8 - Surprise at the top of the world: India's systemic and intelligence failure  pp. 209-230

Surprise at the top of the world: India's systemic and intelligence failure

By James J. Wirtz and Surinder Rana

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Although there is much unique about the Pakistani effort to present their Indian rivals with a fait accompli along the frozen ridges and mountain outposts near Kargil, the incident is a textbook case of both the success and failure of military surprise. The Pakistani armed forces succeeded in infiltrating members of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) undetected into disputed territory, but initial tactical success led to an overall strategic humiliation that culminated in the coup against Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Much like the Japanese navy at Pearl Harbor or the German attack through the Ardennes forest in December 1944, Pakistani officials and soldiers were unable to turn operational success into a strategic victory against a vastly superior opponent. This Pakistani success, however, still haunts Indian intelligence analysts, officials, and officers. Indian and Pakistani forces had been exchanging fire in Jammu and Kashmir for years. Both sides had a clear idea about the other's intentions. Nevertheless, Indian officers and intelligence analysts were surprised by Pakistan. Much in the same way the surprise suffered by Israel in the October 1973 war produced a major reassessment of what went wrong and lingering doubts about future intelligence, Kargil shook the entire Indian defense establishment and led to several official inquiries into the sources of the intelligence failure.

What is unusual about the Kargil incident is the fact that a relatively inconsequential military move posed potentially horrific consequences for all concerned.