New Delhi: Thirteen years ago, the Indian Army found itself drawn into a messy low-intensity conflict with Pakistan in the icy heights of Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir that cost it 527 soldiers. Today, Gen VP Malik, the then Army chief, laments that the major victory scored has all been forgotten.
Kargil was India`s first television war and could have promoted a "strategic culture" in the country, but the gains were lost because of political compulsions, Malik says.
"We must celebrate the Kargil victory. Unfortunately, the Kargil war has become a political football," 74-year-old Malik, who lives in the Chandigarh suburb of Panchkula, told a news agency in an interview.
"Politics got into the Kargil victory and the celebrations became a political football. That`s what we saw with political rivals celebrating and criticising the war for reasons that suited them," Malik said.
"The armed forces had tremendous support from the people and the media," he said, adding: "But politics got into all this and that`s why there were good celebrations initially and there are hardly any celebrations. Slowly people are beginning to forget, because it is not providing much political mileage."
From 2000 to 2003, July 26, the day the war ended, was commemorated in a variety of ways. This, however, stopped when the United Progressive Alliance government came to power.
Calling for grander celebrations, Malik said, "We have to tell the people about these battles and if we want to build a strategic culture, we need to celebrate these victories and inform people how these battles were won."
The Kargil war in May-July 1999 saw India throwing back Pakistani regulars who had occupied key heights in the sector that had been vacated by the Indian troops during the harsh winter.
At the same time, Malik readily agreed that the victory in the 1971 war with Pakistan that saw the creation of the independent nation of Bangladesh was "much bigger" and "greater" than Kargil.
"The 1971 war was certainly a much bigger, greater victory for India, as we had fought on both (eastern and western) fronts. But that was 1971. In 1999, we were reacting to a situation, as in 1965, and were playing on the back foot.
"In 1971, we had taken the initiative in view of the refugees pouring in from the East and there was time for us to prepare for the war," Malik said.
But the situation in 1999 was different, he said, noting that the whole world was watching India with suspicion following its 1998 nuclear tests.
"We did exceeding well with the Army, Navy and the Air Force jointly working out a strategy in a limited war scenario," he added.