Islamabad: The operation by Pakistani soldiers to capture strategic heights in Kargil sector in 1999 was a "four-man show" orchestrated by former army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf though then premier Nawaz Sharif was "not" kept totally in the dark, a retired general has said.
Lt Gen (retired) Shahid Aziz, who recently created ripples by acknowledging in an article that regular troops were involved in the Kargil operation, said the "misadventure" was a "four-man show" and details were initially hidden from the rest of the military commanders.
When the operation began in the spring of 1999, it was known only to Musharraf, Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz, Force Command Northern Areas chief Lt Gen Javed Hassan and 10 Corps commander Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmad, Aziz told the Dawn newspaper.
Though former premier Nawaz Sharif has for long claimed that he had no information about the Kargil operation, Aziz said information he had gathered suggested Sharif was not kept "completely in the dark".
Aziz said he was personally not aware of what information had been shared with Sharif but recalled that another general had told him that Sharif had once asked during an informal discussion: "When are you giving us Kashmir?" This suggested that Sharif was not completely in the dark, Aziz said.
The former general`s remarks are the first time someone from the senior military hierarchy has spoken in detail and with frankness about the Kargil conflict, the report said.
Aziz said the operation was a "failure" and the actual figure for Pakistani casualties was still not known.
"It was a failure because we had to hide its objectives and results from our own people and the nation. It had no purpose, no planning and nobody knows even today how many soldiers lost their lives," he said.
A majority of corps commanders and principal staff officers were kept in the dark and even then Director General of Military Operations Lt Gen Tauqir Zia learnt about the operation after it had begun, said Aziz, who was the head of the analysis wing of the ISI in 1999.
Musharraf worked on a policy of "need to know" throughout his tenure as army chief and later President, Aziz said.
Musharraf would issue orders to only those who were required to implement them instead of first consulting corps commanders and other officers.
"The Pakistan Army did not plan the operation because Gen Musharraf never saw Kargil as a major operation. Only the FCNA was involved in it and perhaps a section of 10 Corps," said Aziz.
He claimed the operation reflected a "major intelligence failure for India".
"It was a miscalculated move", he said, adding that "its objectives were not clear and its ramifications were not properly evaluated".
Aziz said he first discovered that something was up in Kargil when he came across wireless communication intercepts that showed something was making "Indian forces panic".
He added: "The intercepts worried me as I thought we were not aware of whatever was unsettling the Indians. I deputed two officers to figure out what was happening".
The next day`s intercepts were clear enough for Aziz to realise that the Indians` anxiety stemmed from the fact that someone from Pakistan had captured some areas in Kargil-Drass sector but it was not clear if they were mujahideen or regular troops.
"I took these intercepts to then ISI Director General Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt and asked what was happening. It was then that Aziz was told by Butt that the army had captured some area in Kargil".
Aziz said this was not right. "In his opinion, he should have been told about the proposed operation in advance so that he could have provided his analysis in advance," the report said.
A day after this conversation between Aziz and Butt, the latter called Aziz and told him that he had been invited to General Headquarters for a briefing on Kargil.
During the briefing, which was attended by all principal staff officers, Director General of Military Operations Lt Gen Tauqir Zia said units of the Northern Light Infantry and regular troops had captured areas in Drass-Kargil sector.
Aziz said he believed that though the briefing was conducted by Zia, it was clear he had not been aware of the operation from the beginning.
The day after Zia`s briefing, reports about the Kargil operation appeared in the Pakistani media. The Indian media had carried reports a day earlier.
This shows, Aziz said, that Pakistan`s military leadership was informed about such a "critical operation" only after it had begun and by that time, information was trickling down to the media.
At the briefing, Zia talked about airing pre-recorded Pashto messages that he hoped would be intercepted by Indian forces.
Zia`s objective was that these intercepts would fool India into thinking that Afghan mujahideen had occupied areas in Kargil.
Aziz said he objected to the move as "these would get exposed very shortly".
This led to lengthy discussions and finally Zia conceded that the "truth could not be hidden for long".
During the briefing, Zia had also referred to the "objectives" of the operation, including cutting off India`s supply lines to Siachen because of the closure of Zojila Pass on the Srinagar-Drass-Kargil-Leh road.
This, Zia said, would block India from supplying its troops in Siachen and subsequently force it to vacate the glacier.
Aziz said this did happen because the planners "miscalculated the Indian response and overall repercussions".
In retrospect, Aziz said he feels that "even if only Northern Light Infantry men were up there, it would be wrong to suggest that the operation was carried out by paramilitary forces because NLI falls under the military chain of command unlike the Rangers that are headed by a military officer but technically they fall under the control of the ministry of interior".
Aziz said after he was promoted as Chief of General Staff, he ordered a small study in 2004 to ascertain what miscalculations had led to such a huge loss of men and money in Kargil.
He also asked each battalion involved in the operation for details.
But an angry Musharraf called Aziz and asked what the objectives of the study were.
"I told him it would provide a professional understanding of our mistakes and losses but Gen Musharraf insisted that this was not the time for such a study and ordered that it be stopped," he said.