KARGIL VICTORY THAT THE MUSLIM INFESTED GOVERNMENT OF PARTITIONED INDIA WISH US TO FORGET
Date: 21 Jul 2009
July 19, 2009
Letter from the managing editor
The yak probably rebelled against the routine. Or perhaps it was the food that shepherd Tashi Namgyal dished out. On May Day, ten summers ago, it quietly walked out of Garkon, a village close to the LoC.
A distraught Tashi followed its trail up the snow-clad mountain. Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks: six men hunkered ahead, building a stone bunker.
He had not seen them around before—these men were not from the Army, nor from nearby villages. He raced back, still not realising the import of being the first to sight intruders from across the border. At the local Army unit "they thought I was lying", Tashi recalled the pulse-pounding moments to THE WEEK's Special Correspondent Tariq Bhat last week.
Ten years later, the father of four children is soaking in the adulation. He is a hero all right—the plucky shepherd was rewarded Rs 50,000 by the Army and a telephone installed in his home, the only one in the village. It was a small gesture of thanksgiving to a man whose chance discovery helped the nation avert disaster. Had the strategic heights fallen into hostile hands in the summer of 1999, an ominous grip would soon have tightened around the nation's neck.
It took three months, and the lives of 474 of our bravest sons, to breathe free again.
Kargil today is no longer just an icy outpost where men find frostbite as insidious a companion as the enemy's intent. It has become a scaffolding of steel for the idea of India.
That idea glows brighter than ever before in the eyes of Lance Naik Jaswant Singh of the 18 Garhwal Rifles. Assigned the task of reclaiming the crucial Point 4700 in Kargil, Singh and his companions charged against the enemy "even as one intruder kept firing at me from as close as 10 metres". Years later, prodded by his mates, he turned around and showed the bullet wound on the back of his neck, said Principal Correspondent Nikita Doval, who visited them at their post in Banbasa, near the Nepal border.
These men crave mere minutes with their children, sometimes just a warm meal served by a loved one. Instead they keep the heart's desire on hold. Amid the white wasteland where temperatures plummet to minus 40°C in severe winters, men from across India stand guard, eyeballs scanning the thin air for a hint of hostility. They know they could be buried under an avalanche the next minute, or fall to fatal high altitude pulmonary oedema that causes accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
This issue of THE WEEK is dedicated to these heroes who stand guard so that we can sleep safe. On the following pages we present an array of stories on 10 years after Kargil. Experts explain various facets of the war and its lessons—Gen. (retd) V.P Malik, who was chief of army staff during the conflict; K. Subrahmanyam, who headed the Kargil review committee; Air Marshal (retd) Vinod Patney, commanding-in-chief of Western Air Command that was active in the war; and, from across the border, Hamid Mir, chief of Geo TV, who chronicles the changes in his country since the Kargil War.
Over the last many days our reporters gained intimate insights into the lives and loss of soldiers in Kargil and combatants now posted elsewhere. On Sando Top at Dras (16,000 ft), Tariq Bhat gasped at the grit of our jawans. He gasped for breath, too: “We traversed miles of desolate stretches with an unending array of snow-capped mountains that gleam in the morning sunlight…. My headache was peaking and I tied my handkerchief tightly around my head but the nausea wouldn’t subside. By the time we reached Point 4812, I was panting. A soldier stopped the colonel I was travelling with and insisted on tea with grenades. Grenades! I was taken aback. ‘Oh they are choormas, a sweet like the ladoo that they make here with atta, ghee, sugar and dry fruit,’ the colonel explained. ‘The grenadiers call it grenade!’ he laughed. I marvelled at their mettle and the ability to view the lighter side of high-altitude life.”
It is time we paused to marvel at these incredible Indians. It is time we told our children that their modern-day heroes must include not only T20 thrillers and Bollywood badshahs, but also men like Captain Vikram Batra who is fabled for his exploits on Point 5140. It is time to take the family to a new destination like Palampur—just once at least—where Dr N.K. Kalia’s home has become a cenotaph of Kargil’s first war hero, his son Saurabh, as Senior Correspondent Neha Bajpai records in the cover story. “We must have done countless good deeds in our previous birth to have been blessed with a son like him,” said Dr Kalia, who has converted the first floor of his house into a beautiful memorial.
It is time to remember.
And time to restore the honour of men like Rangappa Alur, who was felled by a missile in the aftermath of the war. He lost both hands, and a leg. Which means he cannot run around to get the land promised to him almost a decade ago by the Karnataka government, or lobby the Army to get his meagre pension hiked.
It is time to honour our men.
Heights of bravery
By General (retd) V.P. Malik
Kargil war will go down in the history of India as a saga of the nation’s determination to maintain territorial integrity under any circumstances, as well as unmatched bravery, grit and determination displayed by the armed forces. It is a symbol of great pride and inspiration. In a fiercely fought combat on the most difficult terrain, which gave immense advantage to the enemy, we were able to evict Pakistani troops from their surreptitiously occupied positions.
India won a politico-military victory after being surprised by Pakistani political perfidy and military initiative. As two former prime ministers of Pakistan stated, “Kargil war was Pakistan’s biggest blunder and disaster!” The fact that we were surprised cannot be denied. It reflected a major deficiency in our system of collecting, reporting, collating and assessing intelligence as well as poor surveillance on the ground.
As pointed out by the Kargil Review Committee, ‘the Pakistani intrusion was a complete and total surprise to the Government of India and its intelligence agencies.’ These failures prolonged the fog of war and cost us heavily during the initial days of combat. Our challenge was to vacate the intruders under the most adverse conditions. The adversity was compounded by the political mandate that the Line of Control shall not be violated. When the ground situation became clear, the armed forces decided to plan and fight the war jointly with an integrated strategy. It was necessary to maintain strategic balance and a deterrent posture all along the Indo-Pak front—on the ground, air and sea—should there be any escalation of hostilities. Our strategy made it clear that although a victim of intrusion and exercising restraint, India was determined to get the intrusion vacated.
A reflection on the war will never be complete without a mention of the brilliant junior leadership that was witnessed during the battles. Most of the credit for victory goes to the bravery and dedication of the soldiers and young officers on the battlefield. They were upfront, not hesitating to make sacrifices to uphold the regimental and national pride and dignity.
In a Sainik Sammelan at Dras, I said, “The enemy has started the fight, but it is we who will fire the last shot and the war will end only on our terms.” With great determination, high morale and brilliant junior leadership, our troops performed superbly to achieve this mission. There were countless acts of gallantry, displays of steely resilience, single-minded devotion to duty and tremendous sacrifices. Their legendary tales deserve mention not only in military history books but also in the textbooks of our secondary schools to inspire children. It was a privilege for me to lead such officers and men in the war.
Some strategic lessons that emerged from the war are:
u Acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan has not reduced or eliminated the probability of a war between the two countries. A limited conventional war remains possible. A proxy war in the Indo-Pak security scenario can easily escalate into a conventional war.
We need to enhance border surveillance and close defence capability to prevent loss of territory in a surprise attack.
The new strategic environment calls for speedier, more versatile and more flexible combat organisations. The successful outcome of a border war will depend upon the ability to react rapidly in an evolving crisis.
A war these days requires close political oversight and political, civil and military interaction. It is essential to keep military leadership within the security and strategic decision-making loop.
Information operations are important in the growing transparency of the battlefield. Also, to retain moral high ground and to deny that to the adversary, one needs a comprehensive information campaign.
After the war, additional troops were deployed in the sector with enhanced surveillance and logistic capabilities. The Centre also reviewed the national security system. Several systemic changes were made in the ministry of defence. However, the appointment of the chief of defence staff, which is essential for integrated defence and operational planning, is still pending. Modernisation of armed forces continues to lag behind, thanks to inadequate self-reliance and inordinate delays in procuring essential weapon systems like fighter aircraft, submarines and medium artillery guns.
It must be realised that no one is affected more than the soldiers who have to remain prepared to fight in all kinds of contingencies. It was not the first time that Pakistan initiated a war. And we must not assume that it would be the last time. As a nation, we need to develop the will and capability to react with determination, sometimes proactively. The essence of military leadership lies in the manner in which we react to restore a situation in all adverse circumstances. The most important lesson, I believe, is that sound defence makes sound foreign policies.
Malik was chief of Army staff and chairman of the chiefs of staff committee during the Kargil war.
A bloodstained summer
It’s been a decade since our soldiers died
to put the Tricolour back on Kargil’s icy heights.
Lest we forget…
By R. Prasannan
Tashi Namgyal and Tresing Morup went up the hill to look for a missing yak. Their search led to a two-month-long war between two nuclear powers. Cowherds and yak-herds are the eyes and ears of the Army near the Line of Control. They know the local terrain like the back of their palms, and can tell you, for a bottle of rum, where someone could be sneaking in with a Kalashnikov.
Tashi and Tresing of Garkon village in Batalik did exactly that on May 3, 1999. As they searched for their yak, they saw people atop a Batalik hill. They were a little perplexed. The snow had melted a fortnight early that year, and Indian troops were yet to come and occupy the heights. So who were these people, making sangars?
The yak-herds quietly came down and reported the matter to officers of 3 Punjab. The next day Tashi guided a patrol party up the craggy hill and, from a distance, showed them what he had seen the previous day.
The information was relayed up the brigade, division and corps headquarters. At XV Corps HQ, chief of staff Maj.-Gen. A.S. Sihota had a problem. The corps commander, Lt-Gen. Krishan Pal, was on leave in Delhi, looking after his wife who had undergone a surgery.
Finally Sihota called Pal who promised to take the fast plane to Srinagar, but in the meantime Sihota could order patrols to be launched in the entire sector. For there was a mounting fear that what Tashi saw may not have been a special honour given to just one hill in Batalik.
The patrol launched from Kaksar, manned by 4 Jat, was led by a young lieutenant, Saurabh Kalia. But unlike in Batalik the snow was still thick in Kaksar, and Kalia had to return disappointed.
He had 10 more days to live for India.
The Army still did not press the panic button. For no one knew whether the visitors near Garkon had merely come on a long-range patrol, and would return to their units across the Line of Control. Patrols straying across are common occurrences on the undemarcated Line of Control. At best of times, they had been sent back after warnings over tea.
But this was not a patrol for tea. For across the entire sector commanded by 3 division, patrols were reporting that they had sighted 'enemy' up the hills that Indian units had vacated for winter. On May 8, the commanding officer of 3 Punjab reported to his brigadier that the enemy was not just sitting there, but also firing at Indian patrols.
The picture was still not clear. The snow was yet to melt in many sectors, but some minor eviction operation could be launched. Kargil needed reinforcements. Two battalions, which had just returned from Siachen duty (thus tired, but acclimatised) were waiting in Leh to fly to a peace location. Krishan Pal ordered them to the battlefield in Kargil.
On May 14, Kalia set out on a patrol with four Jat sepoys—Arjun Ram, Bhanwar Bagaria, Bhika Ram and Naresh Singh. As they neared the Bajrang post, they saw that the enemy had taken it. Hardly had they radioed the battalion HQ when they came under mortar fire. Kalia and his men fought back, but soon ran out of ammunition. Before reinforcements arrived, they were surrounded and captured.
Three weeks later, their tortured and mutilated bodies would be handed over to India, hours before the foreign ministers of the two countries were to meet and talk.
By the time Kalia and his Jats were captured, Army chief General V.P. Malik had returned from Poland and taken in the total picture. With his consent, and that of northern Army commander Lt-Gen. H.M. Khanna, Krishan Pal ordered 8 Mountain Division under Maj.-Gen. Mohinder Puri to move to Kargil and divide the work with Maj.-Gen. Badhwar's 3 division.
On May 18, troops of Brigadier Amar Aul's 56 Mountain Brigade captured Points 4295 and 4460. The next day the Army admitted the intrusion for the first time. There has been some infiltration in Dras-Kargil sector in completely unheld area on the Line of Control by Pakistan army, Krishan Pal told the media. These unheld areas are quite extensive and total up to 200km in extent from Gurez sector in the valley to Turtok sector in Ladakh region..... This is a local situation and would be defeated by us locally. There is no possibility of its escalation into war.
But war it was to be. On May 23, Malik flew to Kargil and laid down the priorities and the doctrine for conduct of operations. The assessment was that air support would be needed, but employing the air force carried the danger of the conflict escalating into full-fledged war. Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis wanted a political decision, and the cabinet concurred.
On May 27, Squadron Leaders K. Nachiketa and Ajay Ahuja took off in two MiGs. Nachiketa had a technical snag and he ejected into enemy hands. Buddy Ahuja could have flown back, but he would not. As a flight commander of a specialist photo-recce squadron, he thought he should locate his buddy to enable his later rescue. He took a low loop over the area when a 5km-range missile ended his 14-year career in the IAF.
It was clear the enemy had come with Stingers, the most effective weapon against helicopters. Yet Flight Lieutenant S. Muhilan took an Mi-17 chopper on an attack mission the next day, and fired rockets against a heavily defended area. Another Stinger downed him.
It looked like a losing battle. Especially in Batalik where the Indian forces had advanced most. At three in the morning of May 29 Major M. Saravanan of 1 Bihar launched an attack with 15 men on Point 4268. The enemy spotted them in the dark, but Saravanan refused to retreat. He crawled all the way to the enemy bunker, neutralised it and fell for a posthumous Vir Chakra. Undaunted, a wounded Naik Ganesh Prasad engaged the enemy while allowing his buddies to withdraw. The naik followed his company commander to martyrdom and won a Vir Chakra.
Naik Shatrughan Singh went to recover their bodies, was hit by the enemy, but killed several of them. He then picked up the enemy's LMG and hobbled down on wounded legs for 11 days without food or water.
Shatrughan Singh's real war trophy was not the LMG, but the papers he had picked up from the enemy's pockets. Pakistani generals had inducted troops from their Northern Light Infantry into Kargil, but had given instructions that no one was to carry any identity papers. They were to pose as mujahideen.
But soldiers, by habit, training and Geneva Convention, are loath to conceal their identities. Many of them had secretly kept their identity cards or pay books in their pockets. Those would prove that the enemy was not mujahideen, but regular Pakistani soldiers. Singh, too, won a Vir Chakra. Following Singh's example, other troops would identify more than 60 Pakistani soldiers in Batalik alone.
Almost the same time as Saravanan was crawling up Point 4268, Lt-Gen. Mohammed Aziz, chief of general staff, Pakistan army, was dialling a Beijing number. His army chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, visiting Beijing, picked up the phone. Little did Musharraf or Aziz know that the call was also being picked up by Indian intelligence. The taped conversation revealed one thing: that the Pak army had not fully briefed the Pakistan political establishment. It also indicated how the military was dictating terms to the political leadership.
The tape was apparently played before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, defence minister George Fernandes and the service chiefs. Later, Fernandes would start a minor controversy with a statement that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not much in the know. The statement was interpreted as one giving clean chit to the Pak leadership. Only later, when the tape was made public as part of the diplomatic offensive, did it become clear that Fernandes was not talking through his hat.
Nearly eight years later the tape would generate another controversy. A major-general attached to R&AW would claim that publicising the tape had compromised a rich source of intelligence. Pakistan had immediately spotted the source and shut it.
Aul, commanding 56 Mountain Brigade which was in charge of Dras sub-sector where the road almost kisses the Line of Control, gave two targets to his troops. He asked 18 Grenadiers to take Tololing and 1 Naga to take Point 5140.
The Grenadiers launched their assault early on May 23. They crawled their way up over seven days, braving artillery and mortar fire, and taking minor enemy sangars on the way.
By now, it was clear that it would need more than grit and bullets to evict the enemy. The Army asked for air support, and Indian Air Force jets pounded Tololing and Point 5140 from May 26 to May 28. In those 48 days the IAF would fly 1,400 missions through more than a hundred SAM fires and innumerable rounds of anti-aircraft gunfire, and rarely ever crossing the LoC.
On May 29, Indian Army had its first major victory. By now artillery guns from 108 Medium Regiment opened up on Tololing Ridge, Point 5140, Tiger Hill and Point 4875 in Dras. Once the enemy positions were softened by air power and artillery, infantrymen captured the nearest point on Tololing, and began further advance. On May 30, just 30 metres from target, the assaulting Grenadiers were stalled as enemy bullets felled one of the brave company commanders Major Rajesh Adhikari.
Down in the valley the Grenadier battalion's second-in-command Lt-Col. R. Vishwanathan could not bear the stillness. At midnight June 2, he led 40 men towards Tololing, to reinforce his stalled men, and also to recover the bodies. They crawled up Tololing, silencing three enemy bunkers on the way. As they were assaulting the last bunker on top of the Tololing feature, Vishwanathan and his buddy fell to the heavy volume of fire. A very steep gradient near the top of the feature made the going impossible, and the attack was called off. On June 3, the IAF resumed its pounding of Point 5140 till June 12.
It took nearly another fortnight, and supreme sacrifice by Major Vivek Gupta and 16 others from Rajputana Rifles and Grenadiers before Adhikari's body could be brought down.
On June 5 it looked as if Pakistan was willing to own up the intrusion as one by its army. After a flag meeting, Pakistani army took away the bodies of three of its fallen soldiers handed over by the Indian Army. But that, as it later proved, was an aberration. Throughout the rest of the war, Pak would disown their dead.
On June 8, Vajpayee, heading a caretaker government after he had lost trust vote by one, convened a joint meeting of the National Security Council, the strategic policy group and the national security advisory board. A clear understanding of Pakistan's aims emerged from the discussions, the government claimed.
The gameplan was clear. They were doing a Siachen to India. They had occupied the heights vacated by Indian troops during winter. From the heights they could direct their artillery to fire directly on NH1, the Srinagar-Leh road. In other words, the troops and insurgents on the hilltops acted as forward observation posts for the Pakistani gunners.
But why hit the road? The road was the lifeline to Ladakh. Once the snow melts hundreds of trucks carry food, clothing, fuel and ammunition to the snow-desert of Ladakh. If the highway gets blocked, Ladakh gets cut off, save for air supplies sent from Chandigarh. A starving Ladakh would be easy pluck for the Pakistan army.
A few hours before the meeting of the National Security Council, young Lt Hanifuddin was leading gallant action to defend Turtok where insurgency was detected for the first time the previous day. He executed a brilliant encircling move against an enemy position, and as he advanced on them was felled. The sub-sector, later saved, would be christened Hanif sector.
It was in this sector that Pakistan had planned the boldest insurgency. It had plans to heli-lift troops from seven helipads and capture the entire Turtok in a pincer movement. It was this audacious plan, which could have led to the enemy capturing Ladakh, that Hanif had scuttled.
Talks with Pakistan were getting deadlocked. Pak foreign minister Sartaj Aziz wanted India to call off air operations. India refused.
By mid-June the Indian offensive had stablised. Bofors howitzer guns had been requisitioned from elsewhere. Without fire-finding radars, Indian gunners could not locate Pakistani guns on the other side of the hills, but they did the next best. They fired volleys at the mountain-tops pulverising the insurgents who were directing the Pak gunners. For the first time since the invention of the howitzer, it became a direct-firing weapon (see story).
One cannot be sure, but perhaps the idea had come from ingenious action of young Capt. P.V. Vikram of 141 Field Regiment in Kaksar. Gun batteries, like his own, had always been trained on targets across the LoC, but on June 2 Vikram spotted some intruders from his observation post at 16,200 feet. Counter-insurgency was the job of the infantry, but Vikram thought he could bear some heavy gunnery on them. For that he had to move his gun position, which he knew would attract the enemy's attention. It did. Braving heavy artillery fire from the enemy, he moved his gun some 500 metres, to a location where there was no bunker. As his guns opened up on the infiltrators, Pak guns, giving cover fire to them, targeted him. The infiltrators fled, but Vikram breathed his last there.
By now Indian diplomats were telling the world and Washington that the insurgents were not mujahideen but regular Pakistani soldiers. But the west, still viewing India as a nuclear villain (only a year ago had India cocked a nuke at the NPT-swearing world), did not want to be convinced.
It was here that the bravery of Shatrughan Singh mattered. Troops were instructed to recover identity papers and diaries from the pockets of enemy soldiers. Thus on June 15, the Army could officially claim: In addition to the armament and equipment...., an identity card belonging to Number 2847955 Havildar Afroz Gul of A Company, 6 Northern Light Infantry Battalion of Pakistan Army, resident of Juglot, Tehsil Gilgit, [has] also been recovered. That was just one of the many such media releases.
On June 13, India had the first major victory. Aul's 56 Brigade recaptured Tololing and Point 4590, and the next day they took 'Hump'.
The twin victories turned out to be the turning point in the war. There had been minor successes earlier, but as former Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh recorded in A Ridge Too Far, "the capture of Tololing Top by 2 Raj Rif was the first major success of the war. The courage and tenacity displayed by the battalion was in the highest traditions of their regiment and became a source of inspiration to the entire sector during those fateful days.
The triumphal trumpet was echoed from as far as Washington. The next day, US President Bill Clinton asked Nawaz Sharif to pull out. Sharif was noncommittal.
In less than a fortnight 56 Brigade virtually cleared its area of enemy. Meanwhile, away from media glare (see Col. Tyagi's article), troops in Batalik were inching up. On the night of June 14-15, they captured Point 5203 and encircled enemy positions further north, cutting their supply lines from Pakistan army bases.
By early July, the enemy was on the run or would soon run. On July 2, Indian Army had two prize catches—Naik Inayat Ali and Sepoy Humar Shah of 5th battalion of Northern Light Infantry. Their interrogation gave out some of the tactical positions adopted by the enemy.
On July 3, the Sikhs captured the prized Tiger Hill, already softened by Mirages and Bofors. Again Clinton asked Sharif, now in Washington, to withdraw. He was now willing.
Across the Line of Control, Musharraf's gunners seemed to be anxious to use up their shells. Artillery fire killed six Indian soldiers on July 8 and 9.
Indians, too, seemed to be in a hurry. By July 9, the Biharis had captured Point 4927 and Tharu, the Gorkhas had Point 4821 and Kukarthan, the Paras were sitting on Point 4100 and Muntho Dalo, and the Garhwalis on Bumps I, II and III north of Point 4927.
On July 7, the enemy counter-attacked a Spur emanating from Tiger Hill, killing 14 Indian soldiers. An IAF recce revealed that a supply line to the area from Gulteri in PoK, with a camp 2.5km west of Tiger Hill, was still active. At first light on July 9, IAF Mirages struck the camp, destroying two truckful of supplies, and at Point 4388. Follow-up strikes were made the next morning with 24 of 1,000-pounder bombs.
The enemy counterattacked Point 4875 and Twin Bump on the night of July 7-8. The Jats and J&K Light men put up stiff resistance, but lost 13 gallant men including Capt. Vikram Batra (J&K Light) and Capt. Anuj Nayyar (Jats).
On Friday, July 9 at 2130 hours, Lt-Gen. Tauqir Zia, Pakistan's director-general of military operations (DGMO), rang up his counterpart Lt-Gen. N.C. Vij on the hotline. Pull out from Kaksar before first light tomorrow, Vij told him. In turn he would ask the Air Force to hold fire. Zia agreed and requested a meeting at Wagah border. Vij agreed to meet him at 1130 hours on July 11.
On July 10, Vajpayee addressed the three service chiefs and the Army commanders: The enemy's intrusion and aggression in Kargil has now been decisively turned back. Our military has achieved this. Most pockets have already been cleared. There, our troops are back on the LoC. The remaining pockets will be cleared.
At the BSF checkpost at Attari, Wagah, Vij and Zia discussed further modalities of withdrawal. Vij gave a fresh deadline for complete withdrawal—first light, July 16. "Any intruder thereafter found within our side of the LoC would be treated as hostile and would be dealt with accordingly.
On July 12 Pakistani guns overlooking Mushkoh valley and Kasar fell silent. The silence soon enveloped other sectors. On the 15th Zia used the hotline to ask for one more day. Vij agreed.
As Indian troops moved up to occupy Tiger Hill, they spotted the bodies of Lt K. Bhattacharya and Sepoy Major Singh of 8 Sikhs. They had been lying there since May 21.
The deadline expired on July 17 morning. Apparently there was no enemy, but only snow and rough weather. As India liked it.
The official announcement was delayed to check and verify. On July 20, the Army claimed: "The eviction of Pakistani troops has been completed in all sectors except three places where some Pak troops are still inside our territory, at distances varying from 500 [to] 800m from the LoC. These are one each in Mushkoh, Dras and Batalik... Directors-general of military operations are in touch with each other. Efforts are afoot to ensure that Pak clears their intrusions in accordance with the assurances given by the Pak DGMO...
As if to help those reluctant to decide, Bofors guns opened up on July 22. The intruders stayed put, but guns from across the LoC retaliated in Dras and Batalik.
On July 26 the Army finally claimed: After Pak had completed its withdrawal ... on 17 July 99, ... small pockets of intrusions had still been left, one each in areas of Mushkoh, Dras and Batalik. These intrusions have now been evicted and... Indian territory is free of… Pak presence.
On the whole, 249 Pakistani bodies were counted. Three were handed over to the other side. Pakistan disowned the rest. Indian Army buried them as per military and Islamic custom.
The quickie war was unique for many reasons
By R. Prasannan
It was one of history’s smallest wars. Neither side used even a hundredth of the firepower available at its disposal. It lasted just nine weeks, and was fought over just a few hundred square kilometres. Viewed thus, Kargil was not even a war.
But, for strategic thinkers and military historians, it was a unique war which changed all the precepts of strategic thinking since Hiroshima. The world saw for the first time that two nuclear powers could fight a conventional war and prevent themselves from crossing the unthinkable threshold. The credit for spelling this out as a doctrine should go to defence minister George Fernandes and General V.P. Malik.
Throughout the cold war, which lasted from the end of World War II till the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the US and the USSR behaved as strategic adversaries, but never militarily confronted each other directly. No different was it with the other nuclear powers—Britain, France and China. None of them fought the other.
Nearly five decades of this cold war behaviour had led strategic thinkers and military historians to assume that a conventional war was not possible among nuclear powers. The logic, crudely put, was that the one who thinks he is losing would use the bomb.
Limited wars had been fought since ages, but Kargil was perhaps modern history’s most limited war. Wars can be limited in duration, geographical scope and scale, employment of forces, military objective and so on. Kargil was an extremely limited war going by all these parameters. Either side could have prolonged the conflict, but did not. Neither side used all available force and firepower. In fact, an entire military arm, the navy, remained unused. Either side could have widened the conflict to other areas such, but did not. Either side could have kept a military objective of seizing the rest of Kashmir from the other side, but did not. Kargil was ‘limited’ from another point of view, too. That both sides had the option of using the nuclear bomb, but did not.
The Fernandes-Malik doctrine was given a strategic shape during Operation Parakram, following the attack on the Indian Parliament. India now used the doctrine to warn Pakistan (that it could still fight a conventional war and win it) and also to reassure the world (that the bombs won’t be used).
There was a third aspect too. Pakistan had been waging the low-intensity conflict in Kashmir on the basis of a doctrinal belief that India would not wage a conventional war against acts of insurgency. Kargil changed all that. Against Pakistan’s ‘militarised’ insurgency, India acted with conventional military power. Tactically, too, Kargil had its piece for the military thinker. For the first time, artillery was used as the direct-firing weapon. Traditionally artillery guns had been used for hitting enemy beyond the horizon, often beyond the hills, the fire being directed by forward observation posts (FOPs) or aerial observation posts (AOPs). In Kargil, Pakistan used its artillery in the conventional manner to hit Indian convoys and Indian gun positions. Insurgents sitting in the hills as FOPs directed the Pakistani gunners. But Indian gunners, with no FOPs, fired directly at the targets instead of hitting Pakistani gun positions.
The war was a unique experience for the Indian Air Force, too. In a conventional war they would have crossed all borders and lines of control, but in Kargil they were asked not to cross the Line of Control (LoC). Since most of the enemy was sitting almost on the Line, fighter pilots had to develop new angles of attack by which they had to deliver their payload and quickly turnaround. There were two dangers; one, of crossing the LoC, and two, of hitting a nearby hill.
Military historians would say this was not new. The US Air Force had to operate within similar constraints during the Korean War. They had to bomb the enemy supply lines in North Korea, but were told not to cross the Yalu river and enter mainland China. But then, it was fairly easy for US pilots to bomb near the North Korea-China borders and return. There were no hills around where the planes could go and hit.
Cakewalk on air
By Air Marshal (retd) Vinod Patney
In early May 1999, there were reports of Pakistani infiltration into our side of the Line of Control (LoC) but there was little definite intelligence information. Reports on the number of infiltrators varied from a few ten to a few hundred. Even their locations were, at best, inaccurate approximations. Possibly, this was the main reason for some initial difficulty experienced in arriving at sound military responses. The situation was compounded by the earlier periodic intelligence reports that showed that Pakistani military capability was inadequate for a serious offensive to be launched against us.
The correctness of this estimate was borne out by subsequent events. Our military capability was indeed far superior. Western Air Command (WAC) was alerted on May 11 or 12, 1999. Within a day or two, reconnaissance missions were launched on a regular basis but no actionable intelligence was garnered. However, area familiarisation missions were flown, high-altitude air-to-ground attacks against pin-point targets practised, and operational readiness achieved in short order. We then waited for government clearance to launch air strikes.
The clearance was received on the evening of May 25, and the first operational missions took to the air in the early morning of May 26. The government clearance included a debilitating instruction prohibiting the Air Force to operate beyond the LoC. A few important aspects that were a fallout of this very stringent restriction merit mention.
First, in one fell swoop, we handed over the initiative to the enemy. It was now up to them to decide when and how to fashion the air war. The air war should be prosecuted in a proactive and bold manner but, perforce, we now had to adopt a reactive posture. Secondly, the LoC is a zig-zag line nowhere near clearly demarcated on the ground. Hence, particularly against targets close to the LoC, in our attempts not to cross the LoC, the planning and execution of the attacks was far from what could and should have been.
Thirdly, the infiltrators were in well-defended positions that were well-camouflaged and represented very small targets. The air force was hard-pressed to hit these targets effectively. Far greater dividends would have accrued if we were permitted to attack the feeder lines, logistics dumps and other well-defined targets. Fourthly and possibly most importantly, the enemy was well entrenched and at height, and our troops were out in the open with, literally, an uphill task to win back positions occupied by the enemy. They were extremely vulnerable to enemy air attacks and it was a major responsibility of WAC to ensure that enemy air was inhibited from taking action even when the Pakistanis began to suffer major reverses. This was achieved by giving clear signals that we were ready and willing for battle and waiting for the enemy to start. The unequivocal signalling was done by the manner in which our missions were launched throughout the Command, and the obvious preparedness of WAC.
We certainly succeeded as, in a very few days, it was obvious that the enemy would much rather avoid battle or escalation of the conflict. Indeed, civil air lines were soon permitted to commence operations from Srinagar.
Many innovative means were introduced for the safety of our aircraft in the air and to make our attacks against targets on the ground safer and more effective. The use of GPS, even the hastily procured handheld GPS, was a trailblazer. The use of fighter aircraft for attacks in night in mountainous terrain received accolades from professionals in the US and elsewhere. Another innovation was the use of handheld video cameras that were taken on board fighter aircraft to film the areas of possible enemy positions for better and speedier analysis.
All these measures helped. Our Mirage aircraft were locally modified for bombing from higher altitudes and the laser pods that were on trial were pressed into service. The bombing by Mirage aircraft of the Muntho Dhalo admin and logistics camp dealt a body blow from which the enemy just could not recover. The laser pod was used against the position at Tiger Hill and the success can be gauged from the report that when our troops reached the summit, there were only seven Pakistanis left to guard the area.
In spite of difficulties, the Air Force did what was required under the circumstances, and without the benefit of fanfare. There was complete unanimity between the Army and the Air Force in the manner in which the war should be fought, and, as it should be, every single position that was recaptured by our Army was first visited by our Air Force. The pilots, technicians and staff of WAC and those from other commands who fought alongside deserve praise for their professionalism and for a job well done.
I, however, have three regrets. First, one cannot but be saddened by the loss of two fighter aircraft, one helicopter and their pilots and crew. 'It happens in war' is an oft-quoted phrase but it cannot reduce the regret and sorrow of untimely deaths. Secondly, air power should have been used without its hands being tied. Possibly, the war would have been shorter and we would have suffered fewer casualties. Finally, it will remain a regret that we were not pitted against a more worthwhile adversary who was willing to offer combat.
Air Marshal Patney was Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, during the Kargil war.
Operation Safedsagar, the air operations in Kargil, was a tough mission for the Air Force because of the difficult terrain and climate. The high altitude limited the bomb loads and the number of airstrips that can be used.
The Air Force's fist involvement in the conflict was on May 11, 1999, with helicopters.
On May 25, the cabinet committee on security authorised attacks without crossing the LoC.
The Air Force used the Srinagar, Avantipur and Adampur airfields; MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-27, Jaguar and Mirage 2000 fighter planes; Mi-8 and Mi-17 choppers; Avro, An-32 and IL-76 transport planes in the conflict.
On May 27, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, who was flying low in his MiG-21 to locate the missing Flight Lieutenant K. Nachiketa, was shot by a Stinger. India said he survived the crash but was killed by Pakistan army. His body bore bullet wounds.
Nachiketa was captured by Pakistani troops after he was ejected from his plane, which had an engine flameout. He was the first Indian prisoner of war of the Kargil conflict, and was repatriated on June 3, 1999.
For its role in the operation, the Air Force was awarded two Vir Chakras and 23 Vayusena medals.
The major and his boys
Lieutenant Colonel Rajesh Sah, Vir Chakra / 18 Garhwal Rifles
Lieutenant Colonel Rajesh Sah was on his way to the northeast for an assignment when THE WEEK caught up with him. But when Kargil was mentioned, he agreed to speak. Our battalion was posted in Sopore initially and in May when we were inducted in Dras the situation was getting out of hand, he said over a scratchy phone link. Sah was a major then.
The 18 Garhwal did not have a complete picture though. We knew intrusion had taken place but no one knew the exact details or the extent of it, he said. Point 4700 was the main hub of the infiltration to Tiger Hill and was also the supply route. Sah along with other officers and two companies from the battalion was asked to secure the peak. We did not know whether the men sitting in the bunkers were regular troops, Taliban or foreign mercenaries. We knew that they were about 100 of them, scattered all along the range in different bunkers, he said.
Under the cover of artillery fire, 18 Garhwal began its assault. They started at 6:00 p.m. and at 11:30 p.m. they were 300m short of the target. Sah divided his company into three platoons. The central one was under his command and it charged at the enemy, while the other two moved in a flanking motion. Finally, the battle was restricted to around 25m.
When they detected our presence, they fired indiscriminately, inflicting casualties, Sah said. Soon his men captured one bunker, which became their base, but he knew that he had to be on the peak before first light. We were low on ammunition and there were casualties. There was no option but frontal assault. Armed with rocket launchers and grenades, Sah and a jawan barged in. They fled, he chuckled. By 6:30 a.m. we were done.”
Sah called Kargil a lifetime experience, but sighed when asked about those left behind. We had 11 fatalities and 25 injured. It is demoralising, but you have to overcome it, he said. The mere fact that you are out on the battlefield means you are brave. When a bullet is fired, it has no name. It all boils down to luck. My boys gave their lives for me. I tell cadets and young officers to always take care of their men, especially in the infantry.
Bearer of the cross
Captain Sumit Roy, Vir Chakra (Post.) / 18 Garhwal Rifles
He smiles at you from an oil painting in the 18 Garhwal Officers’ Mess. An elaborate memento gifted by his parents to the unit sits proudly on the mantelpiece. Elsewhere, there is a pencil portrait of his. Captain Sumit Roy is a bittersweet memory for the Garhwalis, a young officer who proudly wore the regimental crest—a Maltese cross with a bugle in the centre and surmounted by the Saranath lion capital.
Roy was killed in artillery fire during the battle for Point 4700, which finally turned out to be the command post of the enemy. From hand towels to utensils (which were thrown at the Indian troops at one point in a desperate attempt to deter them) to bathrooms to biscuits, there was no amenity that the enemy bunkers did not have. Then one can imagine the ammunition they had stockpiled.
It was a moonlit night when 18 Garhwal began its assault. This, coupled with the snow on the slopes, made them sitting ducks, easily visible to the enemy. Sumit was leading the assault from the front, said Colonel S.K. Joshi, (Shaurya Chakra, Sena Medal) who also took part in the battle. Most jawans trail off when elaborating on Roy saab's exploits on the field. This was not the young captain's first mission and before going he had spoken to his father confident of his victory. Victorious he was, but this time he came back wrapped in the Tricolour. He was awarded the Vir Chakra for his bravery on the battlefield. His brother is also in the Army.
Captain Vikram Batra, Param Vir Chakra / 13 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles
I will never forget the day Vikram captured Point 5140. It was the happiest day of my life. The glimpses of him sitting on the highest point on the Tololing ridge will never leave me. My son had achieved what he was born for,” says G.L. Batra.
But Captain Vikram Batra wanted more victories. So he led his team to Point 4875 on July 8, 1999. The mission was almost over when Vikram ran out of a bunker to rescue a junior officer who had injured his legs in an explosion. By dawn India had won back the peak and lost Vikram.
Batra remembers the iconic war cry that immortalised his son, “Yeh dil mange more (My heart asks for more)”. Vikram was quite confident of winning more assaults. “But his last byte on TV told me he would never come back,” said Batra. “He said the country should look after the families of the deceased soldiers and then he turned his face. That was it. I knew something was wrong.”
Batra’s moist eyes ran over Vikram’s framed portrait on the living room wall, and he said: “He was our flesh and blood, so it hurts. But what hurts more is the fact that the warmth is slowly declining. A martyr’s sacrifice is not felt as much by the government. For the past so many years, there is no one to maintain Vikram’s bust installed at the city centre. I do it all by myself. Even for errands like getting a water connection, I have to run from pillar to post. All this pinches us a lot. I always asked my children to be in the frontline. Vikram never failed in anything. He had promised to either hoist the Tricolour on the peak or to come back wrapped in it. I am glad he kept his word.”
Neha S. Bajpai/Palampur
In death’s dark vale…
Heroes of Kargil:
Meet India’s Rambos, they went to hell
and came back alive, barely
By Nikita Doval
If you were a child growing up in the 1980s with an elder brother to boot, chances are that Commando war comics were an integral part of your book collection. Well-thumbed and well-maintained, exchanged with grave solemnity, they were must-haves in a boy’s literary arsenal. The comics told tales of World War II, of courage, friendships and cowardice. The tales saw men pushing the limits to ensure their brother soldiers’ safety.
In the summer of 1999 a Commando war comic came alive on Kargil heights. There was the young captain who kept both his promises—of hoisting the Tricolour on Tiger Hill and of coming back home wrapped in it; another one killed nine enemy soldiers and destroyed three bunkers before dying. Then there was the soldier who took 15 hits but did not give up, and the young lieutenant and his four men who went on a patrol and came back weeks later in coffins, horribly mutilated. All of them were ordinary men who in the blink of an eye became extraordinary because they stood up to be counted when it mattered the most.
During war, each day throws up new stories of courage, indomitable will and sacrifice. One such tale is that of the 18 Garhwal Rifles, a battalion responsible for taking Points 4700 and 5140, which finally paved the way for the capture of strategic peaks including Tiger Hill. For these victories, they were awarded the battle honour, COAS’ unit citation, six Vir Chakras, eight Sena Medals and two COAS’ commendation cards and seven mentions in dispatches. Each honour was well deserved and paid for heavily—the unit lost 19 men.
Ten years later, THE WEEK met 31 Garhwalis who fought in that epic battle. The regular Garhwali is stolid, like the hills that gave him his name; to his officers he is bhula—Garhwali for little brother. His regimental war cry also has to do with the lord of the hills—Badri Vishal Lal ki jai (Hail Lord Badrinath). He is simple, like most hill folk, and does his work quietly, effectively and retreats into the background. It is not easy to get him to talk.
Seated in the unit’s memorial hall, the men talked quietly about Rifleman Ravinder Singh taking a hit on his face and how Rifleman Asab Khan's hand hung by a few tendrils of skin. The Garhwalis were first tested on Point 5140. Climbing in single file under darkness, the unit was asked to scale the peak from the east and north. "Once you start climbing, you just focus on the task at hand," said Havildar Kanchan Singh.
Morning came and with it, heavy enemy fire and casualties. “The only thought in my head was ‘I cannot let them go. They injured my brothers,’” said Havildar Sitha Singh. The enemy showered not just bullets, but the most vulgar Urdu abuses, too. The enraged Garhwalis went berserk and kept firing, got hit and continued to climb. Havildar Digambar Singh was shot in the left arm, but he realised it only when warm blood trickled down his hand. "It really was the last thing on my mind," he said. The Garhwalis took Point 5140 on 2:30 p.m. on June 20—15 hours after the first man had started climbing.
On June 28, the unit was asked to secure Point 4700. Two companies, Charlie and Delta, were readied and commander Major (now Lt Col) Rajesh Sah of Charlie company led the climb, followed by Captain Sumit Roy with Delta company. Just before leaving camp, the Garhwalis had seen body bags of 16 martyrs from the 18 Grenadiers. "We were shaken. Thoughts of home came to us. We cried, too. But then it was time to tighten our belt and remember why we wore the uniform in the first place," said Naik Subedar Kalam Singh.
Lance Naik Jaswant Singh slowly turned his head around to show the bullet wound on his neck. He was shot at in the battle for Point 4700, which later turned out to be the command post of the enemy. "There was incessant firing and we were very close to one of their bunkers. Rifleman Narpal and I returned fire from behind a boulder," he said. When screams of Allah bachao rent the air, Jaswant Singh knew that they had hit home. "We ran after them. There was one who was injured and kept firing at me even from 10m," said Jaswant Singh, who was shot from behind at this point. "I don't remember much. I felt like the world was spinning and then I was lying on my back." He nursed the wound for eight hours, before he could climb down for help.
Sometimes fear grips young soldiers, and then it is the older soldiers’ turn to play the elder brother. “You talk to them and recall the heroism of Rifleman Gabbar Singh Negi [of 1 Royal Garhwal Rifles, who was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for his bravery at Neuve Chapelle, France, on March 10, 1915],” said Naik Subedar Hukum Singh. Then there are newer heroes like Rifleman Narpal Singh, SM (Posthumous), who was so enraged by the casualties around him that he left cover and fired at the enemy. The enemy shot him in the head.
Lance Naik Satya Prasad said, "Agar aapka commander achcha ho, toh jawan sab kar jaata hai" (If his commander is good, then the soldier is capable of anything). The Garhwalis remember Sah with great affection and the sentiment is reciprocated by the lieutenant colonel. "I have been posted as instructor at the National Defence Academy. I ask cadets and young officers to always look after their men. If you win their loyalty, nothing else matters.”
The Garhwalis’ tales do not end. There was Havildar Jagat Singh, Sena Medal (Post.), who led the offensive under heavy fire and died, and Rifleman Anusuya Prasad, Vir Chakra, SM (Post.), who took Jagat Singh's place and carried on until he, too, was martyred. Captain Roy, too, died in the battle.
Sitha Singh said the enemy must have wondered, “Yeh kaisi Army hai jo badthi hi ja rahi hai? (What kind of an Army is this that keeps on advancing?).” They recalled how around 50 enemy soldiers came out to taunt them on June 29, after they had suffered heavy casualties. The Garhwalis shot them dead and recovered ID cards of Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry. "They thought we had given up, broken by the death of our men and the lack of ammunition,” said one Garhwali, with a sigh of satisfaction over a job well done.
Height of apathy / Infantryman Rangappa Alur / 26 Maratha Light Infantry
He fought a war at 19,000ft and repelled the enemy assault on the strategically important Ashoka post in Leh. On the fateful day, as the temperature dipped below zero, Rangappa Alur and his colleagues lit a stove for warmth. They were on high alert. Then came the shelling from the Pakistan side. The battle to defend Ashoka post lasted nearly 48 hours. In the end, he was the lone survivor in the shell-shattered post. By the time reinforcements arrived, Alur had lost both hands and a leg.
"We did not allow the enemy to advance. But, a shell that struck our post killed all the other soldiers and I was critically injured,” said Alur, 34. Army doctors declared him 100 per cent disabled.
After spending over three years in Army hospitals in Pathankot and Pune, where he underwent surgeries on his hands, legs and chest, Alur returned to his Hulsageri village in Bagalkot district of Karnataka. He now spends most of his time at his tiny house fighting the battle of life.
“I feel proud that I was part of the Army and was able to do something for my country. But, what hurts is the fact that a person who fought for his country has been treated shabbily by local authorities,’’ he said. “I made several attempts to get the dealership of a petrol bunk or an LPG distribution centre so that I can support my mother and brothers. But nothing happened.”
Alur is now dependent on others even for his basic needs. The pension of Rs 5,000 that he gets from the Army is what keeps him and his family going. Part of it goes to repay the loan he had taken to build the house. His two brothers and mother work as daily labourers.
His relative Siddanna, who also served the Army, said the pinch is painful because Alur was active even before he joined the Army. “Such an active and fit person now spends all his time sitting and worrying about his future,” said Siddanna. Alur spends most of his time either watching TV, reading newspapers and books or meditating, as he needs help to even move around in the house.
The war might have dealt a cruel blow to this hero and crippled him for life, but like every true soldier he refuses to accept defeat easily. “His marriage has been fixed and he is now planning to start life afresh,’’ said Siddanna. All that he wants from the authorities is some help to jumpstart his life. “The local authorities have promised to give some place to start a book store and a photocopying centre and I hope that will help me,” said Alur. “The state promised 2.5 acres. But I am yet to get it. The forest department said the land allocated to me belongs to them. The chief minister should take special interest in the matter and, at least, give me some other land.”
Captain Saurabh Kalia / 4 Jat Regiment
Guarded by pine trees, Dr N.K. Kalia’s house in Palampur is the cenotaph of Kargil’s first war hero (see main story). This is where hundreds of armed forces aspirants come to seek the blessings of the late Captain Saurabh Kalia. In the decade after the Kargil war, at least 30 young men from Palampur have donned the olive green.
A room on the first floor of the house has been converted into Saurabh’s memorial. The memorabilia is neatly displayed in glass cases against a royal blue backdrop. They include his uniform, his favourite HMT wristwatch, a transistor radio, shaving kit, wallets and a chessboard. Pictures from his school days to his last journey trace a hero's evolution.
The centerpiece is a picture of him with his mother—the last one in which they posed together. “I was packing his suitcase for the Academy when we had a tiff,” said Saurabh’s mother, Vijay Kalia. “I wanted to iron his clothes and he told me ‘Mama, I’m an officer now. I will manage’. He did not want me to bother about him anymore and I did not like it. This picture was taken by my younger son while Saurabh was trying to cajole me.”
The most touching is a cancelled State Bank of India cheque book for Saurabh’s salary account. He had signed a few blank cheques for Vijay, but even before his first pay cheque was cashed, Saurabh was taken captive by the Pakistani army on May 15, 1999. On June 9, his mutilated body was returned to the Indian ?authorities.
“We must have done countless good deeds in our previous birth to have been blessed with a son like him,” said Kalia. “His supreme sacrifice has made us proud but what has disappointed us is that the nation is least bothered to highlight the plight of war crimes at the international level.” Kalia has been campaigning against atrocities meted out to Prisoners of War.
“I was denied an audience to General Pervez Musharraf during the Agra Summit. If this had happened to US or Israeli soldiers, the culprits would have been hounded around the globe,” said Kalia.
The family received Saurabh’s post mortem report only two years ago, that, too, after repeated appeals. “The report confirms that injuries were inflicted before death. There were cigarette burns all over his body. His eyes and eardrums were pierced and there were multiple fractures,” said Vaibhav, Saurabh’s younger brother.
Saurabh’s tortured death is mentioned in almost all books written on the war. One of them has the shocking confession of a fellow officer who said: “We picked up some interceptions that Saurabh was taken to Skadru… that Nawaz Sharif knew about the capture… that his nails were pulled out during interrogation. The Air Force is so much better. They kicked up such a fuss that Pakistanis were forced to send pilot K. Nachiketa back (see Air Marshal Patney’s guest column). Why didn’t we do that? Saurabh must have realised we betrayed him.”
A retired senior scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Kalia’s only aim in life now is to seek justice for victims of war crimes. “The pain of losing a young son is hard to describe in words,” he said. “But our suffering can never exceed the physical torture that he went through.”
Peaks of progress
Of unsung battles in the Batalik and the welcome changes in Kargil
By Tariq Bhat/Khalubar, Kaksar & Sando Top
Dressed in combat fatigues, Colonel Ajit Singh peered at Point 4812 on Khalubar ridge. His eyes ran over the knife-edged ridge and came to rest on Muntho Dhalo. At 16,000ft and close to the Line of Control, Muntho Dhalo was the Pakistan army’s supply and administrative base during the Kargil war. Then Pak Mi-17 choppers had ferried goods and ammunition to the base for their troops on Khalubar and Kukarthang ridges, a few kilometres inside Batalik sector. Singh, then a major, had seen the choppers in action, from his vantage point on a ledge on Khalubar ridge. During the battle, Singh was in charge of the Muslim company of the 22 Grenadiers.
On the night of July 1, 1999, he led the company’s climb to Point 4812 from Junk Lungpa Nullah. The target was only one kilometre away, as the crow flies, but the steep climb multiplied the distance manifold and the night brought with it angry winds and driving rain. The slippery slopes denied them a firm footing and as rain-softened handholds gave way, some Grenadiers had fatal falls. A few were crushed under boulders that rolled down the slushy slopes. But there was a bigger danger—the chattering enemy guns on the heights.
While Singh and the Muslim company were battling one slope, three other companies of 22 Grenadiers—the Ahirs, Jats and Meenas—were climbing from other directions. The Muslims were the first to reach the top and to their horror found that they had landed bang in front of the enemy guns. As the enemy guns opened up, the Grenadiers took cover behind the few scattered boulders. But not all were safe.
Grenadier Shiv Kumar died a painful death when a boulder rolled over him. Imtiaz Ahmed took a burst of machine gun fire and hung on, barely alive. Lance Naik Sagar Ali crawled to a quieter corner, dragging a leg shredded by gun fire. The Grenadiers were, literally, sitting ducks, but they returned fire when possible.
As dawn approached, Singh clung to his narrow ledge and hatched a plan to get the Grenadiers some respite. At first light, he asked the Muslims to raise the company war cry: Naara-e-takbir Allahu Akbar [Call out, God is great]. The guns on the ridge fell silent as the Pakistanis thought their reinforcements had come.
In the lull, the Grenadiers catapulted sniper Lance Naik Abid Khan to the top of the cliff; he quickly hauled up others from the ledge. As Singh scrambled on to the top, a voice playfully hissed in his ear: “Sir, I, too, am here”. He turned to see a grinning Tufail Ahmed. Said Singh: “I had teased him many times saying, tu Tufail nahi hain, tu fail hain [You are not Tufail, you are a failure]. But that day he brought me to tears.” No sooner had the Grenadiers firmed up on the ridge, the Pakistanis realised their mistake and fired their artillery guns with a vengeance. They also radioed the neighbouring Point 5288 and asked for supporting fire.
Khan took a machine gun burst in the chest and fell. As the sniper murmured his last prayers lying in Singh’s arms, another volley missed a soldier by a whisker. Singh quickly pushed him behind a boulder. By now the Grenadiers were low on ammunition and were under fire from Point 5288, too.
On the night of July 2, Lance Naik Amrit Lal Meena slithered up the cliff and linked up with the Muslim company. He bought with him confidence and manna—puris and chocolate. As the famished Grenadiers tucked in, a bullet pierced Naik Azeem Ahmed’s helmet; he miraculously escaped unhurt.
By now the Pakistanis were becoming impatient over the Grenadiers’ resilience and asked their artillery to redouble the barrage. It saw effect. A burst from Point 5288 killed Jamaluddin Ahmed; he died with his finger on the trigger. As a shell peppered a soldier’s buttocks with shrapnel, another killed three Grenadiers near him.
In the silence that followed, someone shouted in chaste Urdu: “Surrender and we will treat you well. Or else all of you will be butchered.” It was Sayyed Ahmed, the Pak officer who commanded the post. Singh screamed back: “It is you who should surrender. Our men have succeeded in climbing right behind you.” Singh was hoping that the Pakistanis would fall for his bluff.
Unknown to Singh, a 1/11 Gorkha company led by Colonel Lalit Rai, Vir Chakra, had closed in on the enemy. Under the cover of darkness Rai linked up with Singh and they decided it was better to call for a massive artillery strike than getting killed by the enemy. They radioed the units manning the Bofors howitzers and soon hell, literally, broke loose. The intruders panicked and the noose loosened. Eventually the 22 Grenadiers consolidated themselves on the ridge and handed charge to the 1/11 Gorkhas. Point 4812 was now in Indian hands.
Later, more reinforcements arrived to support the Gorkhas. Eventually the enemy was thrown off Kukarthang and Khalubar ridges and chased across the LoC. Sadly, the fierce battles in Batalik sector never caught the nation’s attention like those in Tiger Hill and Tololing in Dras sector. Many officers, too, agree that Dras sector got most of the media attention. By July 26, the LoC’s sanctity had been restored and the decision to honour heroes on August 15 left little time for the Army to properly honour those who secured Batalik.
Today, all posts in the 10,000ft to 18,000ft belt are manned yearlong. Many forward posts bordering the LoC remain cut off from the nearest base for up to seven months. Stockpiles are readied in advance and soldiers climb up the steep mountain tracks loaded with rations and weapons. When the snow falls, it is just the troops and the icy wind whistling among the lonely peaks.
Soldiers serving in these posts come from varying locations like humid coastal Kerala to searing hot Rajasthan. And on these heights they brave the enemy, avalanches and fatal high-altitude diseases like pulmonary oedema that causes accumulation of fluid in the lungs. Other health issues are frostbite, temporary amnesia, hair fall and depression. A soldier’s ears had got frostbitten when he doffed his headgear for a moment. The rarefied air brings breathing problems, too.
Captain Pradeep Chikara, who served in a forward post, said: “For more than four months there was no sunlight. You cannot enjoy food there, but then it is a matter of survival.” Lance Naik Amarjit Singh took the posting sportingly. “Tinned food, chocolate, dried fruits and nuts! I gained a lot of weight when I was at the post and put on a paunch. Now I am trying to get into shape,” he chuckled.
The soldiers survive with a mix of the hi-tech and the low tech. They use UV goggles, imported alpine sleeping bags, fibre plastic hutments, two-layered shoes and special clothing designed for minus 40 degree Celsius. Apricot oil is a favourite among soldiers suffering from hair loss and joint aches.
To solve the water shortage, soldiers fetch water from glacial lakes. The person who ventures into the lake usually has a rope around his waist, to help others pull him up if he slips into a crevasse or breaks through thin ice. In summer, the place is a high-altitude desert. Despite these hardships most of the soldiers THE WEEK met said they were keen on a second stint. “In the sea of snow you crave for greenery,” said an officer at Sando Top in Dras, the world’s second coldest inhabited place after Siberia. Life in some areas of Dras is known to be worse than living on the Siachen glacier; the sweeping, bone-chilling winds make all the difference.
The Kaksar belt is relatively better and here there is a memorial to martyr Captain Saurabh Kalia and the four jawans of 4 Jat Regiment (see cover story). Bajrang post, which Saurabh guarded, is now manned yearlong and his batch mate from the Indian Military Academy, Major Vishal Singh, was on duty there. “Saurabh was a decent chap,” said Vishal. “At the IMA the two of us once received punishment together for creating mischief.” A stretch of road in the sector near Kharbu is still watched by Pakistanis and a signboard warns, ‘You are under enemy observation’.
War is bane, but in many ways it was a boon for Kargil. The virtual underbelly of Jammu and Kashmir has benefited from the increased Army presence. Under Project Sadhbhavana, the Army built a network of roads connecting remote villages to Kargil town. The troops started schools like the Harka Bahadur School, where girls outnumber boys. Students, who otherwise had to walk for miles, are now ferried by the Army and they have also started Asha School for special children. “Society never looked at these children as special and we did not know that there were special ways to care for them. Thanks to the Army, we now know,” said Razia Hussain of Hadras village.
All units posted here are engaged in some kind of developmental activity. The 6 Dogras operate a primary school for the children of nearby villages like Latoo and they have built a Captain Saurabh Kalia stadium where the villagers play T20 cricket!
But there are the displeased, as always. In Dras, Haji Fida admitted the Army was helping with medical aid and was providing employment in civil and military projects. But he complained that the Army was now increasingly hiring immigrant labourers from Nepal. “For six months the place is snow bound. For rest of the year, the Nepalese take our jobs. The Army should hire the locals,” he said.
Despite being a backward area, Kargil town seems to be modernising fast. Internet cafés, beauty parlours and trendy eateries are making their presence felt. The number of cars and bikes has increased, as well. A trendy shopping outlet has set up shop near the power line, which the Pakistanis shelled in 1999. Some of the buildings are pockmarked from shelling, but other than that there is very little to suggest that the little town was at the centre of a war between two nuclear powers.
With train services reaching Kashmir Valley, a survey is underway to explore the possibility of building tunnels through the Rohtang and Zojila passes. The first rail link is proposed to be between Leh and Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh. Six passenger trains and nine goods trains are planned on the 498km stretch at a cost of around Rs 22,000 crore.
War in words
By Mandira Nayar
Macho, pumped-up, tomato-sauce-bleeding Bollywood stars have done more for the Kargil war than the desi literary brigade. The first taste of reality television, it shook up a generation of Indians who believed that wars are a part of history. Ten years later, the battle hasn’t done much to add inches to bookshelves.
Pakistan has had books on military strategy, lapped up by the elite. In India, the war may have launched reel heroes, but it hasn’t produced a star in fiction. (The only ‘fictional’account that caught the Indian imagination was Pervez Musharraf’s In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, where he claimed Pakistan won the war.)
The trials and tribulations of Kargil have perhaps been best captured in former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s A Ridge Too Far: War in the Kargil Heights 1999. A solider-turned politician, Singh understood the complexity of the operation, putting together a comprehensive record of the war. It also helped that he was given access by the then Army chief V.P. Malik and got accounts of soldiers who lived to tell their tale and the families left with only stories of heroism.
General Malik’s book, Kargil: From Surprise to Victory, offers readers the chance to get a little closer to the action in the war room in Delhi. Kargil didn’t spawn the cultural outpouring like the Mumbai terrorist attack did. A little over six months after the attack, there have already been three books on the incident. The spate of books on Kargil didn’t start till a year later. Leading the scribe books bandwagon is Dateline Kargil: A Correspondent’s Nine-Week Account from the Battlefront by Gaurav C. Sawant. The book—one of the first few personal accounts of the war to come out—is a look at the action by a young journalist on a high at being in the thick of things.
Dateline books often paint the reporter as a hero of sorts. However, Despatches from Kargil by Srinjoy Chowdhury, brings alive the summer of 1999 through the eyes of ordinary soldiers who displayed extraordinary heroism. Chowdhury’s heroes are real and his description of the battles and bunkers is vivid.
There would have been no war stories had it not been for the media-military relationship during this period. Officers went beyond the call of duty to ensure safety of journalists at the battlefront. This synergy has been analysed by Col S.C. Tyagi in The Fourth Estate. But India is still waiting for an epic book on Kargil.
Vajpayee’s determination kept mediators at bay during the Kargil war
By Sachidananda Murthy
Defence minister George Fernandes was the first to tell Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in mid May 1999 that intruders from Pakistan had put up bunkers on the high hills of Kargil to cut off Ladakh from the rest of the country. Vajpayee, who was still basking in the glory of the successful Lahore summit with Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif, was shocked. His first reaction was that the invaders should be thrown out at any cost.
As the magnitude of the Pakistan game plan was realised, Vajpayee went to the ultra secret war room in South Block to study aerial reconnaissance photographs of the bunkers and its occupants. He told the cabinet committee on security that the nation had to be taken into confidence on Pakistan’s betrayal.
During the previous 10 months, Vajpayee had dwelt on the threats posed by Pakistan, which had declared itself a nuclear state soon after the Pokhran nuclear test in 1998. He was told by leaders of big powers, especially the US, that India should not provoke a nuclear war. Vajpayee took some swift decisions.
First, the intruders would be thrown out at any cost. Second, it would be a conventional war and India would not cross the Pak border or the LoC. Vajpayee authorised the use of air power without violating Pak air space. The third decision was that he would not listen to any offers of mediation by the US or others until Operation Vijay was over.
The conduct of the war depended on the heroism of the Indian troops which had to operate under tremendous odds. But Vajpayee’s commanders were sure that Pakistan would not be able to mobilise more troops because of the civilian and military standoff in Islamabad between Sharif and General Pervez Musharraf.
Vajpayee left the detailed conduct of war to Fernandes, National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra and the three service chiefs. The weekly ‘prayer meeting’—the meeting of the defence minister with service chiefs—became a daily affair. Fernandes got deeply involved in operational plans. But there was a fear whether Pakistan was planning another nasty surprise. Air Force scanned reconnaissance pictures and satellite images. Finance minister Yashwant Sinha quickly cleared the files for additional funds for arms and ammunition and other requirements.
External affairs minister Jaswant Singh put emphasis on psychological warfare. Brigadier J.J. Singh (he later became Army chief) and diplomat Raminder Singh Jassal were chosen to do the sabre rattling against Pakistan. Psychological tools were used in diplomacy, too. When a panicky Sharif sent foreign minister Sartaj Aziz to meet Jaswant with a ceasefire offer, Jaswant used the tactic of James Baker, who was US secretary of state during the first US-Iraq war. During negotiations in Geneva, Baker refused to shake hands with Iraqi vice-president Tariq Aziz and kept a grim visage. Jaswant appeared more grim, and Sartaj could feel the anger and hostility of India.
Vajpayee refused to heed the repeated calls from President Bill Clinton for a trilateral summit to discuss issues. He told Clinton that any ceasefire without the pullout of Pakistani troops was not acceptable. In the same way, Jaswant and Mishra politely refused the negotiation offers of several European nations.
The worry in South Block was on the reaction of China, which has a strong military and strategic link with Pakistan. But Beijing conveyed that it would not get involved.
Using the propaganda skills of Pramod Mahajan, the BJP mobilised public opinion behind Vajpayee. Contributions poured in for the families of the martyrs. When the Army announced on July 26 that the entire occupied zone was liberated, Vajpayee, who had stopped taking sweets midway during the operation, accepted ladoos from admirers.
Screaming wind, clanging tin roofs and broken lives
June 13, 1999, Inside Kargil
A drive through treacherous terrain, ghost villages and settlements where evacuees tell poignant stories
By V.K. Shashikumar
The Indus flows alongside lofty, bald mountains. On its bank Riaz Hussain, 5, is playing cricket. Just 20km down the Bemathang Baroo road is Kargil and one can hear the thud of exploding shells.
We are driving to villages where the displaced villagers from Dras and Kargil have been accommodated. “We have come from Dras to Seiche because of the shelling,” says Riaz.
On our way to Dras we crossed the breath-taking Zojilla pass at 11,649 feet. The one-way route is narrow and treacherous. A slight drizzle and the mountain face slides on to the road.
We are stopped at a Traffic Control Point manned by military police: it is named ‘Captain Mod’. There is a small temple here. We see soldiers and para commandos getting off their trucks and offering prayers. “They are going to war,” says an armyman distributing prasad.
We reach Dras in the afternoon and find it a ghost town. Screaming wind and clanging tin roofs brought down by shelling is all that we can hear. We walk around the town and enter some abandoned houses. Further down the road we come across Ghulam Nabi, 70. “Aren’t you afraid?” we ask him. He tells us some old people have stayed behind to look after the cattle and shops.
Our driver Gurdeep Singh wants to return to Srinagar.” I have two children,” he reminds us regularly. We are stopped at Harkka bridge. “Why are you going so fast?” asks an armyman. We look at Gurdeep Singh. He says that the 21-km stretch to
Kargil from this point onwards is dangerous, “Don’t overspeed, but don’t go slow either,” says the armyman. “And remember, if a shell lands in front or behind keep driving. Don’t stop.”
Diplomacy at its best
By K. Subrahmanyam
The Kargil war was an important milestone in the long struggle against Pakistan-generated jihadi terrorism. The Pakistani objective was twofold: to capture the Dras-Kargil heights and block the supply route to Leh and Siachen and to revive the Kashmir dispute in the United Nations. It was also meant to boost the morale of the jihadi terrorists operating at that time in Kashmir. It was part of the long-term plan of the Pakistan army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Their agenda was fourfold: 1) Expand the Wahabi jihadi cult developed with CIA support during the anti-Soviet Afghan war, 2) Acquire ‘strategic depth’ for Pakistan in a Talibanised Afghanistan, 3) Permit Osama bin Laden’s international Islamic front to launch terror against the Crusaders (the west), the Zionists (Israel) and the Hindus, and 4) Capture Kashmir through a combination of military, terrorist and diplomatic measures and bleed India through a thousand cuts.
It was an ambitious plan, but the Pakistani army and the ISI were in a triumphant mood, having acquired nuclear weapons with Chinese support. They had outsmarted the US on the nonproliferation issue and believed that having defeated Russia in Afghanistan, they would be able to dominate the region from Lahore to Ferghana. Lastly, they were convinced that the Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of hard blows at the right time and place—(General Ayub Khan’s words, but subscribed to by all Pakistani generals). So the Kargil operation was launched with the approval of prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
But India won the war and defeated Pakistan’s regional designs. Then al Qaeda with Pakistani connivance launched its global terrorist campaign with the 9/11 attacks. Pakistani Ramzi Yousef had tried it in 1993 without success and it was successfully planned and executed by his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The most important lesson from the Kargil war was that resistance with restraint pays dividends in international politics. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government displayed a high order of statesmanship in not crossing the Line of Control, but ordering full use of effective force to evict terrorists. That prevented the Pakistanis from going to the Security Council and making the UN take up the issue. It brought the support of the international community to the Indian side and Pakistan was isolated. It was diplomacy at its best.
There was no doubt an intelligence failure, which was highlighted in the Kargil panel report. Though our intelligence agencies initially resented the focus on this failure, recent disclosures of Pakistani Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail validates the findings (Centre for Land Warfare Studies journal, Summer Issue 2009). There were gross inadequacies in the services-intelligence coordination at various levels.
As a result, a high-powered ministerial committee was formed to reform the national security decision-making system. The Centre accepted its 200-odd recommendations. A new technology-oriented intelligence organisation has been created called National Technological Research Organisation. A coordinating Directorate of Defence Intelligence has been created and intelligence assessment strengthened.
For the first time the Centre published a report on an intelligence failure with very few security deletions. So also the recommendations of the Group of Ministers were published with the deletion of only the intelligence section. These are all to the credit of the Vajpayee government.
The war brought glaring shortfalls in the arms and equipment of our forces. There was a shortage of snow clothing and in ammunition stockpiles of various kinds. Now we know that the Pakistanis in their overconfidence launched the operation when their air force was not in a position to confront the Indian Air Force.
The war, subsequent audit reports and comments brought out a glaring ignorance on the part of sections of our officialdom, the media and the public that short, limited wars are fought with stockpiles in being and imports are meant to replenish the stockpiles and are not always meant to be used directly at the front.
Criticisms that imports were made which were not used in the war are out of ignorance about the logistics of war. The lessons about logistic management and weapon and equipment acquisition do not seem to have sunk in as we hear about appalling delays in defence acquisition.
The war also proved that the criticism about the quality of Bofors guns was mostly malicious. Critics could not distinguish between the issues: the quality of the weapon and kickbacks that accompanied its purchase. Even today it is difficult to carry out best equipment selection and isolate it from bribes and kickbacks. There are very few arms deals in the world where there will not be offers of kickbacks. We cannot afford to throw the baby out with the bathwater because the system is corrupt. We shall be paying a very high price in terms of our national security if we delay our defence acquisition process on allegations of kickbacks. We should learn to carry out acquisitions minimising the corruption involved.
Lastly, the lesson from the Kargil war is to cultivate all major powers, particularly the US, the European Union and Russia and to keep them on our side in the continuing war on the Pak-sponsored jihadis. Pakistan could not have gone this far but for its being armed by China with nuclear armaments. Therefore, the strategic relationship with the US, the EU, Russia and Japan and continuous engagement with China, which is the policy followed by the Manmohan Singh government, is the most appropriate policy for Indian security.
The author headed the Kargil review committee.
By Col (retd) S.C. Tyagi
Any reference to the 1962 war ?with China and India-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 brings back memories of people gathered around the radio listening intently or reading the newspaper. Symbolically, too, the silver screen depicted the war by showing black and white footage of newspapers being printed and tanks or men in uniform with the radio blaring and announcing the beginning of war. At the end of the last millennium, it all changed.
The Kargil war was brought live for the first time to the drawing room through TV. The print and electronic media supplemented each other in the coverage. The radio took a back seat but its contribution was not diminished. All India Radio kept the soldiers directly in touch with their homes, as it was the only medium that was handy and functional on those lonely, distant heights.
William Howard Russell, who is credited to be the first war correspondent, reported the first Indian war of Independence in 1857. Interestingly, another reporter, Sir Winston Churchill, was posted in India as an Army officer and he later went on to cover the Boer war in South Africa. The concept of war reporting in India is not new. The idea of bringing the war live into your homes was prevalent in the times of the Mahabharat where Sanjay narrated the entire epic battle to King Dhritarashtra in his palace through his divya chakshu (divine vision).
In the Kargil war the common man got pictures and stories in real time. This kaleidoscope of Kargil motivated people back home, and the soldiers on the war front felt the backing of the entire nation through the media coverage. The result was a force multiplication.
After an initial hitch, reporters were allowed to enter the battle zone and for safety reasons they were asked not to venture beyond National Highway 1A that passes through the Zojila Pass and Kargil. Guns boomed and blazed all around and it was dangerous to remain on the roadside that was under the direct observation of the enemy perched on the mountain peaks. The lonely road was full of Army convoys and occasionally there were a few reporters looking for a piece of action.
Some of them were equipped with laptops and portable dish antennas to file their reports at the earliest, while others depended on the traditional method of sending their war dispatches through aircraft. Cub reporters were enthused with zest and were ready to rub shoulders with soldiers on the snowy peaks that got them the eyeballs back home. The live reporting from a bunker catapulted one such journo to instant fame but not without some criticism for endangering the soldiers’ lives by giving away the surprise of the impending attack on Tiger Hill.
The action in the Dras-Kaksar sector was well covered but the inaccessibility of Batalik-Yaldor sector in Kargil hindered the desired media coverage and the battles fought there remained comparatively unknown. The immense contributions made by locals, especially the Buddhist community, in transporting supplies on their backs to heights like 20,000ft in Batalik went unsung. Their special breed of small donkeys played a very vital role in supplying food to the soldiers. Reporters from CNN, BBC and other foreign channels were also present in the war zone. They were all awestruck by the tenacity of Indian soldiers under such heavy odds.
Real life heroes such as Vikram Batra, Anuj Nayar, Manoj Pandey, Yogender Singh Yadav, K. Nachiketa and Rajesh Singh Adhikari emerged and lines like ‘yeh dil maange more’ were immortalised. The surge of nationalism generated by the media portrayal of Kargil war was such that even the militants in the northeast decided to temporarily cease hostilities to allow our soldiers to concentrate on Kargil.
During an international confere-nce in the US, the then information minister of Pakistan, Mushahid Hussain, besides many others, praised and admitted the excellence in reportage and coverage of the Kargil war by the Indian media. In hindsight, it could be said that it was coming of age for the Indian media.
Tyagi is a Kargil veteran and author of 'The Fourth Estate'.
Stop the proxy war
Pakistan army wants India to keep off Afghanistan
By Hamid Mir
Ten years ago, the Pakistan army was fighting India in Kargil. Today, it is fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in the mountainous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. President Asif Ali Zardari has said more than once that India is no more a threat to Pakistan. Interestingly, Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor shared the same feeling recently when he said, “India was never a threat to Pakistan.” A few days later, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband repeated the same statement in Islamabad.
The role and composition of Pakistan army have changed a bit in the last 10 years. The seventh largest army in the world has ruled Pakistan directly for 33 years out of the total 62 years. Pakistan and India fought wars in 1965 and 1971, when military dictators were ruling Islamabad. Dictators such as General Ayub Khan, General Zia-ul-Haq and General Pervez Musharraf were directly involved in politics but the army is not directly involved in politics since General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani took charge as army chief in December 2007. These days, there is a complete ban on army officers meeting politicians.
Kayani is trying his level best to improve the image of Pakistan army. Out of a 7,00,000-strong force, 90,000 have been deployed on the 2,500km-long Pak-Afghan border. More than 40,000 are fighting the Taliban in Swat valley and about 20,000 are in South Waziristan. The army has become the biggest relief organisation in Pakistan. Recently, it took care of around four million people from Swat valley; the independent Pakistani media widely appreciated the army’s relief work. These are just some of the new events that have given the army a good name.
In 2006, the army started inducting female soldiers into the combat force. Recently, a Sikh cadet, Harcharan Singh, was commissioned, too. It is no more a Muslim army geared for jihad. Though not much has changed yet, it is more of a national army now.
Constitutionally, Zardari is the supreme commander of the armed forces. Does he represent the true feelings of the Pakistan army for India? The answer is a big no. That was why a top US commander recently advised that Pakistan army should shift its “traditional focus” from India to internal extremists.
Testifying before a congressional committee, Commander of the US Central Command, General David H. Petraeus, said it was imperative that Pakistan recognised that the pressing threat to its very existence was the Taliban and other internal extremists groups and their syndicate in the Federally Administered Tribal Area.
The army now definitely hates the ‘bad Taliban’ in the tribal areas and the fight between them resembles a full-fledged war. It defeated the Taliban in Swat valley and is now trying to flush out ultras from South Waziristan.
But the threat perception about India is still there. Pakistani commanders have said many times that Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief, is an Indian agent and that the Indian consulate in Afghanistan is supplying him with money and weapons. Pakistani print media recently published many articles alleging links between Mehsud and India. Some even used the term “Hindu Taliban” to spread hatred against the militants who removed Pakistani flags from official buildings in Swat valley a few months back.
One can only say that much has been changed since 1947 when India was divided and Pakistan was created. The two countries view each other as the ultimate enemy. India and Pakistan were last engaged in a limited war 10 years ago in July 1999. Today, the international community is trying to unite these two countries against the Taliban and al Qaeda, but both countries are still fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan.
September 11, 2001, changed the world. Musharraf was forced to change his Afghan policy and the US-backed Northern Alliance captured Kabul with the help of Pakistan. But, within a few months, the Pakistani embassy in Kabul was attacked by the Northern Alliance. I remember my meeting with Pakistani Ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand in the wrecked compound of the Kabul embassy in 2003. He said, “India has started a secret war against us from Afghanistan.”
Within a few days, the Corps Commander of Peshawar Lt. General Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai said the same thing to me in Peshawar. Now, Orakzai is retired, but many serving Pakistani army generals believe that India is using Afghanistan to destabilise Baluchistan province and the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. That is why Pakistan strongly opposes any move to send Indian troops into Afghanistan. Last year, India accused Pakistan of masterminding an attack on the Indian embassy, in which the military attaché also died.
Some Pakistan army circles believe that the Indian Army will soon be landing in Afghanistan in the guise of assisting NATO, but with the real agenda of squeezing Pakistan using Pashtuni Taliban and Baluch separatists. Some strategists fear India is trying to encircle Pakistan from its western borders. They suspect the US is secretly providing access to Indians in eastern and southern Afghanistan to sow anarchy in Pakistan. And in return, they think India will provide secret bases to the US in the mountains bordering China.
The US has repeatedly said that destabilising Pakistan is not in its interest. But military strategists like General (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg think the US and India have hatched a joint conspiracy to get control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. So many in the Pakistan army believe that they need some “assets” in Afghanistan to counter Indo-US plans. Hence, Pakistan army still views some militants in the tribal areas and also in Afghanistan as ‘good Taliban’—these are those who are ready to fight a proxy war against India in Afghanistan.
Nobody can deny the fact that US troops landed in Afghanistan by using Pakistani air bases. Pakistan joined the war against terror for making the whole region secure. The security of Pakistan lies in the security of Afghanistan. Stability of one country is the stability of the other, but unfortunately there are many misunderstandings between the partners who are fighting the war against terror. These misunderstandings may only help the enemies of peace.
The Taliban has killed more than 2,000 Pakistani soldiers in the last five years. They have killed an equal number of civilians in suicide bombings across Pakistan. Indians have killed fewer Pakistanis, not only in the Kargil conflict, but also in the other two wars! But still India is enemy No.1 for Pakistan army.
Can we change this situation? Yes. Pakistan and India must stop the proxy war in Afghanistan. If these two countries join hands they could change the fate of south Asia. The only hurdle in the way of peace in south Asia is the Kashmir dispute. Many Pakistanis think that India is controlling the waters of the rivers originating in Kashmir. Actually, for many Pakistanis, Kashmir is more a water issue than a political issue. Until this issue is resolved, many in the Pakistan army and in the Pakistani media will keep viewing India as the ultimate threat.
Mir is executive editor of Geo TV Pakistan.
Among his other reportage, Mir has interviewed Osama bin Laden thrice.
Victory At Pt 4875
Sqn Ldr Ajay Ahuja' Coffin Coming At Delhi
Soldier infront of Tiger Hill
Coffin of Maj Vivek Gupta
Family of Capt Saurabh Kalia
Parents of Capt Batra
Mr Vajpayee Lighting a Candle on 1st Anniversary of Kargil Divas