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Kargil War - How it should have been fought?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 26 Jul , 2017

Question: “Where and when did the Indian Army fight the last battle of the First World War”?

Answer: “Kargil, J&K, India, in 1999”.

With our Army’s very long deployment on the Internal Security and prolonged denial of military wherewithal, Pakistan appeared to believe that we were too tired and weak enough for them to take us on.

Let’s elaborate. The Kargil War was fought against devastatingly withering machine gun and artillery fire resulting in massive casualties. Only difference was that in the First World War the assaults were against an enemy in plains in open entrenches, whereas in the instant case the enemy was on high mountains entrenched in our own bunkers with over head protection vacated in the previous winter or ‘sanghars’ (stone enclosure) constructed by the intruders where such bunkers did not exit. That gave the enemy far too great an advantage against us, delayed use of air power notwithstanding. Assaulting up hill in rarefied atmosphere of high altitude and in arctic conditions required superhuman efforts.

With our Army’s very long deployment on the Internal Security and prolonged denial of military wherewithal, Pakistan appeared to believe that we were too tired and weak enough for them to take us on. Our soldiers and their young officers overcame the crisis situation with sheer raw courage, supplemented by massive artillery fire assaults, just as in the First World War. Now that 18 years have passed and with hind sight, let’s analyse how could or “should’’ the War have been fought?

Before doing that, let’s examine Pakistan’s and own possible ‘Strategic’ and ‘Tactical Aims’. Pakistan’s strategic aim in initiating the Kargil War seemed to reopen the Kashmir issue and internationalise it, with a view to solve it to her advantage. Her tactical aims appeared to stage a ‘Siachen’ on India by occupying posts vacated during winter, cut off or dominate Srinagar Leh road so as to render it unusable and thus starve out our forces in Ladakh. (Requisite infrastructure on Manali – Leh route then was not in place, hence it was not fully operational). Capture of additional territory, especially in the Mushkoh Valley would have provided additional avenues of infiltration to Pakistan.

…what ‘Strategic Aim’ the govt had set for itself, in my perception our strategic aim should have been to cripple Pakistan and render her too powerless to repeat any similar misadventure in future…

What “should’’ have been our aims? One can safely assume that our tactical aim was to retake the lost territory and deny any meaningful interference with the Srinagar – Leh Road. What “should’’ have been our ‘Strategic Aim’ ? Irrespective of what ‘Strategic Aim’ the govt had set for itself, in my perception our strategic aim should have been to cripple Pakistan and render her too powerless to repeat any similar misadventure in future, and to use her weakened capacity to resolve the Kashmir problem for ever. We should have used the Kargil crisis as a God sent opportunity to sort out our problems with a weakened Pakistan.

With the above mentioned “Strategic Aim’ what should have been our ‘’Grand Design’’ for the war? Not crossing the LOC or international Border (IB) was a good moral ground, but, we should have added a proviso, ‘’Subject to imponderables of war’’, to it. It would have kept Pakistan on tenterhooks and in a precarious mental state. By not adding the ‘proviso’, we let her concentrate on the area of conflict alone. Denied of options, we bound the hands of our forces by tasking them to fight in our own territory only. We should have aimed at Pakistani economy and polity while achieving our tactical aim, their military being only a subsidiary target.

Having taken important posts, which dominated the Leh road, we should not have wasted lives on taking less important areas. In fact we should have used loss of territory to prolong the war thus bleeding Pakistani economy for about a year or so. Pakistani economy then was in precarious state and she was at the verge of economic collapse. Her F16 fleet was critically short of spares and its serviceability low. Since 9/11 had not happened, there were no chances of USA or any other country bailing her out economically or militarily. In contrast, our economy was far better and buoyant. While in 1991 we had only about One billion US Dollars of foreign exchange, by 1999 we had a healthy foreign exchange situation.

…we should have used to brand Pakistan a “Terrorist State”, well before 9/11 occurred (in 2001).

Though we were short of artillery ammunition and other warlike store (forcing our COAS to remark, “We will fight with what ever we have”, comparatively, militarily had an edge over Pakistan. . We should have encashed our stronger economic strength vis a vis Pakistani economy’s weakness. Agreed, prolonging the war may not have been politically good for the ruling alliance at that time, in view of the impending general election (September 1999) but national considerations should have taken priority over political calculations. We should have shown more far sightedness. Also we should have remembered what Clausewitz said, “War is politics by other means ’’. We should have used the Kargil War to drive more ‘political mileage’ against Pakistan.

We should have denied/ hindered all trading facilities to Pakistan; blocked Karachi, the only Pakistani port then, to all shipping, (Gadawar, on the Balochistan coast was not fully functional then) thus choking her of imports. We should have declared that all ships and airliners to Pakistan would be searched for weapons and other ‘warlike material’. This would have scared the international business community and crippled Pakistan’s trade, specially import of oil. We should have used or threatened to use our Air Force to force-land, in our territory, any airliners coming out of or going to Pakistan. It would have raised a great hue and cry internationally. That’s exactly we should have used to brand Pakistan a ‘’Terrorist State’’, well before 9/11 occurred (in 2001).

We should have called Pakistani bluff of nuclear blackmail of ‘First Use’, and some reported preparations in that direction, by making better and credible preparations thus convincing her of massive retaliatory strikes.

Having tied down the Pakistan Army to borders for longer duration, we should have exploited internal contradictions of Pakistani polity and encouraged fissiparous and divisive tendencies prevailing in Sindh, Balochistan and to some extent in North West Frontier Province (now Khyber–Pakhtoonwa). Insurgencies in those areas would have further embroiled the Pakistani army for years, a task later partially performed by the American by angering the populace of the FATA, in her ‘’War on Terror’’ in contiguous Afghanistan.

On this ‘Kargil Day’, as homage to the hundreds of martyrs, let the government resolve to build enough dissuasive and deterrent capability in all fields, so that none of our potential adversaries dare indulge in any misadventure against us in future.

Having lost 527 young lives, and about thrice as many wounded, some crippled for life, expended /lost thousands tonnes of costly ammunition, suffered wear and tear to the equipment, wastage of other warlike stores and loss to economy worth hundreds of thousands crores, we should ask ourselves what we gained from the Kargil?. The answer is a big NOTHING. Pakistan remains as good a threat as she was before ‘Kargil’ and Kashmir situation has only worsened. Only our ruling combination gained electorally from the enormous surge of patriotism created by the war. Other gainers were TV Channels who brought the war scenes into every household.

What did Pakistan gain? She suffered a huge embarrassment internationally, in addition to suffering matching casualties and did not achieve anything. However the Pakistani army’s can gloat over the fact that mere six battalions of the Northern Light Infantry tied down a Corps sized force of the Indian army and forced us to denude other zones of artillery and other assets, rendering them that much weaker. Their army still has a delusion that but for the political betrayal (of withdrawal under US pressure), they could have had better of us.

What next? We are notorious for, firstly not learning any lessons, and if partially learnt, for not applying the same in future. We were totally surprised in Kargil, which incidentally was not the first time it happened. We were surprised always, be it in 1947, (during so called ‘Tribal Invasion’ of Kashmir), in’62 (the ‘Chinese will not attack us’ syndrome) and ’65 Wars. Even in 1971 we had “surprise’’ air raids on 03 December. Also, we did not have adequate military wherewithal during the Kargil War. We were compelled to resort to panicky imports, just like in 1962, worse difference being that while in ’62 we got them almost free but during the Kargil War we had to pay through our nose. Let the ‘powers that be’ take a solemn pledge, “We will NOT be surprised and will NOT be found under prepared again”.

On this ‘Kargil Day’, as homage to the hundreds of martyrs, let the government resolve to build enough dissuasive and deterrent capability in all fields, so that none of our potential adversaries dare indulge in any misadventure against us in future. That will be a true tribute to the martyrs of the Kargil War.

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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.

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