But when the enormity of the situation sunk in, Operation Vijay was launched on May 26, to flush out the intruders.
On the second day of the air strikes by IAF a MiG-27 flamed -out and its pilot Fit-Lt Nachiketa was taken POW. Sqn Ldr-Ajay Ahuja, who followed in his MiG-21 to locate Nachiketa, was downed and killed by the Pakistanis in cold blood?
On May 28 a MI-17 helicopter was targeted by a Stinger missile, killing the four crew. Causing obvious alarm, the IAF reviewed its operational philosophy.
The performance of fighter aircraft flying at speeds close to 1,000 km/ hours is greatly restricted at altitudes of 20,000 ft, where the atmosphere is rarified.
Compounding the pilot’s problem is the difficulty in identifying small targets like bunkers within seconds, because the aircraft must remain for the least time over the target area to avoid being shot down?
Restricted area for maneuver in mountains and the need to avoid crossing the LOC while pulling away after the attack impose further problems in providing close air support.
In mountains the accuracy of delivery gets further affected by the steep slopes and crevasses because even a small miss can cause the bomb to land thousands of yards away in the valley. Adding to the problem of navigation and target identification is bad weather and poor visibility.
Brought in by the IAF now were the Mirage-2000 aircraft which could deliver precision-guided munitions, like the laser-guided bomb, with remarkable accuracy from a standoff distance.
This had the desired effect, but the restriction still remained of not crossing the LOC. The effective use of air power for larger battlefield interdiction was thus denied, but even with the stipulated restraints the IAF performed its task of softening the objectives and limited targeting of enemy logistics camps and columns on our side of the LOC.
This greatly helped the army’s operations and marked a new chapter in joint operations at such altitudes. The lAF’s performance even earned a spot of praise from the US.
Despite the initial slipcase, the Indian Army’s resoluteness in pushing back the aggressors was evident. The full scope of artillery was brought to bear on the enemy prior to the launching of infantry assaults.
The politically haunted earned its spurs by demonstrating a magical punch. In a daring employment of this weapon, the gunners moved it up to take direct post-shots at the objective.
The Russian BM-21 Grad (meaning ‘hail’ in Russian) rained rockets on Tiger Hill, pulverizing the enemy. The snows smelt of cordite, according to the assaulting troops.
Notwithstanding the pounding by air and artillery of the Pakistanis perched on the mountain tops in well-fortified defenses, the infantry bore the brunt to evict the enemy by physical assaults.
To do this the foot soldier had to physically negotiate those precipitous heights to close on to the enemy and engage in hand-to-hand combat.
Such is the bag of disadvantages on the attacker’s side that a superiority ratio in excess of ‘six to one’ was needed. Compounding the infantry’s problem of attacking in the mountains are the narrow ridges on which the men snail upwards with heavy loads of their weapons and ammunition. Lack of cover makes these troops easy targets.
The placement and movement of reserves in time to influence the battle is a nightmare for the commander, Use of helicopters is restricted because most operations are by night.
The move of administration and logistics stores is again mostly on manual basis within the combat area where mules have their limitations.
Accorded priority by the army was to evict the intrusion from Dress sector, even as operations were mounted in Batalik towards the east.
The capture of the crucial Tooling peak on June 13 was the War’s turning point. This paved the way for the capture of Tiger Hill on July 4 which marked a major victory for India arid sent Nawaz Sharif scurrying to USA.
Meanwhile, a Pakistani intrusion bid in the southern Siachen Glacier was foiled. Operations were also continuing to capture some key posts in Mushkoh valley.
Even though Nawaz Sharif gave in to US pressure for a pull-out, India’s operations were to continue in the absence of visible indications of Pakistani withdrawal. Having captured Jubar, Batalik was cleared by July 9, when the war front shifted to Mushkoh.
After a meeting of the DGMOs of both countries in Amritsar, Pakistan began the withdrawal of its troops on July 11.
By now evidence was flowing about Pakistan Army’s involvement, although it had been denying it all along. Nawaz Sharif and Sartaj Aziz had maintained that the intruders were ‘Mujahideen’, and that they had no hoed over these ‘freedom fighters’.
Besides captured arms, ammunition and equipment, a plethora of clinching documentary evidence was provided by Army Headquarters to the media and diplomatic corps in New Delhi to prove the involvement of Pakistan army.
Displayed for viewing in South Block were items of clothing and accoutrement, well equipment with Pakistan Ordnance Factory markings, army pay books, identity cards and personal diaries recovered from the bodies of dead soldiers.
Also recovered were a copy of Pakistan Army’s Glossary of Military Terms (1990 edition), a news-letter issued by the Military Housing Directorate of the Adjutant General’s Branch and routine official documents. Personal letters and greeting cards to army officers were also found.
While the retreating Pakistan army- abandoned their dead, the Indians buried them with full honours and with Muslim rites.
Overcoming tremendous logistical hurdles, the Indian soldiers brought the bodies of two Pakistani officers to New Delhi and offered to hand them over to Pakistan High Commission, through the International Committee of the Red Cross.
It was after much prevarication and reluctance that the bodies were accepted by Pakistan and flown back for a funeral in their homeland.
Pakistan used NU troops belonging to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir so that the casualties could be limited to that region. Only a ‘rogue army’ could rig up such a sinister design, and it was left to diplomacy to salvage the situation.
Along with military defeat, Pakistan faced the prospect of diplomatic isolation. Right in the beginning, on June 4, President Clinton asked Pakistan to respect the LOC, and similar sentiments were voiced by the G-8 nations.
Pakistan over-estimated the extent of support it would receive from its close ally China. When Nawaz Sharif flew to Beijing on June 28, he did not expect a show of neutrality, China itself is wary of Islamic fundamentalism seeping into where higher separatists are already restive.
Nawaz cut short his visit in the absence of any visible support, and in his wake followed a statement from Beijing asking for the LOC to be respected.
After the fall of Tiger Hill, Nawaz Sharif sought an urgent meeting with President Clinton, and dashed to Washington hoping to be bailed cut. Earlier, General Zinpi, commander of U3 central Command had visited Pakistan and warned the military brass against nuclear adventurism.
The joint statement issued by Clinton and Nawaz Sharif emphasised that both shared the view that the current fighting in Kargil was dangerous and contained the seeds of a wider conflict, and that it was vital for the peace of South Asia that the LOC in Kashmir be respected by both parties, in accordance with the 1972 Shimla accord.
President Clinton said that he would take “personal interest in encouraging an expeditious resumption and intensification of bilateral efforts, once the sanctity of the LOC has been fully restored”.
President Clinton had kept Prime Minister Vajpayee informed during his talks with Nawaz Sharif. It was a clear diplomatic win core India. Though Pakistan asserts that it had succeeded in internationalizing the Kashmir issue, the US ma do it clear that it had no intention to mediate.
While Pakistan’s brazen aggression had the international community ranged against it, India scored diplomatic points by the exercise of tremendous restraint by not crossing the LOC.
India demonstrated remarkable patience even after Pakistan handed over six mutilated bodies of army personnel captured by them. This was an outrageous act and a war crime.
Apart from the concern of a widening conflict, the US was worried about its escalation into a nuclear exchange. Unrestrained rhetoric and nuclear brinkmanship from Islamabad came in sharp contrast to India’s restraint.
Washington Post quoted a senior US administration official as saying that “this crisis could have escalated out of control, including in a way that could have brought in nuclear weapons, without either party consciously deciding that it wanted to go to nuclear war,”
In India the RSS mouthpiece Panctiajanya had also queered the pitch and called for a nuclear strike, but it stopped at that when the RSS realized how damaging and counter-productive it would be.
While Pakistan can be excused for its bluster, India cannot go uncaused for its failure to estimate the contours of deterrence in a nuclear context. It was never realized that a nuclear capability does not bestow deterrence at the sub conventional level.
Rather, it resulted in raising the threshold of India’s tolerance because both countries must exercise greater restraint to prevent a nuclear flare-up- and upped the level to which Pakistan could heighten tensions and openly back the insurgency in the State without fear of retaliation. This suited Pakistan admirably.
Little wonder, from August 1998 onward, Pakistan spread its tentacles to the Rajouri-Punch belt and attempted a strike by militants in Chamba in neighboring Himachal Pradesh.
Along with this came the shelling in Kargil sector, which made thousands flee for safety. The shelling of border villages was expanded to include Kupwara, Uri and even the Jammu region.
The new and heightened phase of the
Pakistani shelling would have indicated that nuclear weapons have severe limitations of deterrence even at the conventional level. But we failed to see through Pakistan’s game-plan.
Pakistan’s rationale for its nuclear programme was that it would help to reopen the Kashmir issue and offset India’s conventional edge. This is way Pakistan refuses to pledge a “no first use”.
The need for actionable strategic and tactical intelligence gets reiterated, the nuclear con text we can allow our guard to be dropped only at our own peril.
A false sense of confidence generated by Pokharan II and the Lahore Declaration had percolated down the chain.
George Fernandes, who had earlier described China as India’s threat number one, went so far as to state in a foreword to a new edition of Guilty Men of 1962 that the danger to India’s security from Pakistan was but a myth that now stood exposited.
Fernandes later went on to downplay the Kargil intrusion and said that the intruders would be evicted in 48 hours.
A string of lapses resulted in the intelligence failure. In mid-1998 Pakistan purchased 50,000 pairs of snow boots from a Brussels firm. This should have alerted us, but the RAW man there was unaware of this.
In October 1998 it was reported by IB operatives in Leh that 300-odd irregulars were being trained in two camps in, for infiltration into Kargil in April. The MoD also received timely reports about Pakistan’s use of remotely-piloted vehicles to monitor the Leh-Kargil sector.
There has been an evident lapse in integrating and analyzing whatever incidental bits of information trickled in. This should have spurred the intelligence agencies to look for other indicators and charge their sources for additional information.
At the operational level, routine surveillance and patrolling in winter months was reduced. When the snows melted early this year, the move to reoccupy the posts vacated in winter was delayed.
It was, thus, a costly failure of intelligence which left 415 Indian soldiers killed and over 585 injured.
The media displayed a sense of responsibility to wait for the war to finish until it could start asking uncomfortable questions. During the war it did a good job of informing the people, within existing constraints.
An abiding media visual is, that of body bags arriving home. Soaked in the media glare and with their privacy invaded, the next of kin were forced to suppress their emotions.
Pakistan had used its media to advantage in the initial stages by displaying the wrecked remains of downed MiG, and thereafter making a show of returning Flt-Lt Nachiketa.
The banning of PTV in India may not have been the most efficient means of countering Pak’s propaganda, for many in Pakistan also had stopped believing the disinformation doled out on their official channel.
A committee to review the Kargil affair has been constituted with noted defence analyst K Subrahmanyam as its chairman Its members are: B.G. Verghese, a former journalist, and Lt-Gen (Retd) K.K. Hazari, a former Vice-Chief of Army Staff he was part of the Arun Singh Committee that reviewed the working of the Ministry of Defence.
Satish Chandra is the secretary of the committee, but his appointment has drawn flak because he is also chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee which doubles as the National Security Council Secretariat.
The committee has been asked to “review all events leading to the intrusion” and to recommend measures to safeguard national security. The report which this committee will submit in three months is bound to contain the following.
Pakistan is not going to abandon its Kashmir agenda easily, and will use fundamentalism to fuel the insurgency and terrorism. We witnessed heightened violence in Doda and Poonch districts and the hostage drama at the BSF base in Bandipur, even as the last of the intruders was being flushed out of Kargil.
With a bulk of army units now being pulled out from counter-insurgency tasks for deployment of the LoC, the police and paramilitary forces must upgrade their involvement in countering the proxy war.
By deploying two divisions in the Drass- Turtuk belt, we have Siachenised the entire mountain wasteland. Siachen is costing us Rs. two crore a day, while the new deployment will burden the exchequer by an additional Rs. five crore every day.
While diverting funds is essential for defence; the most efficient means for pursuing national interests and security must be explored.
Despite Operation Vijay, Pakistan’s artillery fire into Kargil continues! By choosing not to cross the LoC we may have set a precedent by which it may cost us much more to prevent other Kargils from happening.
Which is why we need to use diplomacy and military power in the right proportion to acquire maximum leverage.