A valiant soldier's honour has been redeemed. Brigadier Devinder Singh, the brigade commander in the Kargil Sector during Pakistan's infamous intrusions in 1999, has at long last received justice from the main bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal ( ATF) in New Delhi.
Accepting his contention that the After Action Report of 15 Corps, a key war report, was maliciously fudged to downgrade his operational performance, the ATF has directed that the records be corrected and put in correct perspective. The Tribunal has also directed that the Annual Confidential Reports ( ACR) of the officer reviewed by Lieutenant- General Kishan Pal, the Corps Commander, be expunged from the record.
During a Corps war game some months before the Kargil conflict, Brig Singh had been asked to ' act' as the enemy commander and make an assessment of Pakistan's capabilities and intentions.
He had correctly anticipated that the Pakistanis could attempt to launch major intrusions into the undefended areas along the LoC in the Kargil Sector so as to give an impetus to the flagging ' Jihad', cut off the Srinagar- Leh national highway and perhaps even install a government of Azad Kashmir on the Indian side of the LoC. However, Lt- Gen Pal rubbished his plan and refused to consider the possibility of intrusions.
70 Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Singh, was rushed to the Batalik sub- sector of Kargil district when reports of Pakistani intrusions were first received in early May 1999. During a visit to the conflict zone, General V. P. Malik, the then COAS, asked Lt- Gen Pal for his assessment of the situation. Lt- Gen Pal is reported to have said the brigade faced 45 militants.
But Brigadier Singh, the commander on the spot, said there were approximately 600 regular Pakistani soldiers holding the heights and that they were well entrenched.
Lt- Gen Pal was miffed at being contradicted by a subordinate in front of the COAS. Perhaps his insecurity led him to believe that a professional disagreement was a personal insult.
Perhaps he had panicked at the extent of Pakistan's intrusions and did not want to accept the truth. Even in the Kargil and Dras sub- sectors, he had assessed that there were only a handful of militants. His incredulously wrong assessment had led George Fernandes, then defence minister, to tell Parliament that the intruders would be thrown out in 72 hours.
L t- Gen Pal stood by his assessment and ordered the brigade commanders to launch additional battalions quickly into assault to throw out the mujahideen . His lack of tactical acumen and undue pressure on his subordinates to act quickly - disregarding professionally established benchmarks for preparation for attack in the mountains - led to some haphazard plans being made. Personal vindictiveness led Lt- Gen Pal to deny Brigadier Singh the Maha Vir Chakra for which he had been recommended by the General Officer Commanding, 3 Infantry Division. He also gave the brigadier a poor ACR and had the After Action Report falsified to justify his actions.
According to Kargil 1999: Blood Guts and Firepower, a book published by the Army HQ, Brigadier Singh's brigade faced the toughest challenges and achieved the finest victories. The brigadier made extremely successful operational plans, led from the front and worked tirelessly to motivate his troops. Under his dynamic leadership, his battalions lived up to the Indian Army's ethos of sacrifice and glory.
Though the tribunal has set the record straight, Lt- Gen Pal's vendetta has denied Brigadier Singh his rightful due - a Maha Vir Chakra and promotion to the rank of Major- General.
(The writer, a retired brigadier, heads the New Delhi-based Centre for Land Warfare Studies.)