Kargil Vijay Diwas
Kargil Vijay Diwas

Kargil War Period: May 3 to July 26, 1999 (Kargil Vijay Diwas)

The Kargil war of 1999 is said to be laced with Pakistani deceit and treachery. It is one of the key points in history that have evoked the anti-Pak sentiment across India. Siachen is the world’s highest battlefield at a height of more than 17000 feet. India claimed its territorial integrity on the Siachen glacier in 1984. The Kargil Vijay Diwas war is one of the most magnificent and remarkable tales of mountain warfare and hostility by a neighboring country. 

It is extremely important to applaud and celebrate the efforts of the tri-service defense establishment comprising of the Indian Air Force, Indian Navy, and the Indian Army. Collective and coordinated sacrifices by all three earned India the Kargil Victory (Kargil Vijay Diwas). 

The official casualty figures for the Kargil war in India were more than 500 whereas those in Pakistan were between 400 to 4000. Before the Kargil war erupted, there was reportedly just one brigade of the Indian Army, which comprised of three units with about 2,500 soldiers, who guarded 300 km of Indian territory, along the Line of Control (LoC) between Zojila and Leh. Seemingly impossible, this meant that one single unit was responsible for protecting about  100 km of territory. These sectors are the crucial backbone for the logistics requirements of the army from Zojila to the world’s highest army deployment, Siachen. There was a deficit in terms of deployment on the Indian side.  

An unspoken understanding between the two nuclear powers back then was to withdraw posts from the Siachen region during the winter snowfalls, as the conditions became inhospitable for survival. India had an inadequate amount of heavy artillery guns back in 1999. 

Stomping Feet On The Ground: The Indian Army

In violation of humanitarian and unspoken understanding, Pakistan took undue advantage of the shortcomings. Pakistan encroached on the Indian territories of  Mushkoh, Dras, Kargil, Batalik, and Turtuk sub-sectors, between Zojila and Leh. Numerous paramilitary Northern Light Infantry were drawn exclusively from Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan and skilled in high-altitude warfare, were sent in over the winter to occupy military posts. They crossed the LoC and intruded about 4-10 km into Indian territory, occupying 130 winter-vacated Indian posts. The Pakistanis strategically positioned themselves in a way that made it easy for them to target the advancing Indian troops from the southern part of the hill. 

Their main aim was to cut off the Srinagar- Leh highway, in a bid to restrict India’s access to Siachen and Ladakh. 

Many locals in the region are given credit for being aware and reporting on the unusual military movement. The Indian defense establishment was caught unaware of the staunch infidelity by Pakistan, our neighbor. Locals reported the presence of cigarette packets and magazines, and they claim that the magazines were read by officers and not militants.  According to various media reports, Mohammed Yusuf, an ex-serviceman who retired in 1991 after having served with the 9 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, said that in early May, his children spotted the Pak troops climbing up to Tololing while they were out grazing their cattle.

Yusuf recalls: “My children came across 10 Pakistani soldiers. These soldiers ordered them to leave their cattle and go away. But they ran down to our village. They told me about what happened. I told them that Indian soldiers don’t patrol that particular area,” he said. Yusuf went to the spot and saw a few Pakistani soldiers going to Bhimbat. He reported this to an army officer.

These reports and other activities led the Indian army to gear up against the enemy and recapture the lost territory. The Economic Times reported that Brigadier Kushal Thakur, who was commanding 18 Grenadiers as a colonel during the war, said his unit was tasked to move to Dras as part of ‘Operation Vijay’ which began in May 1999 to evict the intruders. The unit reached Dras on May 17. I, as the commanding officer of 18 Grenadiers, had the opportunity to lead the battalion through the two important battles of Tololing and Tiger Hill in the Dras sector and both are considered as the turning points during the Kargil war. 18 Grenadiers successfully carried out a reconnaissance of Tololing. The recapture by the Indian armed forces suggested that the Pakistan establishment had sent trained military officers and not mere militants. 

According to the Economic Times, 18 Grenadiers were later instructed to capture Tiger Hill. “This time we were better prepared. About 120 artillery guns were lined up, facing the feature. We had more than adequate high-altitude clothing and shoes,” said Thakur. Bofors guns had also arrived.

18 Grenadiers, with 8 Sikhs providing support, launched the operation to capture Tiger Hill on July 3, 1999. The unit reached the top of Tiger Hill the next day. 

“Pakistan’s phased infiltration of forwarding outposts in inhospitable and elevated terrains revealed India’s military unpreparedness in both spotting and preventing incursions across the LoC, as well as its lack of training and experience in mountain warfare,”

Nicolas Blarel in his book The Evolution of India’s Israel Policy (OUP).

Roaring In The Sky – The Indian Air Force

India’s air power was successful in swatting away Pakistan. The Indian Air Force’s MiG-29s combated the Pakistani F-16s, while MiG-21, MiG-27 and Mirage-2000 jets were also able to devastate Pakistani military positions with impunity. 

The IAF’s employment of airpower against Pakistan Army positions at Himalayan heights of 18,000 ft – unprecedented in the history of aerial warfare – achieved three key objectives: it ensured an early Indian victory, demoralised the Pakistani military and showed the limitations of nuclear deterrence.

Because of the aerial superiority achieved by the IAF in the war – and later during the 2002 border standoff – the Pakistan Air Force’s “psyche took a big beating”, says a Strategy Page report.

While a number of IAF aircraft took part in the Kargil Vijay Diwas campaign, it was the cover provided by the MiG-29 Fulcrum armed with beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles that exposed the PAF’s plight. “Analyses by Pakistani experts revealed that when the rubber met the road, PAF simply refused to play any part in supporting the Pakistan Army, angering the latter,” says the report.

“While PAF fighters did fly Combat Air Patrols (CAP) during the conflict, they stayed well within Pakistani airspace. On occasions, IAF MiG-29s armed with the deadly R-77 BVR air-to-air missiles were able to lock on to PAF F-16s, forcing the latter to disengage. In the absence of a PAF threat, the IAF was able to deliver numerous devastating strikes on intruder positions and supply dumps.”

Sailing Through The Rough Sea- The Indian Navy

According to a tribute by the Asian Age, Admiral Sushil Kumar, the Navy chief at that time, recollects that “by early June 1999 the task forces of the Indian Navy’s Western fleet had swiftly deployed and seized the initiative in the North Arabian Sea”.

Writing for the Asian Age,  CMDE SRIKANT KESNUR and CDR DIGVIJAYSINH SODHA narrate: “Operation Talwar, was a demonstration of intent and capability. All elements of the naval force were pressed into action to, first, ascertain the positions of the Pakistan Navy assets and, second, to ensure that their own high-value assets in the sea, Bombay High, as well as in the coastal areas, especially in Gujarat, were well protected. The idea was to provide no opportunity for Pakistan to claim success and to ensure that if Pakistan dared to consider expanding the battle from the limited Kargil sector, the Navy would open another front in the South. The operation involved the largest-ever deployment of combatant ships in the Arabian Sea. The Western Fleet, which by itself was large enough to tackle the Pakistani Navy, was additionally augmented by assets from the Eastern Fleet. As India progressively involved its naval aviation, submarine, amphibious and Coast Guard assets and conducted high tempo operations including Electronic Warfare exercises, the signal was clear. Further, when the Pakistani authorities started bandying about the ‘N word’, India responded by moving ships closer to Pakistan coast, a clear indication that we would not yield to the nuclear blackmail.”

On July 26, 1999, India declared success and accomplishment of Operation Vijay, thereby recapturing its loss of control of the Indian territory. 

Pakistan denied its military involvement and shifted the blame towards Kashmiri militants seeking ‘Azaadi’ or freedom from the Indian subcontinent. It is a well-known fact that Pakistan wanted India to be on its knees and give up the Kashmir valley. 

By Kunjan Ahluwalia