It has been ten years since valiant Indian soldiers achieved the impossible feat of evicting Pakistani intruders from the dizzy heights of Kargil. Frontally assaulting peaks over 15,000 feet in waves the Indian Infantry defied all established norms of mountain warfare, a feat unthinkable for any modern army in the world today.
But a decade since the victory at Kargil, India continues to be bled by Islamic terrorists unleashed on it by the same Military-Intelligence elite in Pakistan which had conceived the astonishing misadventure in the winter/early spring of 1999 in Kargil.
The Objective of ‘Op Badr’
Intriguingly, even after a decade since Kargil, there is still very limited information available from Pakistan on the real objectives in carrying out intrusions in the Kargil sector. Many analysts believe it was yet another tactical operation at the local level carried out to preempt a perceived Indian action across the Line of Control.
The fate of the battle was not important to Pakistan, the sheer audacity of it was. A short border war which gives a wakeup call to all and sundry is the true import of the fiasco that was Kargil.
It was conceived as a retaliation to Indian artillery shelling in the Neelam Valley (PoK) in 1998 which had interdicted the critical Neelam valley road along the Neelam (Kishanganga) river. It is believed that the Pakistan Army top brass of Pervez Musharraf, Rawalpindi Corps Commander, Lt Gen Mehmud Ahmed and Force Commander, Northern Area Maj Gen Javed Hasan, had not factored a massive Indian military response which included heavy use of the Bofors guns and fighter aircraft.
All this seems convincing owing to the fact that only a select few generals of the Pakistan Army were aware of the plans of ‘Op Badr’ and that the sister services, particularly the air force, were not kept in the loop. Even during the summer of 1999 no regular Pakistani troops (with the exception of few SSG commandos, artillery and support elements) were inducted to support the intrusions. The Pakistan Air Force rues the lack of advance knowledge of the plans in being able to effectively counter Indian Air Force sorties in the Kargil sector.
This line of thinking is however, contested by another school of Pakistani analysts who feel that violating the Line of Control in this sector where it was clearly demarcated (unlike in Siachen) would have naturally invited massive Indian military response as it did. Notwithstanding the above views the misadventure in Kargil demonstrates the Pakistan military’s obsession with Kashmir and the Line of Control.
Pakistan army’s perspective on Kargil
A recent brainstorming by the Pakistan Army on the tactical lessons of the Kargil War is very revealing in that it shows that more the things change, more they remain the same. The Pakistan Army has lauded the Indian Army’s Infantry, but has drawn huge confidence from the performance of its Northern Light Infantry. Much had been made of the pivotol role played by the Bofors gun in turning the tide of the war in favor of India. However, the ultimate tribute has been paid by the Pakistani soldiers to the brave Indian Infantrymen whom they battled in Kargil.
Acknowledging that maximum casualties were caused by the Bofors barrage, they were particularly awestruck by the Indian Infantry which mounted attack after attack undeterred by high casualties. They also commended the daring qualities of the Indian soldiers who took inacessible routes to open up different avenues of attack. The attack in layers meant that the momentum of the assault was always sustained and it did not give them time to prepare or recover from the artillery barrages.
Pakistan Army has commended the efforts of the irregular Northern Light Infantry (NLI) troops who took on the might of the Indian army; their ability to achieve tactical surprise by using inclement weather conditions through inhospitable terrain to infiltrate and establish 30 posts across the LoC and of their ability to achieve secrecy of operations for three months and 12 days (according to Pakistani accounts Indians were able to detect intrusions on 9 May 1999 when helicopters carried out reconnaissance and on 12 May 1999 two Indian helicopters were shot down from ‘Tashfeen’ and ‘Iqbal’ posts on the Tololing ridge). It is longer, as now revealed from information filtering from across the border – the LoC was infiltrated in November 1998 to ascertain gaps in the Indian defences.
Their ability to fight without minimum air and artillery support for a long period, as also the bravery of their young officers with the casualty rate of one officer killed against five jawans, has given them tremendous confidence in battling the Indian Army in any future conflict. As a tribute, NLI battalions were converted into regular Infantry after the war.
On the downside, the Pakistanis rued the lack of mutual support in the defenses which were quickly isolated and encircled by the Indian Army; of bunkers which had no overhead protection – the sangars were no protection against the artillery, poor communication systems disrupted by shelling which meant that isolated posts were further left to fight their own battle; lack of reserves to launch counter-attacks except on few occasions; lack of training which prevented the use of mortar, RPG 7, 12.7 mm guns; fire support of only six artillery pieces; demoralization of the troops due to the fact that the Indian mass media projected heroic deeds of its soldiers, whereas Pakistani soldiers were initially projected as mujahideen.
Since 2005, Pakistan is continuing with attacks on mainland India with bomb blasts in major cities and communication networks. Even Indian youth are being utilized for perpetrating acts of terror.
While it is evident that the professional Indian Army would have done its own brainstorming and drawn out lessons, the key point that needs to be assimilated is the Pakistani confidence in doing another Kargil at will and at their choosing, even now.
This thinking pervades the entire Pakistani military – defeated though they were, they feel ‘victorious’ about their bravery in sustaining themselves across the LoC in hostile weather conditions for as long as they did.
In an interview in London in the last week of June 2009, General Pervez Musharraf said that he told the defence committee of the cabinet that as on July 03, 1999, out of “five places”(posts), the Indians had only taken one back, had taken two or three posts in one, and that three were completely “untouched”, because the Indians did not know where they were!
True or otherwise, the fact that Pervez Musharraf still boasts of such military deeds reflects a sense of bravado that still permeates the Pakistan Army. Incidentally, it appears that Musharraf, till today, still represents the voice of the Pakistani Chief of Staff – apropos his visit to India for the India Today conclave in March 2009. He has just concluded a successful visit to Russia setting the tone for a visit by Kayani, in an endeavor to form a Pakistan-Russia-China axis. This line of thinking and a false sense of bravado is disturbing when one correlates with the purported objective of the Kargil misadventure, i.e. to internationalize the Kashmir issue or as a revenge for Siachen; remember, Musharraf’s boastful words in the India Today Conclave of March 2009 – “If India does not negotiate there will be many more Kargils”. Seasoned commando that he was, was he so foolish to send his troops to battle it out with a professional army without fire support, logistics, aircover and backing, without knowing the fate of the battle?
This is precisely the point – the fate of the battle was not important to Pakistan, the sheer audacity of it was. A short border war which gives a wakeup call to all and sundry is the true import of the fiasco that was Kargil. “For as long as the LoC remains an LoC, there will always be a danger for another adventure if and when we are through with yesterday’s mujahideen turned today’s terrorists in Swat, Waziristan and other areas in the north,” rued Taj M Khattak, a former Navy Vice-Chief, referring to the mindset of the military in Pakistan.
Impetus to the Irregular Warfare in Kashmir, Post Kargil
In the early summer of 1999, a soothing calm prevailed over the cool waters of the Dal in Srinagar when the Kashmiri militancy of the JKLF vintage had fizzled out and the initial Pakistani and Afghan mercenaries had been effectively tackled by the Indian Army. But Kargil changed it all. Having raised the stakes by yet again whipping up the frenzy over the ‘Kashmir dispute’, the Pakistani mentors sent in another wave of Jihadis, this time among them members of Al-Qaeda’s 055 brigade, diverted from Afghanistan camps taking advantage of the flared up situation along the LoC and diversion of an army division to the Kargil sector from the hinterland. This phase marked the advent of ‘fidayeen’ or suicide attacks, which began to exact its toll on the Indian security forces.
This new phenomenon started with the attack on a BSF sector headquarters in Bandipore and was followed by a fire assault on Badami Bagh Cantonment. Such attacks became increasingly frequent and the targets included company and battalion headquarters, the Srinagar Airport (January 2001), Legislative Assembly building (October 2001) and the Jammu Railway Station (January 2004). Another deadly technique introduced was car bombs and IEDs on high-profile targets. From 1999-2004, nearly 2915 security force personnel and 4739 civilians died in militancy related violence. The thrust that Pakistan provided to the jihadis post Kargil can be gauged by the fact that close to 10053 terrorists were killed in Jammu and Kashmir during this period.
This wave was checked with the augmentation of the counter-insurgency grid (raising of new Rashtriya Rifles battalions) and post 2004 the establishment of a robust counter-infiltration grid (three tier deployment, fencing and modern surveillance equipments).
But, this conflagaration in J&K, immediately after suffering reverses in Kargil highlights the Pakistan military’s obsession with Kashmir. The terrorists had even succeeded in carving out enclaves for themselves like in Hill Kaka bowl of Surankot (Poonch), in the year 2000-01.
Post 9/11 and Op Parakram
Even though Pakistan became a reluctant yet ‘frontline’ ally of the United States GWOT in Afghanistan, it continued to support the Punjabi and Kashmiri militants engaged in their ‘jihad’ in Kashmir and elsewhere. Pakistan’s audacious and somewhat suicidal mindset was once again revealed with the attack on Parliament on 13 December 2001, even when US and NATO forces were present and engaged in crucial battles in close proximity in Southern Afghanistan.
This has been the hallmark of the decade since Kargil where innocent civilians and brave soldiers continue to lay down their lives for the nation but the enemy has not been punished even once on its soil.
A stunned Indian government ordered the largest mobilization of troops since the 1971 war on the Western front. After lying low for a few months terrorist violence continued unabated in J&K. Eye-ball to eye-ball deployment was no detterence for Pakistan from continuing suicide attacks with the one on army families in Kaluchak (Jammu) in May 2002 bringing the two nuclear armed neighbors close to war for the second time in five months. 798 Indian soldiers were killed without even fighting a war (till July 2003) in artillery and small arms duels, mine laying and de-mining accidents.
Urban Terrorism and Extension of Pak’s War Paln in India
With the LeT fidayeen attack on Red Fort on 22 December 2000, Pakistan marked yet another phase in provoking India. The fidayeen attacks now travelled from Kashmir to Parliament (2001), Akshardham Temple, Gandhinagar (2002) and aborted attempts in Nagpur (RSS headquarters), Ayodhya (2005) and ultimately the assault on Mumbai on 26 November 2008.
Since 2005, Pakistan is continuing with attacks on mainland India with bomb blasts in major cities and communication networks. Even Indian youth are being utilized for perpetrating acts of terror. The economic hubs of India are increasingly on the jihadi radar who continue to plan strikes in the hinterland through hundreds of sleeper cells, using innovative methods and surprise. Since 1993, nearly 1200 civilians have lost their lives in acts of terrorism (excluding J&K, North-East and Maoist violence) in the hinterland.
Pakistan’s Continuing Kashmir Obsession
Pakistan Army’s growing commitment on its western borders and the US pressure to act against the Taliban, coupled with the post Lal Masjid emergence of domestic terrorism on its soil compelled it to lie low on Kashmir. It readily agreed to a cease-fire along the LoC in November 2003 after taking a heavy beating from Indian forces. Though this cease-fire has helped Pakistan more than India, terrorist infrastructure continues to mushroom in Pakistan and PoK and infiltration continues, albeit on a reduced scale.
In March 2009, Pakistan attempted another tactical surprise by pushing militants in large groups of 50 to even 120 (on one occasion) across the LoC even in heavy snow and inclement weather. Some of them got through, many were eliminated by the Indian Army while bodies of 24 terrorists and nine porters who were buried in an avalanche in April was recovered by the Pakistan Army in Gehl Nar opposite Tanghdar sector. Six bodies were recovered in the Gurez sector by the Indian Army three months after the attempted infiltration.
The terrorists were equipped with modern winter clothing, navigational equipment and huge quantities of munitions supplied by the Pakistan Army. The Indian Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor briefed the visiting US National Security Advisor Jamas Jones on the March infiltrations and the latter agreed that this type of infiltration could not have been possible without Pakistan Army’s support. Therefore the Pakistan Army continues to nurture its ambitions of destablizing Kashmir even though it is heavily engaged on its North-Western frontiers and this massive infiltration attempted on a Kargil scale was just three months after the Mumbai assault.
It continues to receive US aid for fighting insurgents but is utilizing it in building a military arsenal against India. Diplomatically, the rhetoric on Kashmir has begun with the Pakistani PM and Foreign Minister harping on resolving the Kashmir dispute to bring peace in the region.
The Kashmir valley continues to simmer with anti-India sentiments despite reduced terrorist violence and high voter turnouts in two successive elections. These are sparks which can be exploited by terrorists and their mentors if they decide to once again focus actively on Kashmir or a vacuum is created by the withdrawl of security forces from the hinterland.
ISI linkages to terror outfits in the North-East continues and attempts are now being made to nurture the Maoists. All this while the Pakistan Army enjoys a ringside view by sending in mercenaries and sponsoring, aiding and abetting terrorists across India.
Nuclear overhang and flip-flop diplomacy
Kargil was the first war fought between India and Pakistan with a nuclear overhang. This is emerging as the overwhelming factor in negating a full scale conventional war or even launching token strikes in PoK in response to grave provocations, such as the attack on Parliament or the Mumbai carnage and the massive infiltration attempted in March 2009. The nuclear arms race in the sub-continent continues with Pakistan building an additional heavy water reactor at Khushab. This is where we have reached a strategic stalemate where despite being the victors from Bangladesh to Kargil we have not been able to settle disputes on our terms or in deterring the enemy from continuing its irregular warfare from Jammu and Kashmir to all over India.
Much had been made of the pivotol role played by the Bofors gun in turning the tide of the war in favor of India. However, the ultimate tribute has been paid by the Pakistani soldiers to the brave Indian Infantrymen whom they battled in Kargil.
The future course of conflict should have been set by the victor and not the vanquished. So has the presence of nuclear weapons rendered India’s conventional superiority over Pakistan ineffective? It does not appear to be of any detterence to Pakistan. Our political decision makers have fallen into the trap of the nuclear bogey and are found wanting on every occasion the nation is subjected to terror strikes or military misadventures. This has to change and our top political and bureaucratic decision makers should be ably convinced by the military brass that a mere precision strike on a terrorist training camp is not going to trigger a nuclear armageddon.
China-Pakistan axis of alliance is another factor which prevents India from taking military action against terrorist infrastructures in Pakistan. This inaction is increasingly undermining our national interest and credibility.
On the diplomatic and political fronts the decade since Kargil has been marked with peace initiatives and roll backs following terrorist incidents. This flip-flop continues with PM Manmohan Singh meeting President Zardari in Moscow even though Pakistan failed to take convincing action against the perpetrators of Mumbai 26/11, who were based on its soil. All talk of ‘hot pursuit’ die down no sooner than Uncle Sam’s emissaries airdash into Rawalpindi and New Delhi following major terrorist attacks.
This has been the hallmark of the decade since Kargil where innocent civilians and brave soldiers continue to lay down their lives for the nation but the enemy has not been punished even once on its soil. And this enemy continues to plan misadventures despite having lost all wars with India from Bangladesh to Kargil. Matters are not helped at all with the false sense of Pakistani military thinking that if their irregulars (NLI) could hold off the might of the Indian Army without any air, artillery, fire and administrative support for more than three months, then there is no knowing what their regulars can achieve in a well-coordinated and synergized battle.
We have to think of steps to overcome this stalemate by taking the war to the enemy (covert action inside Pakistan) and demonstrating our military resolve in case another terrorist strike is launched by Pakistan. And of course a potent and a far greater military threat is rising across the Eastern Himalayas which will make our strategic environment even more complex in the coming decades. We may then rue why we did not strike when we should have.