Next month India will commemorate its victory in the Kargil war and the extraordinary sacrifices of the soldiers. They fought in some of the most brutal terrain in the world to achieve the objective of throwing the Pakistani intruders out. In his speech of July 26, Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony, a politician known for his commitment to probity, must set to rest the ghosts that haunt the battlefield. It has long been known that many who played a key role in ensuring victory were disgraced so that superiors who ought to have been penalised for their wartime failures could receive medals and honours. Last week, the Armed Force Tribunal held that the officer with direct supervisory responsibility for the conduct of the war, former XV Corps commander Lieutenant-General Kishan Pal, falsified battle records to deny a key subordinate credit for his stellar conduct of operations. This action, which seems to have been driven by a desire to cover up command failures, cost 70 Brigade commander Devinder Singh a medal and a promotion. That it took 11 years to deliver justice to Brigadier Singh is shocking: the Tribunal's judgment has only affirmed what the Army has known all along. Several accounts of the war, including Lieutenant-General Y.M. Bammi's magisterial, Kargil: The Impregnable Conquered, former army chief General V.P. Malik's memoirs, and Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal's official history of the war, made it clear that Brigadier Singh had been instrumental in India's victory in the Batalik sector. The Tribunal received testimony from Brigadier Singh's subordinates and superiors lauding his bravery and acumen — testimony that was available to Army headquarters years ago. Yet successive Chiefs of Army Staff and Defence Ministers did nothing to undo the mischief.
In the build-up to Kargil Day, Mr. Antony will do the Army, his Ministry, and the country proud if he summons the courage to offer Brigadier Singh an apology and restore to him the honours to which he is entitled. But he needs to do more. There are other cases pending before the Tribunal seeking redress; they revolve around decisions made by XV Corps — notably those of 121 Brigade commander Surinder Singh and Major Manish Bhatnagar. Some officers with reason to consider themselves aggrieved, like Colonel Pushpinder Oberoi, chose not to move the court for justice. The Defence Ministry must set up a body to conduct a transparent audit of these cases and set wrongs right. It must also conduct a thoroughgoing examination of the official Kargil Review Committee, which relied heavily on a tainted account of events. Armies in which promotions depend on personal prejudices, rather than dispassionate assessments of professional capability, will see poor quality leadership rise to the top. In the end, their war-fighting capacities will be eroded. Telling the truth will, doubtless, be a painful process — but the Army as well as India will emerge the stronger for it.