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May 27, 1999
'The present government does not have adequate courage for action across the LoC'
Major General C S Nugyal(retd)
The road from Srinagar to Ladakh that goes across the Zojila pass is a major communication artery. It goes from Baltal to Dras to Kargil to Batalik to Leh. The western flank of this road is fairly close to Pakistan-held territory. The overlooking heights are held by India. The Pakistani infiltrators have entered at a height of 16,000 to 17,000 feet and established themselves on the heights overlooking the road to Leh.
These elements are Afghans, foreign mercenaries and Pakistani regulars. They infiltrated before the winter snows melted and when Indian army patrol could not reach there. They have strengthened themselves in three or four pockets in positions overlooking the road and can prevent road movement from positions that look down on the road. They can direct artillery activity across the border and effectively isolate Ladakh and cut off Kargil from Srinagar and Leh.
But air power is not sufficient to clear these infiltrators. This is not like the Balkans where bombing a few communication centres will paralyse the forces on the ground. This is in the mountains. Precise application of air power is not possible. Besides, the type of arms being used -- free flight rockets and bombs -- cannot be guided too precisely. There is a degree of inaccuracy in application. These people are dug in and can dig in further. There will be casualties. But the infiltrators will not suffer considerable damage.
India needs to carry out a massive ground operation to evict the intruders. This will take some time. It would be a high altitude operation in difficult terrain and the troops have to be acclimatised. It would take a much longer time. A month or two months. But then the infiltrators would be entirely cleared out.
One of the critical constraints of the present operation is the presence of the command centre across the LOC. These infiltrators have the support of heavy artillery and can direct them too. We have to hit out at their command or control centre ie their fire support and logistics base. It would be an act of aggression. That should not be a constraint to restore order. The existing situation is an act of aggression supported by them. But it would be a localised action. An action across the LOC.
But I believe the present government does not have adequate critical courage to take such a step. What would be wrong? The Pakistanis have mounted this operation and sent these infiltrators in. How can they say they have nothing to do with these infiltrators. If I send some undesirable elements from my house to my neighbour's house am I not responsible?
Yes, I think ground action in conjunction with air strikes is necessary.
It is not possible that any of the free falling rockets or bombs from the air strikes could have fallen on the Pakistani side of the LOC. The skyline is quite clear. There is no possibility. The Pakistanis are merely saying that to gain mileage.
No, I do not think our air strikes could be constituted as provocation for war by the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis may be antagonised because of our air strikes. But the air strikes are not an act of war. We are not crossing the line of control. And this is not an international border but the line of control in a disputed territory. In any case the Pakistani air force does not have the capability compared to the Indian Air Force, to respond with combat.
The shooting down of these two aircraft indicates the level of armament of the infiltrating elements who possess air defence equipment. It is very far fetched that our aircraft could have fallen across the LOC because our aircraft are operating well inside the LOC. Going across the LOC does not arise. And there is no reason why the Pakistanis should be engaging us from their side of the LOC.
We have an agreement that we will not engage each other's aircraft in combat. And that we will inform each other about activity occurring on our own sides of the border. Pakistan was informed. They had no reason to fire on the aircraft.
It is impossible that these infiltrators could have come from anywhere else except from across the LOC. Do they mean that they have come from some other neighbour? The territory where the infiltrators are based is immediately adjoining POK. The Siachen Tibet border is 250 or 300 km away from there.
Retired Major General C S Nugyal, who served in many senior positions, spoke to Vaihayasi P Daniel.
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