Kargil Vijay Diwas: Kargil war revisited

The sacrifices and valour of the soldiers and leaders remain unmatched in military history. As we celebrate the 23rd ‘Kargil Diwas’ on 26 July, we pay homage to the 527 Indian soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice, achieving the near impossible. 

Kargil Vijay Diwas: Kargil war revisited
The Kargil war led to much-needed structural changes in the national security architecture and defence reforms.

By Lt General Vinod Bhatia (Retd),

In the annals of military history, soldiers and scholars the world over will continue to study and marvel at the recapture of the Kargil Heights by the Indian Armed Forces. The sacrifices and valour of the soldiers and leaders remain unmatched in military history. As we celebrate the 23rd ‘Kargil Diwas’ on 26 July, we pay homage to the 527 Indian soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice, achieving the near impossible. 

General Pervez Musharraf, the then Pakistan army chief in an audacious plan (Operation Koh – e – Paima)  occupied key heights on the Indian side of the Line Of Control (LoC), dominating the Zojila – Drass – Kargil – Leh national highway, thus effectively cutting off the major road link to Leh. The audacious plan was executed in the winter of 1999 when movement in the snow-clad ridges was least expected. The plan was not new, as it had been discussed and discarded by the Pakistan army on more than a few occasions. However, General Pervez Musharraf saw this as a win-win plan, the success or even failure of the plan would achieve multiple objectives. The intrusions, if successful, would cut off the road to Leh from Zojila, thus adversely impacting the sustenance of troops and the local population. This would also facilitate Pakistan’s offensive in Siachen to creep up and occupy the Saltoro Ridge. At the strategic level, the intrusions will bring back the focus to J&K among the international community. Equally and more importantly, Operation KP as it was nicknamed would stymie the peace process initiated by the historic bus ride by the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in February 1999 to Lahore. It needs to be remembered that led by Pervez Musharaf, the three Pakistan Chiefs refused to salute the Indian Prime Minister at Lahore, stating that they will not salute the PM of an enemy nation. As the Pakistan Army drives the ‘India Policy’ the Indian intelligence community should have interpreted this strategic signaling as a warning of Pakistan’s intent to derail the political process. Whether Operation KP succeeded or not one thing was certain, this would weaken the Pakistan government thus paving the way for a military takeover. History is witness that Pervez Musharraf has been the longest ruling military dictator in Pakistan.  Another major factor that contributed to Musharraf’s confidence in executing Operation KP was the fact that with Pakistan going overtly nuclear on 28 May 1998 as a response to India’s nuclear tests on 11 May 1998, he was certain that India would not dare to wage a full-scale war as a response option. The international community and the US, in particular, would never allow it, and again he was proved right.  All factors and assessments indicated a certain success for the audacious KP plan. Launched at the height of winter in February 1999, everything was going as per plan for Pakistan, till early May 1999. It is also now claimed that Pervez Musharraf in one of his visits to the troops who had intruded, spent a night on the Indian side of the LoC.

India and the Armed Forces were definitely taken by surprise by this bold and imaginative plan. The failure was at all levels, wherein the intelligence agencies failed to discern not only the internal dynamics within Pakistan but also the strategic intent. The intelligence failure at the strategic, operational and tactical level, however, did not deter the Indian army from doing what it does best, that is to ensure territorial integrity and succeed at all costs, irrespective of the probability of success. The Indian army, by far one of the most battle-hardened and combat-rich forces in the world, proved once again that they are capable of achieving the near impossible when the nation requires it. 

The first reported intrusion was in the Batalik sector by a shepherd on 03 May. The enormity of the intrusions and intent dawned on the Indian Army only at a much later date in mid-May. The Pakistan Army led by their crack Special Service Group (SSG), which was once commanded by Musharraf himself, was comfortable in their belief that they had achieved a victory without even firing a shot. Much to their disbelief, they were surprised by an extremely violent and concerted effort by the Indian Army and Air Force to recapture the Kargil heights by May. The induction of 8 Mountain Division under the dynamic leadership of the then Major General Mohinder Puri, a soldier and leader par excellent was a game changer.  The Division went about their task of recapturing the peaks with unmatched professionalism and valour, with the Indian soldiers and leaders proving once again the old army dictum “ The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes some time”.  The troops were spurred on by numerous visits of the then Chief General VP Malik.

During the Operations the then Director General Infantry Gen Shankar Prasad sent me to Kargil; to get first-hand feedback on the efficacy of infantry operations. What was heartening was the self-belief and the morale of our soldiers and leaders always willing to achieve the impossible. The report highlighted a number of issues, reinforcing the nation’s trust and confidence in the soldiers.

The Kargil war led to much-needed structural changes in the national security architecture and defence reforms. The Kargil review committee headed by K Subramaniyam was followed by the Group of Minister’s report. Media played a vital role in the war, igniting the imagination and interest of all Indians and the world, literally bringing the battle to the bedrooms. Information operations thus became an integral part of our strategy.

Vikram Batra, Manoj Pande,  Sanjay Kumar, Yogendra Yadav, Anuj Nayyar, and Vijayant Thappar among many other war heroes will always be remembered by a grateful nation. During the many battles, 26 officers made the supreme sacrifice a very high number. In addition, 501 soldiers sacrificed their lives in the highest traditions of the army, living up to and fighting for the ‘Nam, Namak and Nishan’ of their respective units and regiments. A heavy cost to pay. Today as we celebrate the Kargil Diwas, let us recollect the many sacrifices of the soldiers and air warriors who ensured victory against all odds by lighting a candle in prayer. 

(The author is Former Director General Military Operations (DGMO) and Director Centre for Joint Warfare Studies. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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