No Indian who witnessed the news of the war unfolding every day on their television sets between India and Pakistan in the summer of 1999 will ever forget the heart-rending scenes of their soldiers, who fought with valour and fearlessness for their motherland to defeat the enemies of the day, being brought back in coffins to be handed over to their families. And no Indian will also ever forget the betrayal by Pakistan in attacking India just after the bus journey to Lahore of then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
It was the Kagil war which India won mainly due to the bravery, grit and determination of her soldiers to recapture the territories which was lost to Pakistani intruders, thereby emerging victorious after engaging in a fierce battle for more than 60 days.
Vajpayee went to Lahore in February 1999 after the then Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif invited him to do so. They even signed the Lahore Declaration, one of the tenets of which was to solve the contentious issue of Kashmir in a peaceful manner. But it is said that while Vajpayee-Sharif bonhomie was going on, Pakistani soldiers had already crossed the Line of Control and infiltrated into the Indian territory.
It is also said that the whole operation was masterminded by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, who was the then chief of Army staff of Pakistan and who later became the president. And though there are many versions of it, some reports have indicated that probably Sharif was not briefed about the Pakistani operation which was codenamed ‘Operation Badr’.
In order to camouflage its true intentions, Pakistan initially blamed Kashmiri insurgents for the fight but later on it was established beyond doubt that the Pakistani Army was involved in the whole operation which was led by General Ashraf Rashid. In fact, one of Musharraf’s senior officers during Kargil war and retired major-general of Pakistan, Abdul Majeed Malik went on record to say in 2012 that the whole operation was a ‘disaster’ and confirmed that the men who infiltrated the Indian territory were Pakistani soldiers.
Anyway, the betrayal by Pakistan was not just limited to Vajpayee’s visit. It was also contravening the 1971 Shimla Agreement wherein it was decided that both Indian and Pakistani troops at the height of winters would abandon some forward posts on their respective sides of the LoC and reduce patrolling of some areas. Once the snow melts the positions are re-occupied by both the sides.
However, Pakistan had other ideas in 1999 and it used the extreme climatic conditions as a cover to enter Indian territory somewhere between 130 to 200 metres of the LoC in Kargil-Drass sector (as various records put it). They have been chronicled as being about five thousand in numbers and equipped with anti-aircraft guns, grenade launchers, mortars, artillery and other sophisticated weapons. It is said that Pakistan had been planning the operation since 1998.
Once the infiltration was detected, India launched ‘Operation Vijay’ with Vajpayee in his address to the nation on June 07, 1999 sending out a stern message to Pakistan that they would be defeated and in such a way that no one would dare to indulge in this kind of misadventure in future.
Leaving nothing to chance, 20,000 soldiers from the Indian Army along with thousands of paramilitary forces were deployed in the war zone. Along with the Indian Army, the Indian Air Force launched ‘Operation Safed Sagar’ with the aim to support ground forces and also to barrage enemy posts. At the same time the Indian Navy too was pressed into action with plans to block Pakistani ports to cut off supply routes under ‘Operation Talwar’.
However, there was one aspect of the war which helped India gain the high moral ground vis-à-vis Pakistan in the international arena. India fought the war in its own territory and did not cross the LoC in hot pursuit of its enemy. Pakistan had to face severe backlash from the world community and later United States backed India and the then American president Bill Clinton asked Sharif to back off.
But by the time US intervened India had almost won back all its territories occupied by its neighbour. For example, by June end India had successfully recaptured two important posts near Tiger Hill – Point 5060 and Point 5100. And on July 04, Tiger Hill was recaptured after a reportedly eleven-hour long pitched battle. Drass was taken control of on July 04. Pakistan had to ultimately capitulate to the might of the Indian forces and they were forced to order withdrawal of its troops from the Indian side of LoC.
The last occupied post in Kargil was won back on July 26. Since then the day is marked as the Kargil Vijay Diwas or the Kargil Victory Day. The Kargil war is also remembered as an example of high altitude warfare in treacherous mountainous terrain and one of the most difficult to fight.
But the victory for India came at a price. The nation lost 527 soldiers in the course of the war. To honour their martyrdom the least that we can do is to bow our heads at their sacrifices and be thankful that we sleep peacefully at night because someone out there is guarding our borders in difficult situations and away from their loved ones.
Politicians too need to do whatever they can for the men in uniform. Stories of families who lost their loved ones in various wars not being compensated by the government of the day after being promised to do so is shameful to say the least and a dishonour to those who died for the nation.
As Vajpayee said in his Independence Day speech from the historic Red Fort on August 15, 1999 – “It has been said that we remember and honour soldiers during a war, and in the immediate aftermath. But as the days pass, we forget them. And it is a sad fact that many who sacrificed their life and limb in previous wars were often forgotten. I give you my personal pledge that this will not happen again.”
Let us also take the pledge and not forget brave soldiers like Captain Saurabh Kalia who along with his men was the first to report enemy intrusions in Kaksar Langpa area in the Kargil sector and who was later taken prisoner by Pakistanis and subsequently killed. Or Captain Vikram Batra who died for the country without any fear and left behind tales of courage which has become part of Army folklore and who made the following words immortal - ‘Ye Dil Maange More’.