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Clash of Arms

P.R. Chari

By General V.P. Malik
HarperCollins, Delhi, 2006, pp. 436, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

The end of the Kargil conflict (May-July 1999) witnessed a burst of creative activity with scores of books being published on this clash of arms. It was also subjected to an official inquiry headed by K. Subrahmanyam, resulting in the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) Report, later published by Sage. Strangely, except for a semi-official account by Shireen Mazari and some short articles written by others, Pakistan has maintained an unusual silence on this conflict, although its interlocutors have not been remiss in vigorously defending their aggression which precipitated the Kargil conflict. It has also been the staple of numerous seminars in both India and Pakistan, but also in the United States.   There are several remarkable aspects of this conflict that have attracted attention from the strategic community. For one, it was fought at altitudes of around 3000 to 4000 metres above sea level. The troops involved needed to possess the skills of the mountaineer alongside fighting abilities; it thereby provided an object lesson in high altitude warfare. The Kargil conflict also highlighted India’s time-honoured capacity to be surprised by its adversaries, as noted in its past intelligence failures—1962 (Sino-Indian border conflict), 1947 (raiders invading Kashmir), or 1965 (infiltration by Pakistani forces precipitating the Indo-Pak conflict that year), and several others. Preceding the Kargil conflict, the armed forces were surprised by the entry and occupation of several posts in the Kargil sector by alleged militants. Most importantly, the Kargil conflict disproved beliefs that the possession of nuclear weapons by two adversaries and establishing a state of nuclear deterrence between them will also deter conventional conflict. The Kargil conflict showed that low level, limited conflict was possible between nuclear adversaries without the nuclear threshold being breached.   General Malik’s book discusses several of these issues. He was the Chief of the Army Staff at the time when India and Pakistan clashed in Kargil and can inform us with authority about the events that preceded and followed this conflict. Did the Kargil conflict have nuclear overtones? More specifically, did the availability of nuclear weapons to both adversaries contain and inhibit the conflict? This issue has divided the strategic community in the United States from their counterparts in India and Pakistan. The Americans are convinced that nuclear weapons played an overwhelming role in moderating the Kargil conflict, containing it from expanding to other sectors in Kashmir, and preventing it from acquiring cross-border dimensions. Strategists in India and Pakistan, ...

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