Kargil War 1999

Confrontation in Kargil

In July 1989 Indian Defence Review (IDR) published OP TOPAC which anticipated Pakistani plan to subvert J&K government and to sponsor insurgent-terrorism. No one in authority took notice till the Pak plan, was put into action. Here are some excerpts from OP TOPAC :

  1. Exert maximum pressure on the Siachen, Kargil and Rajauri-Punch sectors to force the Indian Army to deploy reserve formations outside the main Kashmir Valley.
  2. Attack and destroy base depots and HQ located at Srinagar, Pattan, Kupwara, Baramulla, Bandipur and Chowkiwala by covert action at a given time.
  3. Some Afghan Mujahideen, by then settled in Azad Kashmir, will then infiltrate in selected pockets with a view to extending areas of our influence. This aspect will require detailed and ingenious planning. The fiasco of Op Gibraltar (1965) holds many lessons for us here.
  4. Finally a Special Force under selected retired officers belonging to Azad Kashmir, with the hard core consisting of Afghans, will be ready to attack and destroy airfields, radio stations, block Banihal Tunnel and Kargil-Leh Highway.
  5. At a certain stage of the operations Punjab and adjacent areas of Jammu & Kashmir will be put under maximum pressure internally by our offensive posture.

A little later IDR published a sequel to Op Topac titled "KASHMIR ON THE EDGE : A WAR SCENARIO". No one took special notice. In 1999, we should realize that once again IDR had anticipated likely Pak plans. Here are some excerpts :

  1. Concentration of forces opposite Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Pathankot, Jammu and Akhnur and tactical regrouping of forces in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).
  2. Increased Air and LC violations and visible movement of reserves opposite selected sectors.
  3. Increase in terrorism in Jammu and Punjab; lines of communication and railways to be the main targets.
  4. Appearance of well organized guerrilla forces capable of pitched battles. These will be armed with sophisticated weapons which would include missiles, heavy mortars and Stinger missiles.
  5. Collapse of authority and essential services in the Valley; communalisation of the situation in Jammu and contiguous areas.
  6. Stepping up of attacks on VIPs, central establishments including military supply bases and convoys.
  7. Use of land mines operated by remote control to make highways and movement of security forces unsafe.
  8. Establishment of guerrilla strongholds daring security forces to attack them.
  9. 'Op Mushtary' (Jupitar) will commence at a certain stage of Zarb-e-Kamil and is likely to take the following form:
    1. Extensive and continued firing including artillery and mortar fire all along the LC.
    2. Attack on isolated posts on the LC particularly in remote and difficult areas.
    3. Capture of important but less defencible tactical features on the Shamsabari Range, Kargil, Shyok Valley - Soltora range and in the Punch - Rajauri sector.

Current situation in Kargil : Points to Ponder
Kargil sector has a great tactical and strategic significance as heights west of Kargil dominate the stretch of NH 1A from Zoji La to Kargil. This highway was once the only surface link between Ladakh and the rest of J&K state. Garrison at Ladakh could be cut off from the logistic support bases at Srinagar if the enemy occupied Kargil heights and the areas astride the road. Today this road is only one of the links, not the only link for logistic support to Leh or Siachen. The road link from Pathankot - Manali to Leh is now well developed. It opens a month later than the Zoji La route but has safe forward bases in Himachal and Eastern Ladakh. Moreover India's airlift capacity is now immense as the huge IL76 aircraft haul most of the tonnage forward, AN32 and heavy duty helicopters do the rest. Leh garrison is stocked for six winter months and the skies of Leh are generally open. There are several other by-passes and road links under construction. What Pakistan has not yet realised is that Zoji La - Leh road is no longer the logistic lifeline for Leh and Siachen, no wonder it is wasting so much effort and artillery ammunition over NH 1A. Well this year Pakistan went a step further and made intrusions stealthly, well planned attempts in Kargil sector and towards Leh and Siachen bases through Indus and Shyok valleys. As the battle rages in Kargil we must ponder over few aspects of the situation. Why did India fail to appreciate, or detect the Pakistani plans and troop movements across the LoC this winter? Why did Pakistan fail to capture areas astride Kargil - Leh road at Fotula and Khaltse when they were lying almost undefended and bashed its head against the Kargil garrison? Why did Pakistan fail to make any major tactical gains despite all the preparations and on achieving complete surprise?

Messy battles are now going on in the Mushko valley, Kargil heights and Batalik on features which have little tactical significance for Pakistan. What Pakistan has achieved is therefore an encroachment not lodgement. Was it a Pakistani political game played and adopted from a crude military script or was it a military plan without much thought being given to the far reaching political ramifications ? What India is doing is merely to get back its real estate grabbed by Pakistan. India has made no attempt to hit the Pakistani logistic support bases or gun positions across the LoC to facilitate the task of its army. Indian Army's frontline defenders in Kargil and Leh failed to do their basic duty to defend the LoC. Indian Intelligence agencies and higher command at Delhi or Srinagar failed to read the tell-tale signs of the impending intrusion in force in Kargil - Batalik sectors. India has failed to use this opportunity to capture areas to thwart the offensive, which would bring the offensive to a grinding halt and make Pakistani forces dash back across the LoC to safeguard their own turf. Why did India delay the use of air power and wasted it on inappropriate targets - few tents on top of the mountains - not the gun areas or bridges on the Indus or road links. It seems there was no one to coordinate the Army - Air force effort.

Pakistan's Strategy
Pakistan has this year adopted a two pronged strategy in J&K, insurgency in the Valley and Jammu regions, attacks in Ladakh where there are no chances of collateral damages effecting Kashmiri Muslims. Pakistan does not count Shias of Kargil as Kashmiris or muslims but only Sunnis of the Valley. A two pronged strategy gives the following advantages to Pakistan. First, it allows Kashmiri anger against high handedness of PAK mercenaries in the Valley to cool down. They are told look PAK has made this sacrifice of suspending action and insurgency in the Valley so that the Kashmiris can earn their living in peace. Second, it diverts Indian troops away from the Valley giving Pakistan sponsored insurgents breathing space. Third, it draws Indian Army reserves in Ladakh to remote areas, far away from the areas of Pakistan main thrust in Jammu and the Valley of Kashmir. Fourth, it internationalises the Kashmir issue because of the fear of an all out India - Pak war in which nuclear weapons may be used. It also provides Pakistan a chance to alter the LoC to its advantage in vital areas like the Shyok Valley, Turtuk, Chor Batla and Batalik areas. It opens avenues for Pakistan to cut off supply routes to Siachen from Ladakh.  Its troops bypass Saltoro - Siachen areas by an advance through Shyok Valley.Heavy artillery bombardments at Kargil and surrounding areas is a way of punishing non-cooperative Shias of Kargil.  Pakistan can alternate offensive in Ladakh with terrorism in Kashmir Valley and Jammu region at its military convenience.

What should India do ?
India has to shake its defensive mindset and fear of escalation of the conflict. A limited offensive is required to make Pakistan forces recoil and defend their own vital areas of POK. This is just not a notion. I am sure Indian Army has such contingency plans. Discussions in various war games and exercise indicated this in the past as no army can fight a purely defensive war, in Kashmir and win. Attack on the Pakistan's army supply bases and gun areas can put Pakistan on the defensive.India should also raise Special Forces to attack terrorist training camps in POK and create disturbances in certain parts of POK. The special forces need not be from the army or other government forces, but volunteers who want to teach Pakistan a lesson or two. Suggestions like this are considered impractical and adventurist by our old guard play-safe politicians and military leaders. However our new generation is quite capable of carrying out such plans.

India has to take a firm, no-nonsense stand against Pakistan. Pakistan should know that the game of covert operations can be played by India too. Defensive wars can only be at the cost of Indian lives and prestige. We can no longer afford to wait. Let us see some action. Lack of timely intelligence of Pak plans, and anticipation of its motives can lead to several Kargil like situations.

Author is the former Editor of IDR and currently the Editor of Aakrosh. He is also Member of the National Security Council Advisory Board.

Reproduced with permission from Lancer Publications: Indian Defence Review Volume 14 (2) Copyright ?? Lancer Publications and Bharat Rakshak

15 July 1999