The booming of guns across the line of control that divides India and Pakistan in Kashmir is not a new thing but in 1999, when the two sides exchanged fire in the first week of May, there was some surprise, only because just three months earlier, the Prime Minister of the two countries had embraced each other warmly at the Wagah border, promising to work towards peace. After Pakistan gave Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee a 21 gun salute on his visit it was hoped that the artillery of the two sides would fall silent for a while to give the historic Lahore Declaration a chance to succeed.
However, hope was shattered as quickly as the melting of the snow on the crest line of the Kargil Mountains at the approach of summer. Indian army was taken up by surprise when heavily armed Pakistan-backed intruders positioned themselves in at heights of 16,000-18,000 ft. on the Indian side of the LOC along on 80 km stretch north of Kargil and in the first week of May they began attacking the strategic highway linking Srinagar and Leh.
Tension increased rapidly when India moved in an entire army division to evict the intruders-operation Vijay was launched. From the very start Mr. Vajpayee was absolutely clear that there was no way of he was going to allow Pakistan to occupy Indian territory especially in a strategic area like Kargil and ordered the armed forces to take any action necessary to evict the invaders.
The army sent up well-armed soldiers to fight the intruders but they suffered heavy losses due to their disadvantageous position. In the meantime, Pakistan artillery aided by the forward observation posts established by the intruders rained down accurate fire on the stretch of the highway and the settlements around Kargil and Drass and later destroyed the main army ammunition which was kept outside Kargil town. The Indian army now realized that they needed help to evict the intruders from the heights in the face of heavy artillery shelling from Pakistani positions across the LOC.
Indian Air Force has always played a major role in Indo-Pak wars. In 1947, in 1965, in 1971, the IAF’s quick reaction has succeeded in blunting the invasions. Operation Vijay look a dramatic and unprecedented turn on May 26. India surprised the enemy when India Air force fighters rained rocked and machine gun fire on the intruder’s camps hidden out of sight on the high ridges out of reach of the army. Never in the history of the IAF have fighter planes done such service at 18,000 feet.
By the end of the month a war like situation in Kargil was declared. Army launched a major offensive in Kargil and Drass sectors accompanied by air-strikes. The foremost plane was to keep the crucial. Srinagar-Leh highway free from the Pakistan threat. On the June 13, Army captured the crucial taloling peak, which was the war’s turning point and by June the troops captured the point 51.40. Pressure mounted on the Pakistan Prime Minister Mr. Nawaj Shariff from all round the world to end the intrusion. On July 4th Indian army recaptured Tiger Hill from intruders. Mr. Shariff at last succumbed to the international pressure and agreed to pull back the intruders. Pakistan infiltrator began retreating from Kargil. Meanwhile India captured all the key peaks at Batalik. A deadline of 16 was set for total withdrawal. Indian Prime Minister Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared operation Vijay a success. However, the relentless casualties shook the nation. The cream of a nation’s youth is reduced to a mass of blood, scorched flesh- and memories of velour. India paid a heavy price.
No doubt, it is an intelligence failure, one of the biggest in recent times. The whole country is amazed why an intrusion of such magnitude that most have take Pakistan several months to execute went undetected. Plans would have been made in Islamabad and Rawalpindi months in advance, soldiers and officers would have been recruited and trained in the Baltistan heights of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, equipment and supplies would have been stocked close to the line of control where the battle raged. Clearly the Pakistan –backed intruders caught the Indian Army napping. All the three principal agencies-Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Military Intelligence (MI) must accept their share of blame for failing to anticipate the move. RAW, whose domain is external intelligence, should have ferreted out information from its network of agents and technical means even while the planning for the assault was going on sometime during and before winter. The IB and MI should have detected the arrival of the intruders across the LOC the moment it happened in February or March. But in Kargil there was a string of major lapses.
However, India took the Lahore Declaration more seriously than they should have. A whole brigade was withdrawn from different points along the border after the Lahore trip. Now in hindsight, it is clear that it was around the time that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was signing the Lahore Declaration that he has authorized the Kargil plan. It marked a sharp and qualitative shift in Pakistani tactics aimed at achieving several goals.
Pakistan’s game plan is clear. They have been upstaged by India in the bus diplomacy, they are also frustrated in their efforts to disrupt peace in the Kashmir valley, their increasing frustration over their failure to paint the subcontinent as a nuclear flashpoint, they took a daring or to say desperate gamble to bring Kashmir to the forefront of international consciousness again. By occupying the heights overlooking Kargil, they were opening a new front and calculated that India would be forced to retaliate. Their plan gained momentum when the existing Government of India was reduced to a minority and fresh elections were called. Government of India response was not have been tough and quick, Pakistan had very little to lose plenty to again by the outcome.
Pakistan is hell bent in on internationalizing Kashmir. Pakistan wanted the UN Security Council to take cognizance of the battle for kargil and send down an emissary to broker peace. Or the UN calling for a ceasefire, while its men were still ensconced in thee strategic heights so that they could constantly threaten the Srinagar-Lch highway. So far, Pakistan doesn’t appear to have made much headway. On July 28, during the kargil war Sharif dashed to China for support but got no favorable response. He had to cut short his visit and return home. The US seems to endorse India’s stand that it had not struck beyond the LOC. Russia too backed India. France, China, Britain, while expressing concern, still wanted it to be settled bilaterally. So, even if at all Pakistan succeed in moving the UN Security Council for time being, it may not get the support it had hoped for. Thus Pakistan’s main objectives for pushing for limited war in Kargil have not been achieved. Diplomatic, Mr. Sharif is on the defensive. Militarily, Pakistan did not really expect India’s tough response and has been forced to rethink its strategy at Kargil. Nor has Sharif emerged as a hero in domestic politics for his brinkmanship, especially with many in Pakistan has only succeeded in bringing Kashmir on the front and also focused international attention on the region. For India to stand ahead in this diplomatic battle it must ensure that the conflict in kargil does not get out of hand.
Meanwhile, India has been pushing the G-8 countries t take some tough economic measures against Pakistan Especially since the country’s foreign-exchange reserves are disastrously low and it depends heavily on funding from international agencies such as the IMF to bail it out. It is also in the interest of the US to run in Pakistan. There are concerns the country is increasingly becoming the hub of Islamic fundamentalism and supporting the Osamah Bin Laden type of terrorism that the US wants to crush. The international community too did not want to break out a full-scale war between India Pakistan as it has the potential to escalate into a nuclear battle. So far, India has not been able to persuade nations to go beyond just verbal support and squeeze Pakistan economically. The real test of India’s diplomatic skills lies in the distant future.
Indeed, after Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s bus ride to Lahore the country believed it had entered a new era of Bhai-Bhai with Pakistan. Nevertheless, when war was thrust on a mentally unprepared nation, it responded with a daring and energy that few believed was possible. India lost over 400 of its brave warriors in battles conducted on some of the most inhospitable terrains in the world. The infantry climbed and fought without rest and respite. The air force and artillery supported them with deadly precision, while the army doctors struggled to save the wounded in improvised bunkers. It was one of the most difficult was fought by the Indian Army, by any army, Vic try, when it finally came, left the Indian flag drenched in blood.
This is the reason, the whole country felt emotionally united. Even the division of caste, community and religion which had dogged the country has been momentarily forgotten. The blood of Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Gorkhas, Biharis, Nagas, Oriyas, Bengalies, Tamils, Kannadigas and Malyalees together spilled to keep kargil for India. They helped India to rediscover its souls, its underlying oneness. It would certainly be a long, long time before our country forgets kargil.