Part 2: History of Top Leadership Blunders in Pakistan

What are the key sources of the current crises faced by Pakistan? Can any of these be traced to blunders committed years ago by Pakistani leaders? Here's part 2 of the discussion started earlier.

Was it a blunder for General Zia to join the United States and Saudi Arabia in support of the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union in 1980s?  Did it help achieve Pakistan's objective of weakening the Pashtun Nationalists led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan's son Abdul Wali Khan who opposed the creation of Pakistan?  What if Pakistan had not supported the Afghan Resistance in 1980s? Did it promote militarization of religious fanatics in Pakistan? Was it a mistake for Benazir Bhutto to give birth to the Taliban?

Was General Musharraf's seizure of Kargil heights in 1999 in Kashmir a blunder? How was it different from India's seizure of Siachen Glacier from Pakistan in 1984? If these were similar actions, why was India's and the world's reaction so different?  Coming soon after Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Lahore visit and the signing of the Lahore Declaration, how did Kargil change the course of India-Pakistan history?

Did Kargil lead to the 1999 Coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?  Did Sharif err by firing General Musharraf while he was representing Pakistan overseas and then denying landing permission to  the PIA commercial flight brining General Musharraf home?  Was the coup staged by General Pervez Musharraf or the Pakistan Army Corps Commanders while he was still in the air? Did Nawaz Sharif's failure to manage civil-military relations contribute to his problems and the coup?

Did Musharraf blunder by siding with the United States after Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks in America? What was the alternative? How would the US react if Musharraf had refused to cooperate? Would the porous Afghan-Pakistan border allow Pakistan to be a silent observer?

Azad Labon Ke Sath host Faraz Darvesh discusses these questions with panelists Misbah Azam and Riaz Haq (

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

US Aid to Pakistan

1971 Debacle in East Pakistan

Is it 1971 Moment in Pakistan's History?

Mission RAW by RK Yadav: India in East Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto Gave Birth to Taliban

What if Musharraf Had Said No to US After 911?

Riaz Haq Youtube Channel

VPOS Youtube Channel


Riaz Haq said…
Since 1984, #Indian and #Pakistani forces have been occupying posts on or near the #SiachenGlacier, a 47-mile-long #glacier in the Himalayas. And despite a ceasefire in 2003, tensions remain high on the world’s highest battlefield. #Kashmir @atlasobscura

In 1983, India began receiving intelligence reports warning of an imminent Pakistani incursion into the region, and a potential assault on the Saltoro Ridge, a strategic location on the southwest side of the Siachen Glacier.

Pakistan was indeed planning to launch a strike, but it made a bizarre error. According to a retired Pakistani army colonel, Pakistan ordered Arctic-weather gear prior to the assault from a London outfitter. But the same outfitter also supplied the Indians. The Indians heard of the Pakistani order and promptly ordered twice as many outfits as the Pakistanis and then rushed their soldiers to Siachen.

Pakistan went ahead and launched Operation Ababeel in April 1984, with the intention of taking the Saltoro Ridge. But thanks to the previously obtained intelligence, India launched Operation Meghdoot just 48 hours before the Pakistani assault. When the Pakistan forces arrived, the Indians had already captured the heights of Saltoro.

India took control of around 1,000 square miles of territory during its military operations in Siachen. During the rest of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, both sides launched various combat operations in an attempt to take strategic positions.

But from the 2003 ceasefire up until the present day, things remained much as they had before, with India in control of the Siachen Glacier and all of its tributary glaciers, as well as all the main passes and ridges of the Saltoro Ridge. Pakistan, meanwhile, holds posts at lower elevations along the spurs of the Saltoro ridgeline.

Despite attempts at finally ending this uneasy status quo, both sides still maintain a presence of about 3,000 troops each. As for fatalities, most have been due to severe conditions on the high-altitude glacier (its highest point sits at about 18,875 feet above sea level). By the 2003 ceasefire, around 2,000 men had died, most of them from frostbite, avalanches, and other effects of the extreme environment, rather than from actual fighting.

Soldiers sent to Siachen know they’ll be serving in a bitter and inhospitable environment. They also know that they’ll be arriving at the highest battlefield on Earth, a fact recognized by Guinness World Records. They might also end up stationed at the world’s highest military base, which sits on a ridge up above the glacier at an altitude of around 19,685 feet. Other records created by this strange conflict include the world’s highest helipad and the world’s highest telephone booth, both installed on the glacier by India.

The glacier itself, meanwhile, continues to suffer from all this human activity. It has retreated significantly in the last 30 years, partly as a result of waste dumping by both sides. The military presence has also put rare species at risk, including snow leopards, brown bears, and ibex, who called the Siachen Glacier home long before the arrival of the two rival nations.

Know Before You Go
The Siachen Glacier is located in Northern Ladakh in the eastern Karakoram Range of the Himalayas. The nearest civilian settlement is Warshi, a small village about 10 miles downstream from the Indian base camp. Due to the ongoing tensions in the Siachen region, civilians rarely travel to the area unless they have some connection with either the Indian or Pakistani forces stationed at the glacier.

Riaz Haq said…
#KargilWar: Strategic height – Point 5353 – that #India was unable to regain, continues to be in #Pakistan possession. It has the best view of National Highway 1A that #Kargil incursion of 1999 by “intruders” was aiming to interdict. via @thewire_in

The scene I have reported ... where a stretch-bearer showed his bullet-ridden helmet when the bone was sticking out of a soldier, was just outside Holiyal village in Mushkoh Valley at the base of Tiger Hill. The grey-stoned shelter was a desolate primary school tenement. It was chosen as an action station for the main unit that took Tiger Hill because it was not visible to the Pakistani gunners. The Pakistani shells flew over it and bored into a hill behind it.

In July 1999, I could not report to the newspaper I was then working for the names and the places of the incident because the officer who had hosted me was in the thick of battle. He was leading the 18 Grenadiers, I can report today. The ‘action station’ was the school in Holiyal village in Mushkoh Valley, where I had bara-khana – the ‘grand feast’ – the afternoon before the evening the soldiers set off to re-capture Tiger Hill.

Colonel Khushal Thakur, commanding officer of the 18 Grenadiers, later Brigadier, now retired, then told me (my newspaper) over an RT (radio transmitter) “we have reached Tiger Top, we are wrapping it up” the next day (July 4). Tiger Top was at around 15,000 feet. I was at about 13,000 feet. Col Thakur I guess at around 14,000 feet.

I met him quite by chance on one of many forays from Kargil to Drass (about 65 km though hairpin bends within sight of Pakistani gunners) and beyond to Mushkoh, like many reporters, looking for a story to dispatch. Most journalists, certainly the ones loaded with heavy cameras (TV), had made Drass their base. Mushkoh was beyond Drass. I was armed only with pens, notebooks and a satellite phone.


By this time we were east of Tiger Hill, west of Tololing. The war began turning for India from Tololing. Drass, which was known as the second coldest place on earth (after Verkhoyansk in Siberia) despite being on flat land, was directly below Tololing.

Between Tololing and Tiger Hill is Sando Nullah, through which, unknown to us then, a Gorkha battalion was one of a three-pronged attack, at the centre of which was the 18 Grenadiers.

The second-in-command of the 18 Grenadiers, Lt Colonel Viswanathan – a friend Colonel Khushal Thakur’s ‘2-IC’ – had fallen in Tololing on June 23. When I met them in Holiyal, his place was taken by Lt Col Paugham (I don’t know his current whereabouts) with Major Rajeev Kumar holding the base and the radio in the “action station”, the school in Holiyal over which Pakistani shells whistled.

Paugham had drawn a sketch in my notebook at the bara-khana to explain how the plan included an excursion through the exotically named “Pariyon ki Jheel (Lake of Fairies)” to the North West of Tiger Hill.


That was also part of a plan to recapture a strategic height – Point 5353 – that India was unable to regain and even today continues to be in Pakistani possession. It probably has the best view of National Highway 1A that the Kargil incursion of 1999 by the “intruders” was aiming to interdict.

Let alone wars, even battles and skirmishes often are not conclusive. Kargil is one of a series. It has a history and a future.

The Kargil-Drass-Leh sector was targeted by Pakistan and Pakistan-backed forces in 1947-48 when India could not retain Skardu, then again in in 1965 and in 1971 when India captured and till today holds on to Turtuk near the Siachen south glacier.

With such histories that portend grim and bloody futures, the value of celebrating futile heroism – when bullets through helmets define luck – is questionable.
Riaz Haq said…
Rarely told story of vital Point 5353 #India failed to retake from #Pakistan in #Kargil. #Pakistanis took peaks named Tololing, Tiger Hill and unnamed features like Point 4170 and Point 5353 that belonged to India on a 100-km long front. via @ThePrintIndia

On Sunday, social media activists supposedly based in Pakistan, repeatedly targeted Gen. Ved Prakash Malik (retd) for the Army’s inability to recapture at least three heights near the Line of Control that continue to be in Pakistani possession.

Gen. Malik was the Army chief during the war.

The discourse was particularly centred on a strategically significant feature, Point 5353, which has a domineering view of the national highway between Srinagar and Leh. It has never been occupied by Indian forces since the war.

ThePrint pieces together the events that prevented the Army from regaining Point 5353 (the numbers denote the height of the peak in metres), including a directive from the Vajpayee government and failed attempts to broker a settlement with the Pakistani army.

The intruders had illegally occupied peaks named Tololing, Tiger Hill and unnamed features like Point 4170 and Point 5353 that belonged to India on a 100-km long front.

They were also functioning as ‘observers’ for the Pakistani artillery to direct fire on Indian military traffic.

The heights are vital to the Indian Army as in the summer months they are used to stock up on winter rations before the national highway is covered in snow. This is also the route for supplies to be ferried to soldiers on the Siachen Glacier.

When the Indian Army set out to free the territory of intrusions, with aid from the Air Force, recapturing Point 5353 was one of its objectives. The Army launched “Operation Vijay” and the air force “Operation Safed Sagar”.

Unfinished business
When the operations began, the Vajpayee government made it clear that men and aircraft had to go about their task without crossing the Line of Control, increasing the complexity of mountain warfare.

This severe limitation was probably responsible for Indian forces not being able to clear all the heights used by the Pakistanis to impede Indian traffic.

This reporter, who was with the 18 Grenadiers battalion led by Colonel Kushal Thakur when the Kargil War was reaching its climax — it was never formally declared a ‘war’ — was given a view and a sense of the strategic importance of capturing Point 5353.

From the village of Holiyal in the Mushkoh, where a dilapidated primary school was used as a forward operating base for the battalion, Point 5353 was just east of and behind Tiger Hill through a tract called Sando Gully.

The officer had then pointed out that if the Pakistanis are to be denied a strategic view of National Highway 1A, then Point 5353 would have to be cleared.

The fact that it continues to remain in Pakistani hands shows that it is clearly an unfinished agenda of the war.

But accounts on why this happened and why India decided to drop the capture of Point 5353 have emerged now, the latest being Gen. Malik’s tweets this Sunday.

Without going into the specifics, the General tweeted that the Army had completed its missions by 26 July, 1999.

Riaz Haq said…
War That Never Was: The Story Of India's Strategic Failures
Ravi Rikhye

In the Chapter 4- How India Lost All Its Wars of the book, the author gives analysis of the proposition that war of 1947-48 and 1965 were a favorable stalemate and that of 1971 was an outright victory has been carried out in this chapter. Here the author comments that in all security crises, there have been very serious misperceptions of adversary behavior and that India repeatedly commits same mistake.
Riaz Haq said…
After giving much lower numbers for a decade, in November 2010, names on the “Shuhada's Corner” of the Pakistan Army official website gave a number of Kargil war dead at 453. 3/n (

India also officially gave a lower number for some time: 530 war dead. But
noticed in 2014 that the Indian Army's website section "Pay Homage to Your Martyrs" led to a much larger number: 970.


A Name Upon A Grave
India needs a proper account of the army’s war dead


ON THE NIGHT OF 4 FEBRUARY 2000, an army post I was commanding in Kashmir was fired upon. The incident was unremarkable at the time—just a few months after the Kargil war—and no one was hurt. The next morning, a patrol went to investigate the site from where the shots were fired. (I was away from my post on another operation.) One of the members of the patrol was Manokaran, a barber by trade, who was in many ways the live wire of the company. He should have been on leave but, a week before, faced with a shortage of personnel, I had ordered him to postpone his departure by two weeks. Manokaran accepted this cheerfully.

At the site, the patrol discovered a backpack containing some clothes and a steel tiffin box. The patrol commander, an experienced Gurkha, ordered that the box not be disturbed, but Manokaran, with characteristic daredevilry, exclaimed, “Maut se kyun dartey ho?” (Why are you afraid of death?) and opened it. This triggered an improvised explosive device that blew out his eyes. Within an hour, I was at the scene shouting into a radio to call for casualty evacuation, and ordering a medic to do more to save Manokaran’s life. I could not get myself to do what I should have done: hold his hand to comfort him. Just before he was put on a helicopter, I finally took his hand, and lied to him that he was going to be OK. He was crying for his mother. Manokaran died before the helicopter landed at Badamibagh cantonment in Srinagar.

Many years later, I gave up my uniform and started a new career as an academic. One afternoon I came upon a section of the Indian Army’s official website titled “Pay Homage to Your Martyrs”. It includes a database listing the name, rank, service number, home state, unit, and regiment of apparently every soldier who has died in all of India’s post-independence wars, as well as the name of the operations in which they died and their dates of death. In a way that other soldiers would
Riaz Haq said…
Pravin Sawhney: I am inclined to agree with the PA (#PakistanArmy) standpoint that #Kargil was a victory for them. #India #Kashmir #Musharraf

Writing in my first 2002 book, ‘The Defence Makeover: 10 Myths that Shape India’s Image’, I had argued that Kargil war was not a victory for India. Here are my reasons which Rashid may want to consider.

At the operational level, let alone the Pakistan military, even its regular army did not join the war. It was Indian armed forces (army and air force) pitted against ISI-supported irregulars (terrorists) and its paramilitary force (Northern Light Infantry). The big takeaway for PA was that it perfected the art of fighting irregular and regular wars simultaneously. Called a paramilitary force, the NLI, unlike Indian paramilitary forces, is commanded by army officers on deputation and has the army ethos. In previous wars of 1947-48, and 1965 over Kashmir, the PA had first waited for the success of its irregulars before launching regular forces. The results were not good. After the Kargil war, Musharraf formally inducted the NLI into its regular infantry, and importantly, called terrorists his first line of defence (read offence). Given the operational utility of battle-tested terrorists in a war with India, the PA cannot be expected to sever its ties with them as long as India remains the existential threat.

The other advantage for the PA was that it raised the peacetime surveillance burden on India. India’s 8 mountain division (over 10,000 troops), a reserve for conventional war, is now perched on the Kargil heights in high altitude areas round the year. Holding posts on the linear treacherous ridge line, these troops will have a limited operational availability in war with Pakistan. This is not all. During the war, despite a shortage of acclimatised troops, the Indian Army (IA) did not consider it wise to pull-out its acclimatised 114 infantry brigade at Durbok in Ladakh facing China for combat with Pakistan. This implies that in a war with Pakistan, the IA will find it difficult to use its dual-tasked formations (two-and-half divisions) from the Chinese to Pakistani front. The knowledge that India fears a substantive Chinese reaction in a war with Pakistan in a future conflict will help both allies plan hostilities optimally.
At the higher level, Indian political leadership was worried about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and hence resisted pressure to cross the Line of Control to take the war into enemy territories. This established Pakistan’s nuclear weapons’ credibility; that PA is capable of exercising its nuclear option.

For India, the Kargil war was about evicting intruders. The war was fought on Indian soil, and all associated with national security got exposed abysmally. In this respect, the war was a monumental let-down. The intelligence failed, the army leadership was caught napping and unprepared for war, the air force had little idea and wherewithal for combat in mountains, the chiefs of staff committee meant for successful air-land battles was found unworthy, and the political leadership was pushed against the wall. It had no choice but to get intruders out of India’s territories. No one in the Indian establishment had an iota of idea of how to run a successful campaign if the nuclear-armed PA had joined the war. It was India’s good luck that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif blinked, and of course paid a heavy price. Various committees and task-forces set up after the war by the Vajpayee government to comprehensively review the national security edifice were meant to figure out how to fight a successful war with Pakistan.

Finally, most Indian analysts concluded that eviction of terrorists (under US pressure) meant that LC had been sanctified, suggesting its acceptance as de-facto border. This would be a grave miscalculation. A LC by definition is a military held line which can be shifted by whichever side has the capability.

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