The Kargil Episode

01 Jun, 1999    ·   192

Maj Gen Ashok Krishna, AVSM (Retd) says the Indian armed forces must evict the Pakistanis at the very earliest from all the posts they have surreptitiously established by every means

It was on November 1, 1948 , that  77 Para Brigade supported by  7 Cavalry (Stuart tanks) crossed the great Himalayan range at Zojila to drive the Pakistani invaders out from Ladakh district. At approximately 3500 metres this was the highest point ( in the history of warfare) that tanks had operated. Dras , the second coldest place on earth, was captured on November 14, followed by the capture of the Dras River- Shingo River Junction and then Kargil.When the first Indo-Pak war ended on  January 1,1949, a negotiated Ceasefire Line was drawn up on an actual holding basis and formalised under the 1949 Karachi Ceasefire Agreement. In the Dras- Kargil area, this line ran close to the
Srinagar- Leh Highway
; hence, if the opponent occupied the heights in the area, he could fire down on the Highway, blocking the road to Ladakh. Although an alternate  route  via Manali and Upshi  to Ladakh  has now been  constructed, its capacity is limited . Therefore, the
Srinagar-Leh Highway
remains India ’s sole link to Ladakh . Winter stocking of 3 Infantry Division, and the Siachen brigade located there, takes place in the period between  April to October every year. This sensitive Highway has always been Pakistan ’s target and its interdiction is the best way to unbalance the centre of gravity of the Indian Army in north Kashmir , as also to internationalise the Jammu and Kashmir [J & K] issue.



In August 1965, Pakistan infiltrated across the Ceasefire Line over a wide front in four main areas [ Kargil, Srinagar , Punch and Jammu ].  This led to the 1965 war.  India had  then  captured the strategic positions of the Haji Pir Pass and the Mirpur Bugina Bulge in Tithwal, as also some areas north of Dras and Kargil to shift the Ceasefire Line away from the Srinagar-Leh Highway,; but under the under the Tashkent Agreement the status quo ante was  restored.



In 1971, the war in J & K   was fought mainly in three areas. Pakistan attacked in the Chhamb sector and they succeeded in establishing a bridgehead across the Mnawar Tawi  threatening Akhnur. To eliminate any further threat to Akhnur and Jammu , the Indian forces captured a salient known as Chicken’s Neck and three Pakistani posts. In the Ladakh and Kargil sectors, India captured 36 Pakistani posts securing about 110 sq kms; security of the Srinagar -Leh highway was thus improved.   Under the Shimlal agreement, Pakistan and India retained their gains in two critical areas. Pakistan kept the area it captured west of Munawar Tawi, but all territory captured in Chicken’s Neck was returned to Pakistan . India retained its gains in the Dras-Kargil-Ladakh region. The present Pakistani intrusions  have taken place in this very area.



Consequent to these intrusions,  Pakistan has established posts over a stretch of some 120 kms, at places 10 kms inside Indian territory , and at altitiudes as high as 16,000 to 18,000 feet. Operations of this magnititude intended to hold ground can not be launched without the direct involvement of the Paksitani Army. Its 62 Brigade Headquarters is located at Skardu and 80 Brigade Headquarters at Minimarg. Troops from these formations are directly involved. It is learnt that Pakistan has made use of the Gilgit Scouts [ troops specially trained for high altitude warfare], as also  the Afghan Mujahideen, some Arabs and Pakistani Punjabis. In Pakistan , the Army Chief draws his power from the armed forces, which has the final say in matters of national security, and any political interference or opposition is not countenanced. In this particular case, the intention was to internationalise the issue, hence the government is as much as part of these plans as the army.



Nawaz Sharif has been trying to assert his control over the Army as have previous Prime Ministers – he forced General Jehangir  Karamat to resign his post as Army Chief – but this does not mean that he has, or will gain ascendancy over the Army. Infact a political and ideological conflict is simmering in Pakistan which could accelerate due to bad governance. The Kargil episode may well be a manifestation of this conflict. The Pak Army views with concern any action that would diminish its prime position in Pakistan . Its officers have acquired land , property, business assets and the like over the years and they control most aspects of civil life in Pakistan . If Indo – Pak hostility were to reduce, so would their importance. This  explains the escalated firing that has always coincided with every high level bilateral political exchange between India and Pakistan . Firing was heaviest on the days when Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif met in February 1999, as also the three days of  Foreign Secretary level talks. The nomination of Lt Gen Nasir, a former Director General of the ISI , as head of the Pakistan Gurdwara Prabandakh Committee was announced on February 20, the day when our Prime Minister was in Lahore . Nasir lost no time in spelling out his plans :  to resurrect  insurgency in the Punjab , and further the ISI’s designs to dismember India .



In their calculations , the Pakistan Army would have thought that consolidation on the Dras-Kargil  heights would be a feather in their cap, to be followed by similar  actions, say, along the Jammu- Srinagar Highway, aimed at dividing the strength of the  Indian Army between costly  operations on the Line of Control and active militancy in interior areas, thereby, weakening its capacity to concentrate either on  limited conventional actions or terrorism. They would certainly have reckoned with a  ground response , but perhaps in a later time frame, by which time their defences-some of them already under preparation for weeks- would have acquired impregnability.They may not have anticipated the use of air power, other than helicopters, and the firmness and resolve of the Indian armed forces, and the care-taker government.



The battle has just begun. The armed forces must evict the Pakistanis  at the very earliest from all the posts they have surreptitiously  established  by every means. Infiltration is taking place in other parts of  J & K and many more infiltrators are being readied for induction across the Ceasefire Line.