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The Kargil Story

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Najam Sethi reviews Nasim Zehra’s book From Kargil to the Coup: Events that shook Pakistan

The Kargil story or “misadventure” is now well known, thanks in no small part to Nasim Zehra’s chilling thriller From Kargil to the Coup: Events that shook Pakistan.

The book was published last year, twenty years after the event. You can understand why it took so long when you peruse the copious end notes, bibliographies and interviews that went into its writing even while Zehra was engaged in hosting and conferencing other projects. As an unintended consequence, we can now trash the earlier, opportunist and self-serving accounts of the same story by Major-General (r) Javed Hassan, commander FCNA, one of the Gang of Four (others being then Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf, Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Mohammad Aziz and Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed of 10 Corps) who secretly planned and executed the misadventure, and Dr Shirin Mazari, who partly paid off her debt to the brass for appointing her head of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.

The Kargil story or “misadventure” is now well-known, thanks in no small part to Nasim Zehra’s chilling thriller From Kargil to the Coup: Events that shook Pakistan.

The book was published last year, twenty years after the event. You can understand why it took so long when you peruse the copious end notes, bibliographies and interviews that went into its writing even while Zehra was engaged in hosting and conferencing other projects. As an unintended consequence, we can now trash the earlier, opportunist and self-serving accounts of the same story by Major-General (r) Javed Hassan, commander FCNA, one of the Gang of Four (others being then Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf, Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Mohammad Aziz and Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed of 10 Corps) who secretly planned and executed the misadventure, and Dr Shirin Mazari, who partly paid off her debt to the brass for appointing her head of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.

Fifth, there were no rational or realistic reasons for the international community to force India to buckle under their pressure – another core assumption of the planners. Sixth, at no stage was there any nuclear signalling or nuclear blackmail by Pakistan’s high command (thank Goodness!) Seventh, the US took advantage of the situation to invest in strategic trust-building with India instead of with Pakistan – the planners had assumed the opposite. Eighth, there was no opportunity for backchannel bilateral diplomacy because there was no incentive for India in view of the US tilt in its favour. Ninth, Nawaz Sharif’s dash to Washington was predicated on two erroneous assumptions: that the US would get some concessions from India on Kashmir as a quid pro quo for pressurising Pakistan to make a unilateral withdrawal; and that the US could pressurise Musharraf not to overthrow the government. Tenth, given the distrustful internal power play triggered by the operation, a coup was inevitable, either by Sharif against Musharraf or vice versa, and that is exactly what happened.

There are several takeaways from Zehra’s book. One, a small clique in the military high command led by the army chief was able to launch a strategic operation against India with disastrous consequences, with several hundred troops, over a nine-month period without the ISI, MI, MO and other corps commanders and service chiefs being in the loop. This testifies to the extreme discipline and operational efficiency of the Pakistan Army no less than an ever-present possibility of reckless and irrational behaviour and action on the part of its independent high command. For a million-strong army that boasts nuclear weapons and has not been averse to tactical nuclear-rattling, this is a frightening realisation.

This review was first published in The Friday Times issue of May 3, 2019.

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