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May 29, 1999
Pakistan's ability to think up something sinister never ceases to surprise!
Colonel John Taylor (retd)
Sensational news like the Jessica Lall murder in Delhi, the shooting of an icecream parlour attendant in Lucknow, the Congress drama or crisis (whichever way you look at it), the World Cup fever and India's shaky debut made headline news in May. What was not getting mileage was the deadly slow motion battle being fought far away in the snow-capped mountains overlooking the Dras river near Kargil.
Having served in the area where all the action is taking place, the actions of the Pakistanis are running to form -- this is their modus operandi. Since 1965, Pakistan has been sending infiltrators into India to cut off the vital link of the Jammu-Srinagar, Srinagar-Leh roads. With Pakistan, we share a 740 km Line of Control. There are a number of outposts which get snow bound and have to be "abandoned" by both sides till the snow melts. Pakistan never fails to "encroach" and seize an "unoccupied" post before the Indian army reoccupies it. Its 'first come, first grab' policy invariably leads to military action.
When we held these posts in the 1960s and 1970s, the only answer was to aggressively dominate the controlled area. Keep Pakistan's head down. The Pakistan army knew whom to take liberty with!! Still Pakistan's ability to think up something new and sinister never ceases to surprise. This time Pakistan has undertaken a cross border attack by infiltration across a 100 km or so frontage between Dras-Kargil-Batalik.
In the words of Corps Commander Lieutenant General Krishan Pal, the Pakistan action 'was only a little short of naked aggression.' In reply, the army had to conduct 'one of the biggest anti-militancy operations in recent years.'
Trouble began when an army patrol in the Yaldor area of the Kargil region (totally snow bound in May) spotted a number of men who had infiltrated from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Here Pakistan surprised the Indian army because these areas were never used before for infiltration. Being snow bound and inhospitable, no intrusion was expected from this side. It appears the Indian army was caught napping!
Aerial surveillance confirmed on May 12 that the intrusion was on a very large scale and had assumed serious dimensions. According to feedback the army was now sure that more than 500 heavily armed infiltrators had occupied well fortified positions along the dominating ridges overlooking Dras-Kargil-Batalik. As usual, more than half of these would be regular Pakistan army troops masquerading as mercenaries along with a few Afghani and other mujahideen.
Effective fire was given by the Pakistan artillery from across the LoC. In a countermove the Indian army plan was to surround the infiltrators and choke off their supplies even while it readied itself to launch assaults and dislodge the infiltrators piecemeal.
The government has chosen to underplay the scale of action that required the army to carry out such a large scale response -- more than 30,000 troops (besides special forces dropped by helicopter), induction of additional heavy field guns, howitzers, multi barrel rocket launchers and heavy mortars. The Indian army and the Research and Analysis Wing must take part of the blame for not "appreciating" the present intrusions in Kargil. Good intelligence and proper ground and aerial surveillance could have easily avoided the present events in Kargil.
Initially, the plea was that the action taken was normal. Unfortunately this time Pakistan's motives were sinister. In the past Pakistan artillery always fired in support when intrusions by infiltrators took place. This time they bombarded Indian positions and the township of Kargil, to support the infiltrators in their bid to successfully occupy dominating positions in Indian territory.
Air strikes were ordered for the first time by India in the war by proxy being waged by Pakistan in Kashmir. Though highly successful these air strikes would attract an equally harsh response from Pakistan. The shooting down of two Indian jet fighters (MiG-21 and MiG-27) on May 27 and an armed helicopter on May 28 confirmed that.
Today we sit on the brink of war. Earlier, it had taken much less for the two countries to go to war in 1948, 1965 and 1971. Pakistan has always used her superior diplomatic initiatives with Western countries to pursue policies of aggression. Taking advantages of our hung Parliament, the impotence of the caretaker government and our forever "squabbling for power" politicians, the Pakistanis have gone ahead with their full scale intrusions in Kargil.
The latest flare up in Kargil is the first time since Operation Gibraltar in 1965 that Pakistan has once again attempted to occupy Indian territory by sending infiltrators. It is high time that India reassesses its diplomatic and military strategy, in view of the seriousness of the past month's events in Kargil.
There may still be another war in the offing if things continue to hot up in Kargil. Let us hope better sense prevails and both countries sort out this border intrusion by bilateral talks and not by war.
Before retiring from the army a couple of years ago, Colonel Taylor has served with distinction on the Chinese frontier and in Sri Lanka among other postings.
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