In a defining scene in the satirical war novel Catch-22, the protagonist Yossarian is trying desperately to get the army doctor to certify him insane — so that he can get off combat duty, which is something of an obsession with him.
But the circular Catch-22 logic of the lunacy of war entraps him. As Yossarian figures it out, “In order to be grounded, I've got to be crazy — and I must be crazy to keep flying. But if I ask to be grounded, that means I'm not crazy anymore and, therefore, I have to keep flying.”
After all, as Doc Daneeka tells him, who else but a crazy man would go out on combat duty — and face the prospect of death?
Sometimes it appears that Pakistani Generals have internalised one of the thematic strands of Catch-22 in their lives: that the only way to survive an insane system is to be insane oneself. Their conduct of the Kargil war, which concluded exactly 13 years ago today in military and diplomatic triumph for India and utter humiliation for Pakistan, is illustrative of a time in Pakistan when the inmates had taken over the asylum.
For all the momentary shock and awe induced by Pakistani Generals’ ‘salami slice’ into Kargil, the entire operation was so low on strategic depth that you have to wonder about the minds that conceptualised the plan.
Pakistani Army soldiers, masquerading as mujahideen warriors, intruded into the Kargil sector, on the Indian side of the Line of Control, line in May 1999. The move caught the Indian military, army and intelligence completely off-guard, and to the extent that the intruders had the capacity to choke India’s supply lines to Siachen, it may have proved costly.
But Pakistan’s plans – or at least, as much as of it that could be pieced together from developments as they unfolded - don’t point to a cohesive military strategy. Indicatively, the Pakistani intruders were not adequately stocked with rations to occupy the heights for anything more than three or four days.
And once the Indian counter-assault began, they couldn’t hold out for long. In the end, the Pakistani army even disowned its own soldiers, branding them ‘mujahideen’, leaving them to die in the high Himalayas.
Pakistan had evidently counted on blackmailing the world using the nuclear ‘Samson option’ – the threat to bring down the whole edifice, exactly a year after the India-Pakistan nuclear tests of 1998 – into extracting concessions on Kashmir that it hadn’t been able to secure in all the decades of supporting the Kashmiri separatist movement and spawning terrorists. It reckoned that it could secure a ceasefire under international pressure on India, it would have carved out another small portion of India, internationalised the Kashmir dispute, and dealt a morale-sapping blow to Indian forces.
It calculated, again erroneously, that the nuclear deterrence theory that had worked so well at the height of the Cold War would work in its favour. Under this theory, strategists argued that they could perhaps get away with slicing off small pieces of a neighbour’s territory because the adversary would be inhibited from escalating the conflict or provoking a nuclear flashpoint.
But the Indian armed forces, and its political command, effectively called Pakistan’s bluff — and gave it a bloody nose. At one shot, the Line of Control was revalidated, and Pakistan’s perfidy was exposed before the world. And our troops got a chance to test their war machines and their combat readiness as well.
In every which way, the Kargil misadventure set Pakistan back so badly that it is unlikely to ever contemplate a repeat of such a low-on-wisdom operation. But then, it doesn’t have to: the way it’s been conducting its anti-India campaigns subsequently, by sponsoring terrorist attacks in Kashmir and in cities across India, has proved far more “cost-effective” for Pakistan, while still giving it deniability, even if it convinces no one.
If there is one lesson that Pakistan’s Kargil operation, which came soon after Prime Minister AB Vajpayee’s path-breaking visit to Lahore, should have taught India, it is the folly of underestimating the depths of Pakistan’s duplicitous conduct.
But that’s precisely the mistake that the Manmohan Singh government has made repeatedly, reaching out with the pious baloney of aman ki asha with no demonstrable proof that the toxicity of Pakistan’s anti-India venom has diminished even one bit.
The recent full-throated diplomatic overdrive on the part of Pakistan to “demilitarise” the Siachen glacier - where India, for all the Catch-22-esque absurdity of maintaining a troop presence in those inhospitable climes – has a strategic advantage – has manifestly found resonance within the Indian political establishment.
Some of the more recent concessions – among others, the consideration of a plan to allow Pakistani electronic media to beam programmes (and the hateful messages of their panellists) into India and the upcoming cricket tour of India by Pakistan – point to a similar weakness of the heart that borders on reckless lowering of the guard with an unrepentant Pakistan.
The risk is no longer that Pakistan will wage another Kargil-type misadventure: even the lunatics in their Army will have woken up to the impracticability of such a ‘salami’ operation, and of the certainty of securing a bloody nose from India. But the alternative risk – that Pakistan will leverage the lowering of India’s guard to inflict low-intensity terror damage – is substantially higher.
We may have reason to celebrate the Kargil victory, but there’s nothing to celebrate in the fact that, as a nation, we’ve learnt none of the lessons from it, and seem hell-bent on placing excessive trust in an unrepentant military state that hasn’t been cured of the lunacy of war.