Homeland Security

Kargil: Ours must live, enemy must die!
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Issue Vol. 29.3 Jul-Sep 2014 | Date : 25 Jul , 2016

Even as the nation readies itself to pay homage to the extraordinary bravery displayed by the young officers and the men of the Indian Army during the Kargil conflict, the lessons thrown up raise many questions that reflect the political and the military leadership in poor light.

The infiltration by Pakistanis and positioning themselves on the various heights in Kargil must have been planned by GHQ Rawalpindi for a period of at least one year. On the intelligence front it implies that R&AW, the external intelligence agency was clueless and could not decipher the activity for almost one year.

…discovery of the intrusions reported by a shepherd reflects that our intelligence agencies, i.e. IB and MI do not keep in close contact with the ‘locals’, who can provide primary intelligence!

This amounts to a colossal intelligence failure.

Similarly to position Pakistani troops on to the heights would have taken considerable planning and time. Failure to detect the ongoing movement of men, rations, and the arms and ammunition for considerable time inside our borders amounts to serious intelligence failure at tactical level by Military Intelligence (MI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

The chance discovery of the intrusions reported by a shepherd reflects that our intelligence agencies, i.e. IB and MI do not keep in close contact with the ‘locals’, who can provide primary intelligence!

The ingress of the enemy by stealth and occupation of heights ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 ft. was a clever move. Intruders held each major ridgeline with up to 40 Northern Light Infantry soldiers (Pak Army) under the command of an officer. The numbers of intruders were estimated to be approximately 1500. They were dispersed on each ridgeline between an area of five to eight kilometers. The intruders built sangars, brought in heavy weapons, sufficient ammunition and rations and other military stores.

The intruders were definitely in for a long haul.

Under normal principles of war, in any other country, the political leadership after permitting a small preparatory time to the military would  order crossing of Line of Control (LoC) and to occupy Skardu from where the support to the intruders was being provided. This would have disrupted supplies to the intruders and their survival on those heights would have become near impossible over a period of time, and our forces sitting in Skardu would have posed a direct challenge to the Northern Areas, which would have put Pakistan on the back-foot.

When an enemy dares to occupy your territory, the only sensible military response is to cut-off his supply lines in the rear and let the intruders starve on such great heights instead of taking huge casualties of young officers and men.

This sane action would have drastically reduced the number of casualties.

However, when the then Prime Minister asked the then Air Force Chief for advice, the former was told that if we crossed the LoC, it will escalate to a full-fledged war.

This advice was neither here nor there, as it was obvious and a matter of commonsense.

When an enemy dares to occupy your territory, the only sensible military response is to cut-off his supply lines in the rear and let the intruders starve on such great heights instead of taking huge casualties of young officers and men. Why did the prime minister not question the air chief on his advice and asked him for an alternative strategy to recover our land.

Were the prime minister and the air chief indulging in the widespread Indian culture of ‘logic of convenience’?

The orders reportedly given by the principal secretary to the prime minister (not by the prime minister) to the military chiefs was air-power will not be used but the army is allowed ‘hot-pursuit’ in the area of ingress. The hot-pursuit is normally conducted from your borders into the contiguous borders of the enemy country.

It is strange that in his ignorance, the principal secretary was asking the army to climb height ranging from 15000 – 20000 ft. in hot-pursuit to evict the intruders! Is it possible to run-up to chase the intruders to these heights? Is that a worthy political order to the military? Why did the prime minister not intervene with clear directive? Was the air chief being timid in his approach? Is the air force not supposed to come to the immediate rescue of the army? If the enemy dares to cross the LoC and occupies your territory in the mountains, will we not cross the LoC by using air power to neutralize his intensions, instead of young officers and men being made to climb the unusual heights and absorbing huge number of casualties?

Committees do not fight wars. Military to win wars cannot afford the luxury enjoyed by civil leadership  of appointing ‘Committees after Committees’.

Due to this totally incorrect method of war-fighting, we had to incur massive casualties and sacrifice more than five hundred young lives.

On the other hand, the army chief who was abroad on an official visit did not deem it necessary to return immediately and take charge of the situation. The explanation he gives is that nobody called him back. In the Indian Army it is customary that when the war breaks out, the officers and men who are on leave, out of sheer motivation and loyalty catch the next train to join the battle by reporting to their units immediately. It is also customary in the Indian Army for the Officers to lead from the front. Did the Army Chief not expect those on leave to rejoin immediately and the young officers to lead from the front?

Yet, the Chief did not hasten back to lead his Army from the front.

Another reason touted during the Kargil conflict for not crossing LoC was the fact that the Indian armed forces were not adequately equipped. The Bofors gun had neither the spare available nor adequate ammunition. The ammunition was imported at an extra-ordinary cost during Kargil.

Is it not the job of Ministry of Defence (MoD) to keep the armed forces well-equipped to meet all threats to the Union’s territorial integrity 24 x 7? Are the defence minister and the prime minister under constitutional obligations not responsible for the upkeep of its military?

The soft muddle-headed response in Kargil resulted in an emboldened enemy, who subsequently attacked the Indian Parliament.

Even today, the military is ill-equipped on both fronts, i.e. China and Pakistan. Who is responsible for this shoddy state of affairs? To win any war, the integration of the forces to optimize the military capabilities in defence of the nation is a necessity. Why has the political leadership not intervened effectively to ensure that necessary integration of the three services headquarters with the MoD, appointment of Chief of Defence Staff and integration of forces does take place?

These were the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee, which was accepted by the government long time back. However, surprisingly instead of implementing the recommendations, the present government has appointed another Task Force (read: Committee) to study why the Kargil Review Committee recommendations has not been implemented!

Committees do not fight wars. Military to win wars cannot afford the luxury enjoyed by the civil leadership of appointing ‘Committees after Committees’. The soft muddle-headed response in Kargil resulted in an emboldened enemy, who subsequently attacked the Indian Parliament.

Similarly, timid Generals cannot win wars or safeguard the borders. The timidity witnessed in some places in the senior echelons of the military is the result of invasion of the ‘pacifist environment’ prevalent in the civil. Equipping the military with the best weapon platforms by the political leadership will generate confidence in the mind of the military and ‘deep offensive capabilities’ on the ground.

The best homage nation can pay to the martyrs of Kargil is to ensure that in  future military is given the wherewithal so that our young live and the enemy dies.

This article was first published in IDR Vol. 29 (3) Jul-Sep 2014.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Bharat Verma

A former Cavalry Officer and former Editor, Indian Defence Review (IDR), and author of the books, India Under Fire: Essays on National Security, Fault Lines and Indian Armed Forces.

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24 thoughts on “Kargil: Ours must live, enemy must die!

  1. The basic mistake was to trust an implacable enemy. There was supposed to be a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that Indian Army vacates the heights in winter and Pak army does not occupy the heights. If that was believed in Kargil, then why not vacate the Siachen heights that are snowbound all year round? Why spend several crore rupees every day to maintain vigil there.
    There were many system failures, but trusting Pak in Kargil was the root cause of the whole SNAFU.

  2. contd from previous comment………………..
    We were lucky that International pressure bore upon the Pakistanis to de-escalate and they didn’t reinforce of counter attack or else the story may have been different.
    We continue to be a poorly equipped Army. It’s no secret that with our current state of ammunition stocks we can hardly fight a war, let alone launch offensive operations. We have gone back on the deal to get rifles for our Infantry Battalions. We have cut down the allocation for the Mountain Strike Corps drastically. One Aircraft Carrier will not win the war for us. It’s the Infantry Battalions , that fight. Every operation hinges upon the actions of an Infantry Battalion and thats what our focus should be. You may sail the seven seas but the war will be fought in the Mountains. There is much required from our Generalship.

  3. Firstly the Kargil Operation was brilliantly planned and executed by the Pakistanis. We have to give it to them. I wish our generals have a mindset like that. That everyone was caught napping is without doubt. But the travesty of the whole issue was that everyone was blaming the other and the fall guy was a measly Brigadier. What were the Division Commander and the Corps Commander doing ? There is so much hot –shot staff Ex Wellington in these Headquarters that no one could see the loop holes in our defensive system. The formations responsible were defensive formations and they simply failed at their job.
    The point about Skardu is a little farfetched. It’s one Bridge to Far. Skardu is near about 150 kms from the LOC at Turtok. The axis of maintenance for the Pakistanis to maintain their positions opposite our Kargil positions is Astor-Bunji axis and not from Skardu. We don’t have the capability to reach there – that far and that deep because we don’t have that kind of an offensive mindset. If we did have then we wouldn’t have been knocking around the Kargil Heights and losing good lives there. Giving a pause we should have gone in for a Division size operation in the Shyok Valley. This is the best we could have done to keep the conflict localised. But then we aren’t prepared for such kind operations and we kept messing around the Kargil Heights. It was somewhat parallel to our operation to capture Jaffna in a hurry. We always blunder into knee jerk reactions.
    The question about the Air Chief advising against the crossing of the LOC is rather a limited thought. The enemy has already crossed the LOC. The sanctity of the LOC was gone, but the question arises where do we go in? Did they get back to the Northern Army Commander? He is the man who could perhaps have given some sane advice though subsequently he too got sucked into the vortex of throwing an entrenched enemy back over the LOC. …….contd.

  4. Indian Army was totally neglected after the death of Smt. Indira Gandhi. Army, Air force and Navy had accepted weapons from Russia without any fuss. Govt totally forgotten the Army. after Bofors scandal. Majority of the Army officers are least worried about war casualty. They do not have any proper coordination even in the war front. This we will understand those who read the book “India’s war since independence” written by Maj Gen Sukhwant Singh. After reading this book one get a feeling why do we require so many officers in the Army. We should have young officers who can think about modern war mainly using missiles. Placement of the missiles at various strategic location and its trajectory. Army will have Armored personal Carriers, Tanks and foot soldiers to guard the captured territory. I fully support the view of the writer that Indian Army should have cut the supply by attacking from rear. Israel had done the same thing in 1973 great war against combined attack of Arabs. It was a sudden attack by Egypt , Syria and Jordan against Israel. The war began with a massive and successful Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal. After crossing the cease-fire lines, Egyptian forces advanced virtually unopposed into the Sinai Peninsula. At that time USA used U2 plane took the picture of Egyptian army formation and given to Israel. Israel’s noticed a big Gap between Egyptian 2nd and 3rd Arm. Israel took this opportunity and used this gap to surround the Egyptian Army from rear and cut off the supply. Indian Army had done similar blunder at Chamb sector in 1971. Though I read a number of articles, I could not get a clear -cut reason for the debacle of the Indian army till I read an article written by Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN, which is a very well- researched and informative study of the Battle of Chamb in 1971.

  5. Sir,
    How an ex officer an writer can be unfair to a person/ PM in charge. He had no power
    1. the day this happened on that day the Govt no longer in existence only a caretaker govt. was in charge only the Govt was voted out of power by combined opposition of left+cong+ Likes of lalu and mulayam, who were opposed to the govt. taking any action to cross the boundary line they were all belligerent sonia was so critical of the govt. somnath chattergee , the stupid Lalu they were going around the country making meetings and opposing the action by govt reminding them it is caretaker govt.
    2. intelligence failure is glaring no doubt about especially external and military intelligence as for keeping in touch with local people I think it is little unfair as intelligence has contacts in local population to some extent but not directed
    3. all these factors no popular govt. worth was there hence these decisions could not be taken as far as Army chief the information coming out from the command was not clear if you notice that period kargil war it has not started with bang it slowly increased in intensity when it was realized that it was a well entrenched enemy then only it was ratcheted up
    4. due to all these factors international opinion went against pakistan

  6. The lapse was of the Kargil Bde Cdr. Snowfall doesn’t always occur in Jan. It may start in Nov. Similarly, snow doesn’t always melt in Apr. It can melt in March also. What stopped the Cdr to go on a heptr sortie along the LC. Why blame R&AW. It was a unpardonable lapse on part of the Bde Cdr.

  7. Agree with most you sd but you are being a bit unfair to Gen Malik on the foreign trip issue..his appreciation of the situation was based on the appreciation of the commanders on the ground, till mid may, that these were terrorists in limited no and a localised issue. Hence he did not need to fly back. You can’t crib of micro management when local commanders are not allowed to work and you can’t crib when Army HQ does not sit on the heads of the local commanders at the same time

  8. THE TOP INDIAN ARMED FORCES LEADERSHIP IS BEAREUCRATISED AND WORKING WITH BABUS IN DELHI HAVE BECOME BIGGER BABUS . AFTER 40 AN AVERAGE INDIAN UNDER GOES TRANSFORMATION OF AHIMSA AND THEREFORE 95 % OF THE OFFICERs AND OTHER RANKS MUST BE PENSIONED OFF AFTER 15 YEARS OF SERVICE . THE CONVENTIONAL ARMED FORCES CHIEF AND HIS FIELD COMMANDERS MUST BE LESS THAN 52 YRS OF AGE . THEY CAN THEN SERVE IN STATEGIC FORCES FROM 52 TO 65 YRS .. TAKING ORDERS FROM THE PRINCIPAL SECRATARY IS A DISGRACE AND THE CHIEFS INCLUDING THE CORPS , NORTHERN ARMY CDR AND DIV CDR SHOULD HAVE BEEN COURTMARSHALLED . FOR THE ARMED FORCES TO REMAIN COMBAT WORTHY ESPECIALLY THE OFFICER CORPS THE ARMY AIRFORCE AND NAVAL HEADQUARTERS MUST BE SHIFTED AWAY TO GREATER NOIDA , AREAS NEAR GURGAON AND AWAY FROM THE CORRUPT CORRIDORS OF SOUTH BLOCK . THE REGIME IN THESE CANTONMENTS MUST BE PT , PARADE , HORSERIDING , SWIMMING GOLF , GAMES DAILY . APOORLY PAID OFFICER CORPS , BUSY IN BUYING AND SELLING OF STOCKS , FUNDS AND PROPERTIES , IS BOUND TO BEHAVE
    AS SENIOR LEADERSHIP DURING KARGIL CONDUCTED THEMSELVES . THE INDIAN GENES ARE MORE INCLINED TOWARDS THE FUNCTIONING OF MODERN DAYS BRAHMINS , BANIAS AND SELF CENTERED ATTITUDE . THE YOUNG SOLDERS , OFFICERS WIDOWS , CHILDREN WERE POORLY COMPENSATED WHILST THE SENIOR LOT GOT HANDSOME SALARIES AS 6TH PAY COMMISION AWARDS.FROM DYNASTIC POLITICS TO DYNASTIC ARMED FORCES THE TREND HAS SET IN AND GREAT EFFORT IS REQUIRED BY A VISIONARY DEFENCE MINSTER TO CHANGE THE ARMED FORCES OFFICERS SELECTION , TRAINING , RETENTION , COMPENSATION , RETIREMENT AND REHABLITATION . THE MOD WANTS STATUS QUO AS IT SUITS THE BABUS AND GENERALS ALIKE .INFACT A INQUIRY MUST BE HELD AS TO WHY FOR THIRTY YEARS NO ARTILLARY GUNS OR THE SORRY STATE OF SMALL ARMS , COMBAT UNIFORMS , SHOES , BPJS ARE STILL NOT PROVIDED . WHOSE INTERESTS HAVE THE MOD AND GENERALS SERVED . NO WONDER AN EX ISI CHIEF OPENLY BOASTS ON TV THAT WHAT EVER IS SIGNED IN MOD OR ARMY HQ HE KNOWS IT BEFORE EVEN THE

  9. THE TOP INDIAN ARMED FORCES LEADERSHIP IS BEREUCRATISED AND WORKING WITH BABUS IN DELHI HAVE BECOME BIGGER BABUS . AFTER 40 AN AVERAGE INDIAN UNDER GOES TRANSFORMATION OF AHIMSA AND THEREFORE 95 % OF THE OFFICERs AND OTHER RANKS MUST BE PENSIONED OFF AFTER 15 YEARS OF SERVICE . THE CONVENTIONAL ARMED FORCES CHIEF AND HIS FIELD COMMANDERS MUST BE LESS THAN 52 YRS OF AGE . THEY CAN THEN SERVE IN STATEGIC FORCES FROM 52 TO 65 YRS .. TAKING ORDERS FROM THE PRINCIPAL SECRATARY IS A DISGRACE AND THE CHIEFS INCLUDING THE CORPS , NORTHERN ARMY CDR AND DIV CDR SHOULD HAVE BEEN COURTMARSHALLED . FOR THE ARMED FORCES TO REMAIN COMBAT WORTHY ESPECIALLY THE OFFICER CORPS THE ARMY AIRFORCE AND NAVAL HEADQUARTERS MUST BE SHIFTED AWAY TO GREATER NOIDA , AREAS NEAR GURGAON AND AWAY FROM THE CORRUPT CORRIDORS OF SOUTH BLOCK . THE REGIME IN THESE CANTONMENTS MUST BE PT , PARADE , HORSERIDING , SWIMMING GOLF , GAMES DAILY . APOORLY PAID OFFICER CORPS , BUSY IN BUYING AND SELLING OF STOCKS , FUNDS AND PROPERTIES , IS BOUND TO BEHAVE
    AS SENIOR LEADERSHIP DURING KARGIL CONDUCTED THEMSELVES . THE INDIAN GENES ARE MORE INCLINED TOWARDS THE FUNCTIONING OF MODERN DAYS BRAHMINS , BANIAS AND SELF CENTERED ATTITUDE . THE YOUNG SOLDERS , OFFICERS WIDOWS , CHILDREN WERE POORLY COMPENSATED WHILST THE SENIOR LOT GOT HANDSOME SALARIES AS 6TH PAY COMMISION AWARDS.FROM DYNASTIC POLITICS TO DYNASTIC ARMED FORCES THE TREND HAS SET IN AND GREAT EFFORT IS REQUIRED BY A VISIONARY DEFENCE MINSTER TO CHANGE THE ARMED FORCES OFFICERS SELECTION , TRAINING , RETENTION , COMPENSATION , RETIREMENT AND REHABLITATION . THE MOD WANTS STATUS QUO AS IT SUITS THE BABUS AND GENERALS ALIKE

  10. Firstly the method of operating in these areas was completely faulty. We have winter vacated posts but those areas are supposed to be kept under surveillance. This could have been don’t by the use of Helicopters or by weekly Air reconnaissance missions photographing these locations. In India everything is holy cow – helicopters are tightly controlled and Air is mostly unavailable for operational issues.
    Secondly there is a complete lack of understanding within the bureaucracy and the politicians as far as military matters are concerned.
    Contingency planning for rogue actions are non existence in the Indian Army. We are reactive in our thinking but not proactive. What stopped us from launching along the Shyok valley. It would have seen Pakistan in panic had we done that . In fact the Chief should have pressed for going across but perhaps wasn’t able to put forward the issue because they weren’t prepared for it.

  11. Hope the then Chief Gen Malik, and the senior leadershhip at the helm in Northern Comd read your excellent article. They are to blame for the huge casualties to our young officers and men as they went along with the advice of not crossing the Line of Control thus denying themselves the tactical advantage of hitting & cutting off the intruders supply lines. They made their troops fight with their hands tied behind their back because they did not have the guts to oppose this suicidal advice Now i see some of them appearing on TV shows and talk a lot of nonsense to cover their folly.

  12. The one and only soln to all these attack/infiltration by pakistan and china is to make the defence forces stronger and larger. Stronger in the sense equipting our force with more sophisticated weapons and radars….and those should be developed indigenously….i think drdo is not sufficient to make weapons more no of organisations should be built to handle this…..cdac should work together with drdo….we need to start doing…thinking period is over now

  13. All political leadership, with the exception of Indira Gandhi in 1971, has been clueless and useless when it comes to defend our borders. And this continues today. It has only been 50+ years since our humiliation at the hands of Chinese and it continues even today. The totally inept political leadership could not build up a fighting force with modern equipment to counter China in 50 years?

    Here is a something to ponder: we are reluctant to take on Pakistan directly for fear of crossing the nuclear threshold, even though we have conventional superiority. At the same time, we are afraid to tackle China because they have military superiority. Are they not afraid of crossing the nuclear threshold? What use are our nuclear weapons and Agni missiles then? We give into Chinese demands not to build up infrastructure within our own borders. Why don’t we demand the same from them? Why don’t me demand demilitarization in Tibet?
    We are truly a nation of cowards, led by the inept and cowards! 50+ years is not enough to build up our capability to thwart Chinese expansionism? Shame on Indian politicians of all hues!

  14. Well done Bharat ; at least some one has the guts to call a spade – a spade. It seems our Politicians are scared of taking inputs from Defence Forces before formulating our foreign policy. This has also resulted in throwing up TIMID leadership in the Defence Forces. The cumulative effect of all this is that we do not have well thought out hard options but VERY MEEK response to every eventuality. It is high time that the politicians stop mistrusting the ONLY organization which has remained LOYAL to our Country and its constitution and take them in the main stream for decision making.

  15. Almost everything written here are known questions within all sane minded Indians. The people at the helm of affairs or AFTER ALL INDIANS from the same breed – no matter they are from Congress or BJP. They behave the same way.

    The only extra news that caught my eyes is: “the present government has appointed another Task Force to study why the Kargil Review Committee recommendations has not been implemented!” – I laughed at with a heavy heart!

  16. we are leaving in an age of moral and character crisis. The top echelons are sitting ideal in Government because leadership is too weak to handle them effectively. The Chinese and Pakistanis are taking it for granted that in case of war with India, Indians will not come united because of their regional narrow interests. Seeing the scenario, Indian defence forces are also at their lowest ebb.
    a proper and genuine reddress of these problems must be taken in time, otherwise the day is not far, we would be living in a Balkan state….

  17. Both the Chiefs had knee jerk reactions and this could be since both knew that they had been a ‘Yes man’ and allowed the in experienced MoD to do as they please just to maintain their position and retirement plans

    Here for the first time perhaps the P.M cannot be blamed as he was advised by the Air Chief who had caution way beyond safety , instead a caution that was ‘ save my backside, hope for the best” and let those on ground battle it out….The COAS did the same by trying to be away from the scene as much as possible.
    But this has been said and known, what must be known is who were the MoD personel who failed in their jobs to keep the armed forces in good shape..but worked so that it may be in bad shape…a suit should be filed on them and the Supreme commander of India’s armed forces for negligence in their duties aiding national disaster and weakening national security..
    Perhaps POTA can be applied to those in MoD and the supreme commander of India’s armed forces as due to their negligence in duties, they aided Terrorists to come into and cause damage to Indian security

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