Remembering Kargil Martyrs

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CJ Report : Colonel Shiv Choudhary (Retd)

The thundering of guns and border skirmishes across the LOC that divides India and Pakistan (Pak) in Kashmir has never been anovelty. However, it was a bit intriguing, when the two sides exchanged fire in the first week of May 1999.

It was more so, because just three months earlier, the Prime Ministers (PM) of the two countries had embraced each other at the Wagah, to work towards peace.

Also, after PM of India was accorded a 21 guns salute on his visit to Pak, it was hoped that the guns on the two sides would permanently fall silent.

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Sadly, the much-aroused hope was quickly shattered at the approach of summer, when the heavily armed Pakistani army masquerading as terrorists, crossed the LOC on 80 Km front and occupied the Kargil heights ranging from 16,000-18,000 ft.

They began attacking and disrupting the strategic highway linking Srinagar and Leh in the first week of May 1999.

Indian political leadership and army quickly realised the Pak perfidy and lost no time and made plans to launch physical attacks to evict the Pakistanis from our side of the LOC.

This led to the Indian army to quickly assess, plan and launch‘Operation Vijay’on 26 May. An army division was moved with speed to evict the intruders.The Indian army had the inherent tactical and operational disadvantage of moving uphill carrying all war like stores through the icy heights and inhospitable mountainous terrain.

On the contrary the Pak army occupied mountain tops and with good top-down observation and could dominate the approaches with effective fire.

In the bargain the Indian army suffered heavy losses while moving from a lower height to higher ones, as the approaches were devoid of natural cover. The brave Indian army did not relent, facing all odds under treacherous fire from artillery and small arms, continued on their mission. The ever-reliable Indian Air Force was called in.

Though limited, yet the decisive intervention by the Indian Air Force changed the dynamics of the operations in a dramatic and unprecedented way on May 26.

It started raining rockets and machine gun fire on the Pak positions occupied on high reaches and behind the ridges and disrupted their supply lines in the rear of the enemy. By May end, a proper war like situation involving selectively targeted air strike was existing in Kargil.

This was further backed by the Air Force with one of the tasks to keep the crucial Srinagar-Leh highway free from the Pakistani threat. On June 13, crucial Tololing peak was captured,which proved a turning point in the operations. This was immediately followed by the capture of Point 5140.

Simultaneously, immense pressure was mounting on Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff from all round the world.

He was badly exposed and had to beat a hasty retreat from his foolish misadventure.

On 4 Jul, Tiger Hill was recaptured form Pakistani army.

By now, Shariff and his over ambitious army chief Gen Musharraf were feeling the heat of their ill-conceived decision and fast failing operational plans.

Meanwhile, India captured all the key peaks by 13 Jul and Pak intruders began retreating from Kargil.

A deadline of 16 Jul, was set for total withdrawal and operation Vijay was declared a success after a most difficult limited war that lasted 50 days. Victory, over all conceivable odds bewildered and raised the morale of the nation along with the indelible memories of valour by the brave young soldiers led by fearless military leadership.

There is a view that India was gullible and trusted Pak in the spirit of Lahore Declaration, whereas Pakistan had laid the trap for the unsuspecting Indian leadership. It would not be totally out of place to say that while the Pak PM was actually signing the Lahore Declaration in Feb, his army chief, Gen Parvez Musharraf was giving final shape to intended Kargil adventure and utilised the operational time and space to deceive the Indian leadership.

There have been lot of views, controversies, case studies and brain storming sessions both by the army and political leadership. This involved strategists, experts, intelligence agencies, committees, inquiries and boards to analyse the failure to foresee Pak’s massive recce, planning, defence preparations, build-up, logistic movements, aviation
activities and defensive works, which took place over months.

All inquiries seemingly met the fate as hither-to-before with no accountability. Only insignificant aspects recommended by the Kargil Review Committee have been implemented with the major recommendations of the Report lying frozen in the cold storage.

The colossal loss of brave hearts and the young leaders, casualties suffered by hundreds and their suffering and torments faced by their families are the indelible remains of the war.

Inter alias three principal agencies, RAW,IB and MI cannot just absolve themselves of a massive intelligence failure of this magnitude. Indeed an unpardonable lapse for which many heads should have rolled but nothing at all has happened to those who were responsible.

Diplomatically Pak failed on all fronts. Militarily, Pakistan was forced to rethink its strategy at Kargil.  Infact, Pak PM turned himself from a hero to zero by this disastrous misadventure.

India has since been taking many actions to internationally expose Pak at different levels through varied channels; be it G-8 to hit Pak’s crippling foreign reserves, IMF for monetary assistance/ loan, US for anti-terrorist operations on Pak soil and diplomatically to expose it as hub for harbouring terrorists.

Indeed, many things are happening during the last few years. The real test of India’s diplomatic skills lies in the distant future as to how India can internationally ostracise Pak. Apparently, all is on the right course as Pak has been placed on the grey list by the Financial Action Task Force for failing to curb anti-terror financing.

In the overall analysis as pointed by some experts earlier, Pak had failed in Kashmir valley, upstaged in the bus diplomacy and failed to paint the subcontinent as a nuclear flashpoint. Pak opted for a desperate gamble to bring Kashmir to the forefront of international consciousness again.

They factored in the fluctuating stability of Indian Parliament and resultant impending election. Pak woefully underestimated the collective Indian response. Infact, Pak was shell shocked after a few daysof initial operations and did not expect a full-scale offensive by India. Pak expected UN intervention and arrival of international emissary to broker peace, thus achieving her aim of internationalizing Kashmir issue.

The frustration and hopelessness of the situation forced Pak PM to dash abroad in the thick of war on Jun 28 for a supporting response or a face saver. Indian plan in not crossing the LOC was endorsed by the USA.

Russia too backed India while France, China, Britain expressed their concern to settle Kargil issue bilaterally. It taught Pak that India has the strategic autonomy to pursue its national interest without having to seek consent from any big powers.

India lost many of her brave warriors in battles conducted on some of the most inhospitable terrains in the world. The fighting man climbed and fought valiantly without rest and respite, the Bofor Howitzers, AA Guns and MBRLs hit with utter precision and destroyed concrete positions both on the forward and reverse slopes.

The logistician ensured that the fighting force need not look back and the medical corps ensured that no injured succumbed without valiant effort by the doctors. The Air Force regretted for getting only a limited chance to wreck hell on Pak and its army.

The brave hearts preferred to die for a cause and become martyrs for the nation and the wounded displayed resilience beyond imagination to continue their fight and will power to re-enter the battle field. Victory as thought did finally come to us.

Sadly it came with bodies of our fallen heroes wrapped in the national flag.

On 26 Jul, India salutes its fallen heroes and stands by the brave army for their spectacular victory in Kargil. This day is observed not just in the Kargil-Dras sector but across all states of India. In New Delhi, PM pays homage to the war heroes at Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate.

This is the reason; the whole country feels emotionally integrated, united in its nationhood, forgetting caste, region or religion on this day. Since we have no religion, caste, or quota in the Indian army, everyone fights for India and pays his/her homage to the martyrs as true Indian.

Jammu, which can proudly boast of innumerable martyrs and decorated heroes, marches ahead to pay its utmost respect to the martyrs of Kargil war today ie 26 Jul. Like every year, this day is being celebrated at the sacred site, Balidan Stambh in Jammu by everyone, residing in and around Jammu city with equal poignancy, pride, spirit and enthusiasm.

This sacred site will be decorated by a group of young volunteers named ‘Martyrs Welfare Group’ with posters, banners and hoardings showing the martyrs and decorated soldiers standing amidst icy heights and
other areas.

The occasion demands willing cooperation from society, govt organizations like police, JMC and other establishments in helping the group in temporarily pasting/ fixing posters and banners in an uninterrupted way.

All citizens and govt officials are also urged to display more patriotism and spirit in furthering this solemnity of the day and with maximum presence at Balidan Stambh like previous years.

Needless to say, this is purely an apolitical occasion and everyone should let the associated volunteers manage it without any interference. It is everyone’s duty to participate and pay their rich homage to the departed souls “who preferred to die for a cause, than meekly surrendering to the dictates of enemy” and those “Who preferred to die for something, than living for nothing”.

We must show solidarity with the families of brave departed souls. Long live the Martyrs who laid down their lives fighting against all odds in “Operation Vijay” and the Indian army for its selfless devotion and sacrifices.

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