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July 15, 1999


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The Rediff Special/Major General Ashok Mehta (retd)

The Kargil victory

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A ready reckoner to the Kargil conflict.

Defence Minister George Fernandes was visiting Partapur and Siachen on May 7 when intrusions in Kargil were 'suspected', reported by civilians in Batalik. Patrols sent towards the intrusions went missing. Another patrol disappeared in Drass. On May 12, Fernandes was told by field commanders in Srinagar (as he was in Partapur) that infiltrators had occupied some ridges across the LoC and would be cleared in two to three days. This was, however, not reflected in the army sitrep the next day. The incident was taken lightly.

Fog of War

Whenever any army is surprised by the enemy it takes time to digest the fact and unravel the event. This is what happened in Kargil. The fog of war immediately enveloped the area of intrusions. On May 26, Operation Vijay was formally launched across the fog and cloud over Kargil. The ground situation was no doubt less confused but no clear picture of the scale and size of the intrusions was available till the middle of June.

Nearly one infantry brigade of soldiers from Pakistan's Northern Light Infantry regiments and about 2,000 mujahideen armed with heavy machineguns, anti aircraft guns, Stinger missiles and God's edict, had occupied formidable posts across the LoC.

Their mission: draw the Indian army into these traps and draw international attention on J&K.

By and by, India turned this military master stroke into a misadventure. Pakistan's military gamble boomeranged.

The Counter-attack

The fourth largest in the world, lumbrous Indian military machine, took its time to recoil. In the beginning it got a severe beating. Ideally, a war should start with a victorious battle. For India, the reverse happened. Till three weeks later, the army registered its first win in Drass on the Tololing heights.

Being key sectors, both Drass and Batalik had to be cleared first. At heights of nearly 18,000 feet, the army was up against the most complex and difficult mission it has faced since Independence -- launching sledgehammer attacks in tandem.

Key Battles

First capturing neighbouring ground on heights equivalent to those occupied by the enemy, understanding mountaincraft and grasping enemy intention and plans were key to victory. All this took time to happen. The seizure of Tololing heights, Tiger Hill and Point 4875 in Drass. Jubar, Khalubar and Point 5203 in Batalik unhinged enemy defences and intrusions in these sectors.

Spurs near Tiger Hill and Tololing which were recaptured placed jawans behind Mashkoh and Kaksar. This unnerved the enemy. Also unnerving for him was India's stunning successes and the unstoppable momentum of onslaught. After Tiger Hill, it was the deluge.

The White Flag

Running short of water, supplies, motivation and morale, the Pakistani will to fight cracked when news of the 'appeal' for withdrawal reached them. Confusion was compounded by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's declaration of victory on July 10. This was a first strike in spy-war.

Not only did Pakistani officers at places abandon their soldiers, they also abandoned their dead, worse disowned them. This is an even greater ignominy than rout and retreat.

The last time Pakistani soldiers showed the white flag was in Dhaka in 1971. Twenty-eight years later it has waved it again in Kargil. Now, as then, the story is repetitive -- tales of Pakistani barbarity reciprocated by civilised and dignified Indian military behaviour. The Pakistani army mutilated and fouled the Indian dead. The Indian army buried their dead with full military honours.

But Pakistani intruders were given an exit corridor and a qualified ceasefire: no air, artillery and mortar strikes in Kaksar and Mushkoh. The Indians advanced reclaiming ground right up to the LoC as the Pakistanis fled. It is not in the jawan's methods and culture to shoot at a withdrawing enemy.

The army is jubilant and angry. Its morale is sky high. It has taught Pakistan a second lesson in this half century. The anger is over the necessary but qualified ceasefire. But soldiers have to remember that sometimes it is prudent to win part of the war without fighting it, not the least because it saves lives.

Higher direction of war

The government gave a simple task to the armed forces -- eviction of intrusions and restoration of LoC without crossing it. The government also gave a free hand to General V P Malik, Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, to fight the campaign with no pressure of time or other riders. Some diversion was sought to be created by Opposition parties by drawing a distinction between the army and the government. This was resented by the army high command.

The Cabinet Committee on Security attended by the service chiefs met regularly, at times on a daily basis. The chiefs were consulted and/or informed at each stage before any political or diplomatic initiative was taken. Operation Vijay is really a triumph of politico-military diplomacy with the military in the driving seat.

Conduct of Battle

Air-land operations in the mountains took time to jell. Never before had offensive air operations been integrated with low intensity conflict. In-fight innovation and adaptation of IAF tactics sharpened the sting of air strikes. For the IAF this was its first live experience in close support of the army in the mountains. It allowed the testing of different aircraft, attack techniques and employment of precision-guided weapons. Jointsmanship came to the fore during attacks on Tiger Hill and other major attacks.

Artillery has worked wonders with its equipment and observation post officers despite the deficiency of gun-locating radars. The Bofors gun has proved a battlewinner. Along with the multibarrel rocketlauncher, 105 mm IFG, these guns have been used in direct fire at enemy hideouts. Nearly 70 per cent of causalities on both sides are due to artillery.

Infantry, the queen of battle, has lived up to its title, rolling back intrusions with finesse and fire. The infantry jawan has again proved he's a rare blend of royalty, son of the soil and salt of the earth. Nothing more needs to be said of him.

The air-ground campaign fought in Kargil will go down as epic battles in the high mountains against extreme odds. Everester Santosh Yadav was right in volunteering to guide jawans on to Tiger Hill, so stiff are the heights.

People and Media support

This war would not have been won in record time it has been without the combined support of the people and the media. This is quite unprecedented.


The decision of the government backed by the armed forces not to cross the LoC was the trump card. The display of restraint in the face of aggression and provocation have reinforced India's bonafides as a responsible, rational, nuclear-weapons state. In sharp contrast, Pakistan has won its badge as a rogue and irrational state, routed diplomatically by an irresponsible army.

Continuing the Lahore process must be contigent upon Pakistan's assurance to respect the LoC in future after restoring it completely now.

China tapes

This was an intelligence coup by RAW. Anyone who has studied intercepts of telephone conversations between Army Chief General Parvez Musharraf in Beijing and his Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz in Islamabad, would have known the losing game Pakistan army was playing with India especially after it failed to cut the Leh road and seize Zojila Pass.

Post script

To the several prophets of doom in India who violated the LoC intellectually, votaries of crossing the LoC, supporters of the Bleeding India-victims syndrome and Kargil-is-a-bigger-Siachen, conscientious objectors of 'safe passage and Kabab diplomacy, all one can suggest is what the proverbial ustad tells the jawan: Look Before You Leap (especially in the mountains).

The Kargil Crisis

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