By Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd) & Lt Col Ruchin Sodhani (Retd)
India and Pakistan have had their adversarial relations since independence as India moved on secular credentials while Pakistan moved focusing on religious tenets. Three consecutive wars of 1947-48, 1965 and 1971 had closed the military options for Pakistan to make any major inroads into J&K. Not only this, its renewed focus on insurgency in the 1990s and thereafter has also largely fizzled out. Its collusive relationship with China has also not helped it much except losing Shaksgam valley, adversarial losses in Siachen glacier and making the country hostage to China on the economic as well as military hardware supply front.
Despite continued animosity between India and Pakistan, there have been regular efforts to normalize the relations between the countries with a hope that all issues will be resolved bilaterally once there is a better understanding between both the nations. Shimla Agreement post 1971 war also postulated that all outstanding issues between both the countries must be resolved bilaterally. While India has been following the tenets of Shimla Agreement in letter and spirit, Pakistan has always been attempting to internationalise the issue or has been insisting on third party mediation.
It was credible on the part of then PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee to go to Lahore to build mutual trust between both the nations. A historic agreement was signed on 21 Feb 1999 between both the countries duly ratified by the parliaments of both the countries. Majority of countrymen from India as well as Pakistan along with the international community were hopeful of a new era of positive relationship between India and Pakistan. Both nations having achieved the nuclear status in preceding year of 1998, this agreement, known as the Lahore Declaration, was a watershed moment between both the countries executed between civil governments of the two countries.
It was during this time that then Pakistan COAS General Parvez Musharraf was laying the foundation of the Kargil conflict whose details were known only to a few select and trusted service officers. Civil political establishment had no knowledge of this development, though the Pakistani COAS pretends to have briefed the political establishment about such a possibility.
While India’s intelligence agencies, as usual, have shifted the blame on the other stakeholders, it is a matter of fact that neither at the national level nor at the military level was there any clarity about nature, extent and aim of impending Kargil conflict. While it was usual for the nation to look at positive trends in mutual relationship post the Lahore Declaration in February 1999, Indian intelligence agencies also failed to gauge the disguised preparations by the Pakistani Army to intrude in large areas into the Kargil sector. Militarily also, we had been responding very effectively to Pakistanis with respect to firing on the Line of Control. This escalated firing response from both the sides allowed Pakistani NLI personnel and other intruders to move undetected in the Kargil Sector. They also surprised Indian forces militarily as the sheer scale of un-held areas now being occupied by Pakistan was not contemplated. While there will be a continuing debate with respect to Pakistan’s military aim in this conflict, its initial unveiling also created a lot of confusion in the minds of military planners.
It was on 03 May 1999 wherein the presence of some people was reported by a shepherd. India also allowed itself to get confused on the lines of Pakistani narrative that there were few militants who had occupied some locations in their fight for J&K. The magnitude of the intrusion came to be known after a series of probing actions by the Indian Army which also resulted in the death of a few of our valiant officers and soldiers.
While the exact nature and magnitude of this intrusion was not fully known, launch of operations to force these intruders to vacate our land commenced. These operations initially did not meet with adequate success as the intelligence was not adequate. Not only this, the terrain was also playing havoc wherein Pakistani soldiers were occupying commanding heights and were well entrenched and well stocked. All attacks from the Indian side needed to be cliff assaults.
As in all conflicts, Indian soldiers rose to the challenge. The main contribution of young officers and soldiers turned the tide in India’s favour. With every passing day, failures and reverses reduced and success/wins increased. Despite limited use of the Air Force and not crossing the LOC, Indian defence forces acquitted themselves well on the professional count in the latter half of the conflict. Battles of Kargil will always be quoted as an example of valour and grit of young soldiers of all ranks whenever battles are discussed anywhere in the world.
The conflict also saw unconventional and escalated use of artillery and other resources of warfighting which have resulted in the development of new war-fighting strategies.
(About the authors: Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd) is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and specialises in neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets from @chanakyaoracle.
Lt Col RuchinSodhani served in the Armoured Corps of the Indian Army for twenty years before taking premature retirement. He now works in the e-commerce logistics industry.
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