By Col SC Tyagi, Kargil Veteran
Talking about Kargil teleports me in to a sensitive zone where memories become real and start playing out right in front of me; you could touch, feel and listen to them or simply watch them unfold for hours to come till interrupted. Kargil was the fourth round of war between Pakistan and India during the summer months of the year 1999 for fifty days. It was a manifestation of continuing India-Pakistan hostility over Kashmir. Indian Army’s successful management of insurgency in Kashmir was pinching the Pakistani military establishment and they felt the Kashmir cause was getting diluted. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India, had just successfully concluded his inaugural Lahore Bus Yatra during which he was received by PM Nawaz Sharif at Wagah for Lahore Summit. Mia Nawaz Sharif had no clue what his Generals were up to and peaks after peak were occupied by Pakistani army in the garb of infiltrators. Unfortunately, it came as a surprise to even the Indian establishment too. A casual report by a Shepard in Batalik area lifted the lid off the Pakistani army’s presence on our side of the Line of Control (LoC). A flurry of activity began sucking in troops after troops to dislodge the Pakistani soldiers perched atop the peaks resulting in to a large number of casualties before finally prevailing upon them and recapturing them and restoring the LoC on a 170 Km front in the Himalayan landscape.
Kargil misadventure by Pakistan was planned by a few senior military officers under Army Chief Musharraf as a reaction to India’s forward military posture which culminated in occupation of Siachen Glacier defences by the Indian Army in 1984. Pakistan’s Military planners had assumed that occupation of un-held areas in Kargil would result in to choking up of defences in Ladakh and Siachen, as the only available supply chain consisting of National Highway 1D from Srinagar to Leh via Kargil would be cut off and thus make these defences untenable. Pakistan Army lost the gamble and paid a heavy price and suffered heavy casualties. Mr Nawaz Sharif had later admitted over 4000 casualties as against Indian losses totaling to 527 and 1363 wounded. Soldiers do not die in the battlefield but attain martyrdom and become immortal. They die the day nation forgets them. Kargil Vijay Diwas, a solemn occasion, falling on 26 th July every year, reminds us of these martyrs.
Names of martyrs such as Capt Vikram Batra aka Shershah (as named by Pakistan’s Post Commander) of “Dil Mange More” fame, Lt Manoj Pandey, Capt Saurabh Kalia, Capt Anuj Nayyar, Major P Acharya, Major Vivek Gupta, Lt Vijayant Thapar, Major Rajesh Adhikari, Lt Neikezhakuo Kenguruse and many more such brave hearts evoke a reverential response and continue to inspire future generations. One of the unique events to remember and pay tributes to my erstwhile wartime colleagues is planned on my suggestion to plant 527 trees in a University Campus, thus honoring each one of them and to inspire the youth, especially those who were born after the Kargil war. Families of the Kargil martyrs have also been called to remind them that the nation stands with them.
In any war, there are soldiers who create legacies either by carrying out supreme sacrifices and laying down their lives or through unusual activities with the bravado unknown so far. Kargil saw the entry of the women in to the battlefield. Flying Officer Gunjan Saxena, the Helicopter Pilot from the Air Force, is a household name today (first mentioned in my book*). Another woman Officer, Capt (Dr) Anupama Parasher, quietly performed her Doctor’s role in Batalik when the Pakistan Army opened up the hostilities by carrying out heavy shelling on the battalion HQs of 3 PUNJAB and destroyed most of the habitable structures. She was there standing behind the wounded soldiers and treating them all along from a makeshift MI Room inside a temporary bunker tucked inside a mountainside cave at 14,000 feet. She had a young child waiting for her at home in Punjab. She barely looked up from her chores and responded steadily when I asked her about her child. She saved many lives without hesitating, cowering, cringing or cribbing. Artillery Shells (bombs) landed short of us throughout the day. Incidentally, the Pakistani side battalion too was from the Punjab Regiment and was part of the Indian Army before partition when it was assigned to Pakistan.
One of the most unforgettable, spirited and bold but lesser known actions, that resulted in to large number of casualties on the Indian side initially, was led by Major Ajit, 22 Grenadiers. He was given the task of establishing a foothold between two peaks, Point 5287 and Point 4812, on Khalubar Ridgeline. Pakistanis were well entrenched and all the approaches to them were covered with automatic weapons and they could observe right down to the base, where Major Ajit’s company had gathered to commence their operations. Pakistan Army opened up with artillery fire on to the assaulting troops when they were even assembling to begin climbing up. This not only delayed the operation but also suggested that the route was under observation and movement would draw enemy fire. In a moonlit night, movement on snow clad mountains is visible from a distance and the temperature was below zero degree Celsius. With such heavy odds against him, Major Ajit continued to climb with his company.
Determined, they managed to reach very close to the ridgeline but there was a huge boulder blocking the movement and it could not be bye passed. With a lot of efforts, one of the men was pushed up, who then threw a rope down to help others in climbing up. The company reached in the close vicinity of the enemy. Quickly, they formed up and in keeping with the military customs, Maj Ajit shouted ‘Narra-e-Taqbir’ and his troops, mainly Muslims, who shouted back “Allah-ho-Akbar” before launching the attack. The Pakistanis mistook them to be their own troops who had come as reinforcements. Initially, they did not open fire but once close they realized their mistake and began spewing fire from their automatics. Maj Ajit was caught, out in the open, with his depleted company in the middle of enemy firing from both the Ridges. He lost a couple of soldiers and a large number of them got bullet and shrapnel injuries.
Maj Ajit had not learnt to retreat and having established a foothold on the Ridgeline, returning to the base was out of question for him. He reorganized his balance of the fighting strength after providing first-aid to the injured and securing the dead behind boulders. He called for reinforcements but they could not reach him so quickly. It was the fourth day and each day had taken a toll of his men from enemy fire. He was left with only a few able bodied but unfed soldiers. The rations too had finished. Battalion Maulvi was with this team, he volunteered to man the Light Machine Gun and started firing. Unfortunately he too was shot and fell. When Maj Ajit looked at his Rifle, he found he was left with only six bullets in the magazine. He pulled two bullets out from it and kept them in his pocket. Someone asked – why? His response was, “If the enemy were to capture him, he would not go live and the two bullets will be used for shooting himself, just in case one was not sufficient”.
Remembering his Kul Devi, he then took the aim and shot through a gap, and pumped in all the four bullets. These were the last bullets he fired. Brave men invite the luck, and yes the bullets did the job well by killing the Pakistani Company Commander who was time and again shouting at him through the gap to surrender. Maj Ajit shouted that his 150 men reinforcement had arrived behind the Pakistani side and it was time for Pakistani soldiers to surrender. His gamble played well and the Pakistanis started deserting the Post. In a couple of hours after four days the rest of his men also arrived and the route to victory lay open for anyone to grab. Maj Ajit had done his job very well and it was time to have hot food on those icy heights and rest for the first time in four days. Stories of valor and courage inspire the youth and the legacies live on in the form of ballads, poems and text. Just as I write, another Doctor Capt (now a Colonel) Rajesh Adhau, who ran seven hundred meters gap on a Ridgeline at 14,000 feet beyond Tololing to attend to the injured under enemy’s direct heavy fire chasing him and bombs exploding near him, validated the accuracy of his account of bravery in my book*.
(The author has authored several books and the book “The Kargil Victory: Battles from Peak to Peak” is based on his personal experiences during the Kargil War. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)