12 - The lessons of Kargil as learned by India  pp. 311-332

The lessons of Kargil as learned by India

By Rajesh M. Basrur

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The truism that we learn from experience is nowhere better illustrated than in the wide-ranging changes introduced in Indian security policy following the Kargil conflict. At one level, the lessons derived from Kargil were lessons about the management of national security issues: the organization of intelligence, the management of borders, and the structures of decision-making. At a more fundamental level, Indian leaders rethought their strategic relationships, in particular how to contend with Pakistan in a nuclear weapons environment. A critical assessment is far from easy. Learning as a precursor of change involves a dual process. To learn that a specific policy is inadequate is one thing; to learn how to do it better, quite another. The latter presents a continuing problem, for one does not learn how to carry out good policy in an instant. Rather, any type of complex learning takes time and accumulated experience, and at least a modicum of trial and error. Any assessment of Indian learning from Kargil has to be an interim judgment; a judgment that itself contributes to the process of learning. To date, Indian leaders have learned the organizational lessons better than the strategic ones.

From the Indian standpoint, the Kargil conflict produced several specific lessons, which are discussed at length in a number of official and unofficial studies. These include the need for a high degree of vigilance on the India–Pakistan border, the critical importance of intelligence in preempting crises and conflicts of the Kargil type, the need to equip the armed forces with appropriate weapons and accessories for mountain combat, and the necessity of developing an integrated infrastructure for strategic planning.