Kargil war raged from third week of May to last week of July 1999, as a limited conventional conflict between nuclear armed neighbors. Here is a brief account of how it was conceived and executed from Pakistan’s point of view.
Since India had annexed the Siachen glaciar in 1984, Pakistani military establishment was itching for revenge. By 1987, they had planned the Kargil intrusion (as it happened 12 years later) and the Chief of Army Staff, Gen M A Beg was willing to go ahead with it. But the political establishment led by Gen. Zia Ul Haq surprisingly shelved it, citing diplomatic and military complexities. Pakistan was deeply involved in Afganistan at that time along with the CIA.
Gen. Musharraf in those days had served in the Siachen area as a SSG commander (SSG- Special Services Group, Pakistan Army’s commando wing) and had made many failed attempts to oust Indians from that area. He had some personal scores to settle when he was promoted to Pakistan Army Chief’s post by Nawaz Sharif in 1998, super-ceding another senior General. He would make sure that the idea which was conceived in 1987 would finally get operational in 1999.
Planning & Execution:
As many of you would remember in Feb 1999, our beloved PM Vajpayee went on the famous Bus ride to Lahore and signed the Lahore Declaration which was supposed to calm down the nerves of other powers in the world, after both India and Pakistan had blasted their way to Nuclear glory in May 1998. While Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee were making historic pen-marks on the nicely worded document….Pakistan army’s soldiers were making deep foot-marks in the snow with their snow boots, while climbing onto the many high points around Kargil.
Now, Kargil-Dras-Batalik region during winter is literally ‘hell’ which has frozen over. Dras is the second coldest place on earth after Antarctica. The area is also highly prone to avalanches. Moving troops and equipment in these areas in winter is a highly risky proposition. But this risk was duly accepted by the Pakistani Army establishment which had started the ground work for occupying kargil heights during Jan-Feb of 1999. A very high level of secrecy was maintained…even the Pakistan Air Force and Navy along with many senior Army generals were not aware of what was going on. Only a few Generals at GHQ- Rawalpindi and a some senior officials on a need-to-know-basis were in the know-how of this audacious mission. It is still not clear whether Nawaz Sharif was fully aware of this operation. It seems he was not briefed on the full extent of this operation and many important details were kept hidden from him by his Generals.
Credit may be give to the Gen. Musharraf and his close aides for planning and executing this operation. Many lives were lost on the Pakistani side due to avalanches and other natural factors. Their choice of occupying positions was also up to the mark…with a good visibility of the Srinagar-Leh highway, while providing bare minimum cover to any attacking forces. There is also an incorrect perception in the indian populace that the Pakistanis came in and occupied Indian positions or bunkers. In reality, Pakistani occupied only one Indian post…rest, they built new.
Pakistan army’s Northern Light Infantry battalions were mobilized for this operation. This battalion was already present in POK, comprised of men from the mountains, already acclimatized to the dizzying heights they were going to occupy. So, there was no noitceable movement of men or material from the hinterland to alarm the Indian Intelligence agencies. Slowly, the men and material…ammunition, food stores, winter gear, weapons etc. were moved in through newly constructed tracks and trails. Pakistan army helicopters also formed part of the logistics, carrying men and material to forward locations.
Pakistan used great deception to keep the Indian Intelligence agencies unaware of their adventure. Even when the intruders were discovered, for at least first two weeks R&AW, IB and NSCS (National Security Council Secretariat) kept on towing the line that these were Jehadi elements instead of Pakistan Army regulars. Intruders also dressed up in black pathan suits, instead of uniforms. The Pakistanis knew that Indians would be listening on all radio frequencies, hence they would talk in foreign languages like Pashto instead of Urdu, to keep the Indian intelligence confused.
Indian Army had realized sooner than later that this was not a group of Jehadis occupying territory, for one simple reason…Jehadi/insurgent groups never occupied territories…they were more adept and hit-and-run tactics. But because of these conflicting reports from R&AW etc., Indian army chief, who was on a foreign trip was told to finish his trip, instead of rushing home. Pakistanis were successful in their deception for the initial phase of this war.
For India, it was a monumental intelligence failure. Multiple agencies working out of sync…turf wars…greater focus on counter insurgency by Indian military units in the Valley were a few reasons for this failure. Army’s 15 Corps was responsible for the region north of the Pir Panjal range (this range forms the border between Jammu and the Valley, Jawahar tunnel has been drilled though it). They were caught totally unawares of the activity in their area, till one of their foot patrols led by an officer, Saurabh Kalia, was intercepted by the Pakistanis. They were brutally tortured and murdered in clear defiance of the Geneva convention.
After the Indian army top brass realized the scale of this intrusions, war plans were put into place. Officially, no war was declared…which led to other bureaucratic hurdles. Point to note here is that if War is declared a Union War Plan comes into play..this allows for the Armed forces to have highest priority on national assets like Railways…Petroleum reserves…emergency finance for critical weapon purchases etc. But, credit must be given here to the Vajpayee govt. and the NSA Brajesh Mishra, who made sure any issues faced by the Armed forces were resolved ASAP.
Pakistan was not expecting the kind of response India gave…esp. use of the Indian Air Force assets. The DGMOs (Director General of Military Operations ) from both sides had kept the hot-line open. Initially, when Pakistani DGMO was questioned about the intrusions, he feigned ignorance but also quipped about India’s Siachin occupation…in a way, justifying those intrusions. But, the Pakistani DGMO was also upset about IAF joining the action. Indian DGMO told him with a straight face that India shall employ whatever assets it can to remove the intruders from her territory.
Pakistan till end of the war kept on the facade that these were Jehadi elements or freedom fighters. They even refused to accept bodies of slain soldiers which caused lot of political backlash for Nawaz Sharif in the POK.
Many in Pakistan still believe that they belong to some warrior islamic cult…while Indians are a bunch of pot-bellied banias. They have lost four wars but that doesn’t stop them from taking the initiative to pull India into a conflict.
Next time…How Indian forces responded to this new challenge.
- Jai Hind.
- Ref. Kargil- From Surprise to Victory- Gen. V P Malik (Indian Army Chief during Kargil war)