Kargil redux: A senior Pakistani Air Force officer's account of the PAF's role in Kargil (NOTE: This article has appeared in the journal, "Defence and Security of India". It is a cold and objective analysis of the kind that we Indians seem incapable of. I am happy that I played a role in getting this article published in India.) By Air Commodore M Kaiser Tufail (Retd) Pakistan Air Force While the Indians were prompt in setting up an Inquiry Commission into the Kargil fracas, we in Pakistan found it expedient to bury the affair in the ï¿½national interestï¿½. Compared to the Indians, Pakistani writings on the Kargil conflict have been pathetically few; those that have come out are largely irrelevant and in a few cases, clearly sponsored. The role of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has been discussed off and on, but mostly disparagingly, particularly in some uninformed quarters. Here is an airmanï¿½s perspective, focusing on the IAFï¿½s air operations and the PAFï¿½s position. Operational planning in the PAF Since an important portion of this write-up pertains to the PAFï¿½s appreciation of the situation and the decision-making loop during the Kargil conflict, we will start with a brief primer on the PAFï¿½s hierarchy and how operational matters are handled at Air Headquarters. The policy-making elements at Air Headquarters consist of four tiers of staff officers. The top-most tier is made up of the Deputy Chiefs of Air Staff (DCAS) who are the Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) of their respective branches and are nominally headed by the Vice Chief of Air Staff (VCAS). They (along with Air Officers Commanding, the senior representatives from field formations) are members of the Air Board, the PAFï¿½s ï¿½corporateï¿½ decision-making body, which is chaired by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). The next tier is made up of Assistant Chiefs of Air Staff (ACAS) who head various sub-branches and, along with the third-tier Directors, assist the PSOs in policy-making; they are not on the Air Board, but can be called for hearings and presentations in the Board meetings, as required. A fourth tier of Deputy Directors does most of the sundry staff work in this policy-making hierarchy. The Operations & Plans branch is the key player in any war, conflict or contingency and is responsible for threat assessment and formulation of a suitable response. During peacetime, war plans are drawn up by the Plans sub-branch and are then war-gamed in operational exercises run by the sister Operations sub-branch. Operational training is accordingly restructured and administered by the latter, based on the lessons of various exercises. This essentially is the gist of the PAFï¿½s operational preparedness methodology, the efficiency of which is amply reflected in its readiness and telling response in various wars and skirmishes in the past. In early 1999, Air Chief Marshal Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi was at the helm of the PAF. An officer with an imposing personality, he had won the Sword of Honour at the Academy. During the 1971 Indo-Pak War, as a young Flight Lieutenant, he was on a close support mission in erstwhile East Pakistan when his Sabre was shot down and he was taken POW. He determinedly resumed his fighter pilotï¿½s career after repatriation and rose to command PAFï¿½s premier Sargodha Base. He was later appointed as the AOC, Southern Air Command, an appointment that affords considerable interaction amongst the three services, especially in operational exercises. He also held the vitally important post of DCAS (Ops) as well as the VCAS before taking over as CAS. The post of DCAS (Ops) was held by the late Air Marshal Zahid Anis. A well-qualified fighter pilot, he had a distinguished career in the PAF, having held some of the most sought-after appointments. These included command of No 38 Tactical Wing (F-16s), the elite Combat Commandersï¿½ School and PAF Base, Sargodha. He was AOC, Southern Air Command before his appointment as the head of the Operations branch at Air Headquarters. He had done the Air War Course at the PAFï¿½s Air War College, another War Course at the French War College as well as the prestigious course at the Royal College of Defence Studies in the UK. The ACAS (Ops) was Air Cdre Abid Rao, who had recently completed command of PAF Base, Mianwali. He had earlier done the War Course from the French War College. The ACAS (Plans) was the late Air Cdre Saleem Nawaz, a brilliant officer who had made his mark at the Staff College at Bracknell, UK, and during the War Course at the National Defence College, Islamabad. There is no gainsaying the fact that the PAFï¿½s hierarchy was highly qualified and that each of the players in the Operations branch had the requisite command and staff experience. The two top men had also fought in the 1971 Indo-Pak War, albeit as junior officers. First rumblings As Director of Operations (in the rank of Gp Capt), my first opportunity to interact with the Armyï¿½s Director of Military Operations (DMO) was over a phone call, some time in March 1999. Brig Nadeem Ahmed called with great courtesy and requested some information that he needed for a paper exercise, as he told me. He wanted to know when the PAF had last carried out a deployment at Skardu, how many aircraft were deployed, etc. Rather impressed with the Armyï¿½s interest in PAF matters, I passed on the requisite details. The next day Brig Nadeem called again, but this time his questions were more probing and he wanted some classified information including fuel storage capacity at Skardu, fighter sortie-generation capacity, radar coverage, etc. He insisted that he was preparing a briefing and wanted to get his facts and figures right in front of his bosses. We got on a secure line and I passed on the required information. Although he made it sound like routine contingency planning, I sensed that something unusual was brewing. In the event, I thought it prudent to inform the DCAS (Ops). Just to be sure, he checked with his counterpart, the Director General Military Operations (DGMO), Maj Gen Tauqir Zia, who said the same thing as his DMO and, assured us that it was just part of routine contingency planning. Not withstanding the DGMOï¿½s assurance, a cautious Air Marshal Zahid decided to check things for himself and despatched Gp Capt Tariq Ashraf, Officer Commanding of No 33 Wing at PAF Base, Kamra, to look things over at Skardu and make a report. Within a few days, Gp Capt Tariq (who was also the designated war-time commander of Skardu Base) had completed his visit, which included his own periodic war-readiness inspection. While he made a detailed report to the DCAS (Ops), he let me in on the Armyï¿½s mobilisation and other preparations that he had seen in Skardu. His analysis was that ï¿½something big is imminent.ï¿½ Helicopter flying activity was feverishly high as Army Aviationï¿½s Mi-17s were busy moving artillery guns and ammunition to the posts that had been vacated by the Indians during the winter. Troops in battle gear were to be seen all over the city. Interestingly, Messes were abuzz with war chatter amongst young officers. In retrospect, one wonders how Indian intelligence agencies failed to read any such signs, many weeks before the operation unfolded.