Judges say 15 Corps Commander falsified accounts of battles in the Batalik sector
In an unprecedented order that is likely to fuel demands for a full investigation into the actions of the military leadership in the 1999 Kargil war, the Armed Forces Tribunal has upheld claims that top commanders falsified accounts of battles in the Batalik sector.
Brigadier Devinder Singh, who led the Batalik-based 70 Infantry Brigade during the war, petitioned the Delhi High Court in 2006, complaining of misrepresentation of his battle performance — misrepresentation which cost him a war medal and led to his being passed over for promotion as Major-General.
In a judgment made public on Wednesday, Justice A.K. Mathur and Lieutenant-General Naidu — who heard the case after it was transferred from the Delhi High Court to the newly-formed Tribunal — have called on the Army to expunge Lieutenant-General Kishan Pal's assessment of Brigadier Singh. They also directed the Army to delete sections of an after-action report prepared by 15 Corps, which claimed that Brigadier Singh only had partial command of the 70 Brigade.
The Tribunal also directed the Directorate of Military Operations to rewrite portions of an official history, Op. Vijay: Account of the War in Kargil. Volume III of the history asserts that while “Commander 70 Infantry Brigade controlled operations on the Western Flank (Jubbar Complex), Deputy GOC 3 Infantry Division controlled the Stangba-Khalubar Ridge operations.”
Justice Mathur and Lieutenant-General Naidu said they “cannot trust the report prepared by Lieutenant-General Pal.”
Brigadier Singh was hailed as a hero in the weeks after the war. In an official citation issued after the war, he was lauded for having “meticulously planned the application of all the resources at his disposal.” Despite sustaining battle injuries, the citation recorded, he continued to fight “unmindful of and with total disregard for personal safety.”
But he soon fell from grace, in large part because of a battle performance review prepared by Lieutenant-General Pal. In an assessment of the 70 Brigade's conduct during the war, Lieutenant-General Pal asserted that Brigadier Singh had little to do with the success in Batalik. “Success in operations,” he instead claimed, “particularly in the last 10-12 days, came about by superimposing Brigadier Ashok Duggal, Deputy-General Officer Commanding 3 Infantry Division.”
Later, an after-action report prepared by Lieutenant-General Pal's headquarters claimed that Brigadier Duggal had control of four battalions that led the assault along the eastern flank of the Batalik sector — the Ladakh Scouts, the 1st Battalion of the 11 Gurkha Rifles, the 12 Jammu Kashmir Light Infantry and the 22 Grenadiers Regiment.
The Tribunal order suggests that personal malice underpinned this rewriting of events. In April 1999, Lieutenant-General Pal dismissed warnings emerging from a war game, which suggested that a Kargil-like intrusion could take place. Brigadier Singh played a key role in the war game; his appraisal was proved correct.
Later that year, Lieutenant-General Pal — who infamously promised to end the war in 48 hours — told the Chief of the Army Staff that just 45 Pakistani irregulars were positioned in Batalik, instead of the 600-odd regular soldiers Brigadier Singh said he was confronting. The Brigadier's assessment was again proved correct by the questioning of captured prisoners of war.
In order to protect himself and some superiors from the consequences of these gross errors of judgment, Lieutenant-General Pal evidently fabricated records underplaying the role of his most successful subordinate.
Brigadier Singh filed a complaint with the Army in 2000, charging Lieutenant-General Pal with bias. Two years later, the Army rejected his complaint. In 2004, the Ministry of Defence struck down Lieutenant-General Pal's assessment of Brigadier Singh's battle performance. However, the Ministry refused to strike down key sections of Brigadier Singh's annual confidential report, a document Lieutenant-General Pal was responsible for reviewing.
Full justice may, however, still lie years down the road. Brigadier Singh — who has retired from service — will now have to petition the Ministry of Defence to reappraise his case after the Tribunal's orders are effected. The Ministry will then decide whether to grant him a promotion.
Brigadier Singh's case is the first of a string of Kargil war-related complaints pending before the Armed Forces Tribunal. Notable among them are those of 121 Brigade Commander Surinder Singh, and Major Manish Bhatnagar, who say they were made scapegoats for the failures of top Generals.