An interview with Mariana Baabar
His former boss, and also a relative by marriage, Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, says Lt Gen (retd) Shahid Aziz is a ‘liar’ and suffering from an ‘imbalanced personality’, wondering why it took him 10 years to resort to this ‘character assassination’. But Aziz has taken Pakistan by storm with his all-revealing book in Urdu, For How Long This Silence?, in which he says, among other things, how ill-conceived and badly executed the whole Kargil operation was. Having served in some of the most powerful posts in Pakistan’s army, his book takes a sweeping look from the time he was a cadet to his rise as the Director General Military Operations in 1999, helping Musharraf overthrow the democratic government of the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
He was the head of the Analysis Wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence when Musharraf planned the ill-fated Kargil operation, and served as the Chief of General Staff between October 2001 and December 2003. In an interview with Mariana Baabar, the first time to an Indian publication, Aziz talks about his book and its startling claims:
The Kargil war took place in the summer of 1999. Why are you bringing aspects of its handling by then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf to the public domain now?
Law did not allow me to speak till two years after leaving government service. I retired from NAB (National Accountability Bureau) in 2007. My articles appeared in The Nation two years later; plus appearances on TV. They didn’t help much, since the focus of the media was on personalities rather than issues. So I started writing this book, which took a while.
What were your main objections to the way in which the Kargil operations were handled by the Pakistani army?
First, that we violated an agreement while we pretended to be at peace, notwithstanding the fact that India had done the same in 1971 and again in Siachen; and we in 1965. Military operations must only be commenced after formally declaring that we are now not at peace, or as a pre-emption to impending enemy operations.
Any other objections?
The other objection is that the operation was poorly planned and poorly timed; with limited preparations. Neither Indian reaction was correctly identified, nor that of the international community. This happened mainly because there was no formal planning. Lack of preparations caused avoidable suffering to our troops. The military planning mechanism was kept out of the loop, resulting in loss of face for the nation, damage to the Kashmir cause, unnecessary human loss and a score of other complications.
Is it true the army wasn’t involved, as Musharraf says?
The impression created was that the army was not involved, and it was an operation undertaken by mujahideen. Such assertions in a military operation cannot be hidden for long. Plus we formally acknowledged the brand of “a state sponsoring terrorism”. Whereas states, including India, using non-state actors to achieve their ends never formally acknowledge it. Neither did India in 1971, nor does it acknowledge its current involvement in Karachi, Balochistan and across Pakistan’s western borders. The US also denied this in all its operations across South America, and continues to do so in its involvement in Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan/Pakistan.
Who then is really responsible for the fallout of Kargil?There was no political will to stand behind the operation. The media was hushed to silence, so that backing off may not become a political crisis. The army chief also did not stand firmly behind his soldiers who were fighting most gallantly. The minute global pressures started increasing and some posts were lost, both the leaders shrivelled up and became defensive and passive. They had lost the battle in their minds.
The bodies of our soldiers were quietly dispatched to their homes and some were perhaps not even claimed, and buried across the borders—so I have heard from lamenting officers from units which participated.
Allah knows best. Then started the blame game. No one displayed the courage to accept his folly, or even his part in the debacle. This amounts to dishonouring the sacred blood of our soldiers and the faith of the nation.
Why is Gen Musharraf in denial mode?
The then military leadership continues to deny the facts, under the false pretext of “national security concerns”.
Using soldiers in mufti is a tactic employed by other armies in the world. Why do you see it as such a departure from your army’s practice? Was it never done before?
To the best of my knowledge, in a military campaign of Pakistan army, this has not been the practice, except where special services troops (commandos) are operating behind enemy lines. By doing this, we expose the soldiers to operating without the cover of the Geneva Convention. But yes, in a war, such risks, where necessary, have to be taken. I am not against the concept.
You have criticised Gen Musharraf for involving only a handful of senior army officers. Why was there no sense of outrage at that time among other senior officers?
The senior officers were outraged at not being taken into confidence and criticised the whole concept, but the operation had already been launched, so nothing much could be done. General Musharraf’s confidence in his assessment and his forceful nature quietened much of the opposition. The role of India in 1971 in the dismemberment of Pakistan, the atrocities being perpetrated in Kashmir and refusal to meaningfully negotiate the issue, plus the occupation of Siachen, does not leave much goodwill for India. So there were little concerns on that score. I am not much aware of the details of reactions of senior leadership of the army, since I was then in ISI and not in touch with many army officers. I was also too busy handling Kargil’s international fallout. After the Kargil operation was over and details started trickling to the junior ranks of the army, there was a lot of resentment, particularly against the then Commander FCNA (GOC Northern Areas).
Why did no one resign?
As to why no one resigned in protest: no one knew before the operation commenced, so protest could not prevent it. Usually people resign if they are personally required to undertake some activity against their conscience, and generally not on difference of opinion.
Difference of opinion will stand out in every operation, but the commander’s judgement is respected and followed. This is the norm of every army. Other than the four (see infograhic on P 28), no senior officer was directly involved in the operation’s planning or execution. And, in any case, there was no element of immorality in the undertaking. The fact that there was limited preparation carried out for it was revealed slowly, over a period of time. General Musharraf still denies the reality of the ground situation. While he was in command, these facts were not known openly.
Information these days does not stay confined to one country’s boundary. Your criticism of Kargil has also been widely reported in India. Are you playing into Indian hands?
We have become too concerned about how others perceive us and what ‘they’ say about us. Yes, this has its implications, but what is more meaningful is what we actually are. False pretensions do not change realities. Truth helps bring a change and strengthens institutions. We must understand that if we are to stand up on our own feet, we need to gain respect in our own eyes, rather than in the eyes of others. My loyalty to Pakistan and its army is not questioned by those who know me and my views.
How will this affect you personally and your tenure as a former general?
Character assassination and a whispering campaign against me were expected. This is the least I will have to endure. It is now being alleged that I am part of various clandestine organisations hostile to Pakistan or have hidden political motives. I would like to say that, disregarding all vulnerabilities and threats to me and my family, I have stood up all alone to speak the truth for the sake of my nation, and Allah is my only protector, and I look up to Him alone. I have never had any hidden agendas and I am not a traitor, nor even a pretender. And I do not claim to be an angel. I have made mistakes in life, like any other human being. I am a soldier, not a saint.
Had Gen Musharraf not embarked on his Kargil “misadventure”, would the peace process that was being put in place by the leaders of India and Pakistan have had a better chance of surviving?
All the ‘peace processes’, then and now, are only a farce, for political mileage. There can be no peace unless the issue of Kashmir is resolved, as per UN resolutions. I realise that much water has passed under the bridge since then; yet if we are serious, I’m certain some solution can be found. I’m against the concept of improving people-to-people contact and trade relations etc, which actually amounts to putting the Kashmir issue on the backburner. The real issue must be brought to the forefront and meaningfully discussed. The world is not interested in its resolution. Our hostility suits them. Short of a resolution, under false pretensions of peace, we’ll continue to work against each other, despite smiling at public to public meetings, cricket matches and musical evenings.
So how can peace prevail between the two countries?
Once we find a solution to Kashmir, peace will prevail and no one from outside this region will dare to challenge this subcontinent’s bondage. But I do not see it happening because it has now been made a political impossibility by both the countries. The educated people must understand vested political dynamics on both sides of the divide, and push for a resolution. Hard-nosed arrogance will only result in more bloodshed.
One objective of the Kargil operation was to cut off Indian supply lines to its troops in Siachen. Does the subsequent hardening of India’s position, particularly of its armed forces, on withdrawing from Siachen stem from the Kargil experience?
What kind of setback has Kargil been for the Pak army?
The major loss has been a deterioration in the confidence of our soldiers, in the senior leadership, which will take a while to recover. Operations in support of US occupation of Afghanistan are further aggravating this. The government must recognise this and find ways to come out of our involvement in US’s Afghan war. It’s also hurting the pride of our soldiers.
Gen Aziz, do you consider yourself a patriot? Do you think most Pakistanis will see your attempts at coming out with the truth about Kargil as an honest attempt of a disciplined Pakistani soldier or as a betrayal of the country’s secrets?
I have not divulged any ‘secrets’. Armies are not motivated to fight on falsely propagated causes, but on truth. Giving your life for your country is the sacred duty of every soldier and the highest honour. The decision to go to war must therefore be very carefully considered and the soldier must know the truth, and the leadership must be steadfast in its conviction and courage and bring the nation to stand behind it. Only then will a soldier willingly give up his life.
What about a soldier’s discipline?
Discipline does not imply continuing to cover up truth. This only damages the institution and weakens it. I see my army as the best in the world. Anything that is damaging my army hurts me, and I will do whatever it takes to protect it. I recognise that I will have to suffer many accusations. This is the price I’ll have to pay for the love I bear in my heart for my army—my home.