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Thursday, June 10, 1999 Published at 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK


World: South Asia

Kashmir: Was India caught out?

There are accusations that the army was not properly equipped

By South Asia Analyst Alastair Lawson

Almost as soon as the full scale of the fighting in the mountainous area above Kargil became known in India, the recriminations begun.

Kashmir Conflict
Both senior army officers and politicians asked how it was possible for them to dig themselves in to a strategically-important area overlooking the highway from Srinagar to Leh.

Yet it would have been an enormously costly exercise to defend such an area on a permanent basis.

It is estimated that the force is located as high as 16,000 feet in an area which is under snow for most of the year.

Furthermore, India says that the force was able to occupy the Kargil area by road from Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

If that is the case, it would have been far easier for them to have gained access to the high ground.

Roads on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control are in better condition and go to a higher altitude.

Civil service under fire

Yet these mitigating factors do not seem to have pacified some in the Indian establishment.

Some officers say in private that the army is not properly equipped, and had neither the surveillance equipment nor the proper weaponry to have prevented the mountains near Kargil from being occupied.

They have criticised the civil service for delaying the supply of equipment to troops both before and after the mountainous area was captured.

Opposition politicians say the government is to blame, because it presided over an intelligence failure which subsequently led to India's largest military and territorial crisis in decades.

Defence minister blamed

The Indian Defence Minister, George Fernandes, has been under pressure to resign because of the crisis.

He has been accused of not only allowing the land to be captured, but also of absolving the Pakistani government for the crisis.

Instead, he said, the blame lies with the Pakistani military.

Both Mr Fernandes and the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, have been criticised for offering the gunmen a safe passage back to Pakistan - even though that offer was later retracted.

All options will cost

Some Indian defence analysts have suggested that the only way to prevent a repeat occurrence would be to establish permanently-manned bunkers on the mountains.

They have said that India needs more satellites around the Line of Control so that it can monitor enemy troop movements.

Yet this would be even more expensive than India's commitment to maintain a military presence on the nearby Siachen glacier, a bill that already runs to around $700,000 a day.



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