Siachen from falling into Indian hands on April 13, 1984.
(Express illustration |Soumyadip Sinha)
(Express illustration |Soumyadip Sinha)

Pervez Musharraf, former Pakistan Army Chief, and the president died Sunday after a prolonged illness. His place in history will remain one of intense controversy. Many claim that he and former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee perhaps had the closest chance of finding peace between India and Pakistan and resolving the vexing issue of J&K. Yet on the other extreme, there are the families of 527 Indian Army brave hearts who lost their lives at the icy heights of Kargil in 1999; they rightly blame Musharraf for initiating a pointless and unwinnable war. In India, he will mostly be remembered as the villain of Kargil 1999, even though he kept visiting India regularly in later years and tried to turn a new leaf, albeit without much success.

I had two commonalities with Pervez Musharraf. First, he graduated as an alumnus of the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), Seaford House London. That is the mother of all strategic institutions. We attended the year-long program many years apart. While I attended the program, he was president. I had always hoped he would drop by the college and allow us to question him after the usual brief lecture. That was never to be. Yet I tucked away the question I had for him, which in the mind’s eye read as: “By surprising the Indian Army at Kargil, did he think that he could force India to vacate the Siachen Glacier?”

In his heart of hearts, Musharraf always knew that initiating an operation at Kargil would hardly pose a problem; it was terminating it on Pakistan’s terms that would determine his future and, in many ways, that of Pakistan. That is where my second commonality with him came up. He was obsessed about Siachen as much as I have been for many years; once you live and serve a few days in the lofty snow-bound terrain, it grows on you.

What irked him greatly was that being from the Pakistan Army’s SSG, he could do nothing to prevent Siachen from falling into Indian hands on April 13, 1984, and exactly six days before the Pakistan Army had planned to occupy it. Their professional ego was hit hard by their failure. The Pakistan SSG led by the then Brig Pervez Musharraf made several unsuccessful attempts to evict the Indian foothold from the Siachen in 1987. Perhaps this failure drove Musharraf to draw up the infamous plan for the occupation of the winter-vacated posts of the Indian Army at Kargil in early 1999.

He had hoped that India’s inability to evict the Pakistani troops from the heights would adversely affect the logistics supply to Thoise, the fixed-wing airhead base for Siachen Glacier. However, Musharraf proved himself a poor General as he did not cater to contingencies. The least he should have expected was an assault by Indian troops in high-altitude terrain. He probably applied his own experience here, the experience of failure to secure a foothold on the Saltoro Ridge in 1987. He probably deduced that the Indian Army would similarly fail in such terrain. Indian troops were made of sterner stuff. He should have remembered the Indian operations for the Qaid post launched by the famous Bana Singh, who won a Param Vir Chakra in the course in 1987.

Musharraf returned Pakistan to military rule in October 1999 through a coup d’etat. He had deceived Nawaz Sharif into believing that a winnable war had been launched. The latter had to plead before President Bill Clinton to get India to stop its operations short of all-out war. That is when the wily Musharraf had to eat crow, also learning that the US was unwilling to support Pakistan. The coup was almost inevitable, but Sharif called it upon himself due to ham-handed actions to restrain Musharraf, who became the CEO in October 1999 and president two years later.

Sometimes one is tempted to accord Musharraf higher status in political and strategic maturity. His attendance at the Agra Summit and the Four Point Formula that he offered on J&K might have led to something more substantial if this had occurred a little later rather than less than two years after Kargil. The trust deficit was just too high to handle. The Agra Summit was doomed to fail even before it started because 2000–2001 were also bad years for the terror situation in Kashmir.

On record remains that the year 2001 witnessed the elimination of 2,100 terrorists by the Indian Army. However, the failure at Agra appeared to affect the ambitious General. It is around this time (post-Agra) that one considers the possibility that Musharraf had begun comparing himself with late Prime Minister A B Vajpayee, perceiving that history would treat Vajpayee as a great statesman and himself as a rogue who was responsible for taking many Indian and Pakistani lives.

The ceasefire of November 26, 2003, agreed upon by the two DGMOs is reputed to have been initiated by Musharraf (never really proven). It was the culmination of a chain of fast-paced events which saw 9/11, the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan by the US and its allies, Musharraf’s acquiescence to George Bush’s “with us or against us” statement, and the near impossibility of conducting operations in the vicinity of Afghanistan while the LoC with India was still alive, that finally led him to cement the ceasefire knowing fully well that the investment of fifteen years in J&K could go waste.

It was Musharraf who had to face the brunt of Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization of Pakistan’s Armed Forces. He remained torn between a pragmatic decision to go after the radical extremist organisations or allow them the freedom to launch from Pakistani soil into J&K.

Despite his personal objection to the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the running battles he had with it, Musharraf lacked the courage to question the Punjabi elements who ran the terror campaign. His decision to launch operations against the terrorists who occupied the Lal Masjid in 2007 was the one decision that resulted in Pakistan being overtaken by a scourge of terror. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was a direct result of this decision and haunts Pakistan even today.

Musharraf’s attempts to turn to politics failed, and he found himself isolated in the labyrinth of Pakistan’s very complex political environment. In India, we remain fully aware of his rogue status as the man who launched the Kargil War in 1999, although he made several peace attempts too.

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

Former Commander, Srinagar-based 15 Corps. Now Chancellor, Central University

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