The Kargil War, a saga of courage, bravery and sacrifice
Historically, there has never been any stability or peace between India and Pakistan. To that extent, the thunder of gunfire and border skirmishes across the LOC that divides India and Pakistan (Pak) in Kashmir has never been a novelty. However, it was a bit intriguing when the two sides exchanged fire in the first week of May 1999, as just three months earlier PMs from both countries embraced at the Wagah border, to work for peace. Moreover, after the Indian Prime Minister received a 21-gun salute during his visit to Pak, it was hoped that the guns on both sides would fall silent.
It is the duty of everyone to pay a rich tribute to the departed souls “who preferred to die for a cause rather than obediently surrender to the enemy” and to those “who preferred to die for something rather than live for nothing “.
Unfortunately, the long-awaited hope was quickly shattered as summer approached, when the heavily armed Pakistani army, posing as terrorists, crossed the LOC on an 80 km front and occupied the heights of Kargil between 16,000 and 18,000 feet. They began attacking and disrupting the strategic highway linking Srinagar and Leh during the first week of May 1999. India’s political leadership and military quickly realized the Paks’ intent and wasted no time to plan the expulsion of the Pakistanis. This led the Indian Army to quickly launch ‘Operation Vijay’ on 26 May and an army division was moved in to expel the intruders.
The Indian Army had the inherent tactical and operational disadvantage of moving urgently carrying war material through the icy heights and inhospitable mountainous terrain. On the contrary, the Pak army occupied the mountain tops with good observation from above and dominated the approaches with effective fire. In the affair, the Indian Army suffered heavy casualties while climbing through approaches devoid of natural cover. The brave Indian army did not back down, facing obstacles under treacherous fire from artillery and small arms.
The ever-reliable Indian Air Force was called in for a limited role. It began raining rocket and machine gun fire on the occupied Pak positions on the heights and behind the ridges and disrupted their supply lines in the rear. This decisive intervention changed the dynamic of operations in an unprecedented way on 26 May. At the end of May, a real war situation involving selectively targeted airstrikes existed in Kargil. The Air Force was further tasked with keeping the crucial Srinagar-Leh highway safe from the Pakistani threat, which it did so boldly. On June 13, the crucial peak of Tololing was captured, which proved to be a turning point in operations. The capture of point 5140 followed immediately.
Simultaneously, the Pak PM Nawaz Shariff and his over-ambitious army chief, General Musharraf, were denounced around the world for their ill-conceived decision and their operational plans which quickly failed. This forced Pak to retreat in a hurry after his mad misadventure. Operationally, on July 4, Tiger Hill was recaptured, followed by the capture of all key peaks on July 13. The Pak intruders felt defeated and began to withdraw from Kargil. A July 16 deadline was set for full withdrawal and Operation Vijay was declared a success after the toughest limited war in history that lasted 50 days. The victory, above all else, lifted the morale of the nation as well as the indelible memories of bravery of the brave young servicemen led by their fearless military leadership.
Some believe that India was gullible and trusted Pak in the spirit of the Lahore declaration, while Pakistan had set a trap for unsuspecting Indian leaders. It would not be entirely naïve to say that while the Pakistani Prime Minister was signing the Lahore Declaration in February, his army chief, General Parvez Musharraf, was giving final shape to the planned Kargil misadventure using time and l operational space to deceive Indian leaders. A parallel can be drawn with what happened in the Galwan Valley in the Leh sector in 2020. It behooves us to realize that the time has passed to preach peace and seek solutions through talks. A weak neighbor is always considered weak and vulnerable. It is time to project oneself and to say; you only attack me to pay a heavy price. It takes a strong army and money to maintain it without cradles.
There are always lessons to be learned from both successes and defeats. To that extent, there have been many views, controversies, case studies and brainstorming sessions by both the military and political leaders. This involved strategists, intelligence agencies, committees, investigations and councils to analyze the failure to foresee the mass reconnaissance of Pak, planning, preparations, construction, logistics, aerial activities and defensive works , which lasted for months. All inquiries about our failures apparently met fate as before without any liability. Only a few insignificant aspects recommended by the Kargil review board have been implemented, with the main recommendations of the report frozen within the Ministry of Defence.
The colossal loss of brave young leaders, the losses suffered by the hundreds and their suffering and torment suffered by their families are the indelible vestiges of the war. Among others three main agencies; RAW, IB and MI cannot simply absolve themselves of a massive intelligence failure of this magnitude. Indeed an unforgivable slip into which a few heads should have fallen. Apparently, nothing happened to those who failed.
Pak, with its poor international diplomatic reputation, again failed on all fronts. Militarily, Pakistan was forced to rethink its strategy in Kargil. In fact, Pak PM was turned from hero to zero by this disastrous misadventure. India has since taken many steps to internationally expose Pak at different levels through various channels; whether it’s the G-8 to hit Pak’s crippling foreign reserves, the IMF for monetary aid/lending, the US for counter-terrorism operations on Pakistani soil, and diplomatically to expose it as a plaque rotating to harbor terrorists. Many things unknown to ordinary mortals are surely happening. The real test of India’s diplomatic skills will be how India can ostracize Pak internationally. Pak is repeatedly placed on the FATF gray list for failing to curb anti-terrorism funding.
In the global analysis, Pak had failed in the valley of Kashmir and painted the subcontinent as a nuclear powder keg. Pak has opted for a desperate gamble to put Kashmir back in the forefront of international consciousness. They took into account the then-fluctuating stability of the Indian Parliament and the resulting impending elections when planning Kargil. Pak sadly underestimated the collective Indian response and saw plenty of spirit when needed. In fact, Pak was shocked after a few days of initial operations and did not expect a full-scale offensive from India.
Pak expected the intervention of the UN and the arrival of an international envoy to broker peace, thus achieving his goal of internationalizing the Kashmir issue. The frustration and hopelessness of the situation forced Pak PM to rush overseas into the heart of the war on June 28 for a supportive response or a face saver. India’s plan not to cross the COL has been approved by the United States. Russia has also backed India while France, China and Britain have expressed concern to settle the Kargil issue bilaterally. He taught Pak that India has the strategic autonomy to pursue its national interest without having to seek anyone’s consent. This Indian determination will surely impact anyone who intends to venture against India in the future.
India has lost many of its brave warriors in battles fought in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world. The fighter climbed and fought valiantly without rest or respite, Bofor howitzers, AA guns and MBRLs struck with absolute precision both on the front and rear slopes. The logistician ensured that there was no turning back and the medical staff ensured that no casualties succumbed without a valiant effort by the doctors. The Air Force regretted having had only a limited chance to destroy Pak and his army. The wounded showed a resilience beyond imagination to continue their fight and a willingness to recover and reenter the battlefield. Brave hearts preferred to die for a cause and become martyrs for the nation. Victory as a thought has finally come to us. Sadly, it came with many bodies of our fallen heroes wrapped in the national flag.
On July 26, India salutes its fallen heroes and stands with the brave army for its spectacular victory at Kargil. This day is observed not only in the Kargil, but all over India, proudly proud of countless men and women in olive drab, martyrs and decorated heroes, who march ahead to pay homage and remember the brave hearts who sacrificed their life. This day is full of emotion, pride, spirit, respect and enthusiasm. The Prime Minister pays tribute to war heroes at the war memorial in New Delhi. The whole country feels emotionally integrated and united in its will. The solemn day requires voluntary participation to show unquestioned patriotism and spirit in the pursuit of this solemnity. This should be a purely apolitical occasion, with everyone striving to maintain an apolitical identity.
We must show solidarity with the families of the brave souls who have passed away. Long live the martyrs who sacrificed their lives fighting against all odds in “Operation Vijay” and the Indian Army for their dedication and selfless sacrifices.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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