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June 10, 1999


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The Rediff Special/ Colonel John Taylor (retd)

'The suspense is always thick when you await orders to attack the enemy and seek revenge for a fallen comrade'

Warfare along the Line of Control: A Ready Reckoner

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The Indian Army has had vast and varied experience of fighting insurgency in Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam, Punjab and Kashmir. The Indian Army can rightfully claim that its concepts of fighting counter insurgency operations are among the most respected and sought after among international professionals. The insurgency in Kashmir -- 'low intensity conflict' in military parlance, started almost 10 years ago -- but the Kashmir problem has been with us since 1947, like a festering sore which refuses to heal.

What is the Kashmir problem all about?

The state of Jammu & Kashmir did not accede to the Republic of India initially, like the other states did -- prior to August 15, 1947. It was only after Pakistan sent infiltrators (their regular army in disguise) to forcefully occupy J&K, did everybody realise the gravity of the situation. The infiltrators or raiders (fondly named Mujahideen by the Pakistanis) had reached the outskirts of the Srinagar airport, when a now desperate Sheikh Abdullah (Wazir-e-Azam of the state of J&K) appealed to the Union of India for assistance to drive away the Pakistanis from J&K.

How many times have we gone to war with Pakistan over Kashmir?

When the Indian army got orders to drive the Pakistani infiltrators out of JK in 1948, the first of a series of wars with Pakistan, over Kashmir, was fought. 1948 saw the Pakistan army "rolled back". By the time the Western countries (mainly the USA and the UK) pressurised India to "cease hostilities" against Pakistan in J&K. We had the Pakistan army in total disarray and on the run. This situation was not acceptable to the West -- especially the USA who were using Pakistan as a base to "look into" the erstwhile USSR.

When Pandit Nehru accepted the ceasefire proposal, the 'Cease Fire Line' came into being. This meant that whatever area had been captured by the Indian army would be under the Indian Union. The portion from which the Pakistan army had not been driven out was allowed to be held by them -- which we call Pakistan occupied Kashmir -- PoK.

The Pakistanis refer to this area as 'Azad Kashmir' -- nothing can be further from the truth! If India had not accepted the ceasefire proposal in 1948, the whole of Kashmir would have been liberated. It was only a question of time. The Kashmir problem would have been solved once and for all.

Destiny plays as important a rule for nations as in individuals. The Indian army never understood why we accepted the ceasefire -- especially when we had the Pakistan army running with their tails between their legs! Let the diplomats and our politicians answer this -- maybe it was international and diplomatic pressure -- but India is still paying the price. In terms of huge financial expenditure, maintaining large number of troops on the borders of J&K, three wars which neither side could afford and blood -- the previous lives of so many of her brave soldiers.

In 1965, Pakistan, emboldened by the poor showing of the Indian army during the Sino-Indian border dispute in 1962, the death of Pandit Nehru in 1964 and their incorrect assessment of the diminutive Lal Bahadur Shastri, was prompted once again to send infiltrators (Mujahideen) to cut off the Jammu-Srinagar road and isolate Kashmir from the rest of India. They expected the Kashmiris to rise in revolt and help 'liberate' Kashmir. The Kashmiris refused to take the bait and fall for the Pakistani ploy. The Indian army nipped the problem in the bud and drove back the infiltrators. My battalion was part of this operation, in which I took active part, in the Sialkot sector.

Having failed in their endeavour, the Pakistani army attacked India on in September 1965. It ended in India giving Pakistan a bloody nose -- but once again all areas captured by the Indian army were returned after the Tashkent Declaration. This included strategic locations like the Haji Pir Pass, Black Rock etc. The old Cease Fire Line of 1948 continued to be the border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir.

How the Ceasefire Line was demarcated

Both in 1948 and 1965, joint teams of the Indian and Pakistan armies identified the locations held by both armies. Natural landmarks like rivers, nallahs, hill features etc were used to mark the ceasefire line on the ground. Maps duly marked, showing exact location of the ceasefire line were drawn and approved by both armies and governments. Any local violations would be sorted out by holding "flag meetings" between the two local army commanders of both sides. These were grand affairs with both armies trying to outdo the other in hospitality and fanfare. Flag meetings were held alternately on either side. This was another form of rivalry -- but neither side let up and the bargaining was always intense with no quarter given or taken.

The 1971 War -- why?

The influx of lakhs of East Pakistani refugees into India -- prior to 1971 and the total subjugation of ethnic Bengalis in East Pakistan forced India to take up their cause in the world forum. This time it was the East Pakistanis who under Mujibur Rehman revolted against the West Pakistanis. Pakistan attacked India on December 3, 1971 by sending in her warplanes on pre-emptive strikes against all Indian air bases in northern India -- (mainly J&K, Punjab and Rajasthan). It was a poor imitation of the Israeli pre-emptive strikes against the Egyptian air-bases in 1967-- in which the entire Egyptian air force was wiped out on the ground.

Surprisingly, the Pakistani army tried another Israeli type armoured attack in the Longewal sector and lost more than 80 tanks on the ground! These attacks were to divert world attention from their misdeeds in East Pakistan. I had the honour of fighting in this war in the Shankargarh sector. The aim of the Indian army was to liberate East Pakistan and hold the Pakistan army in the West. Kashmir was not the bone of contention this time.

East Pakistan was liberated by the Indian army and Bangladesh was born -- a humiliation Pakistan cannot forget to this day. It is still trying to seek revenge by actively supporting insurgency in Punjab (where it failed) and Kashmir. The latest episode in Kargil is because the Indian army had restored normalcy in Kashmir. Elections were held and a democratic government voted to power. Militancy was on the wane. Pakistan was desperate -- so while our PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee was waxing eloquent, quoting couplets on peace between the two countries, Nawaz Sharief was smiling more to himself, than the cameras -- because he knew his generals (who had refused to meet our PM) were plotting the whole Kargil operations!!

Of course George Fernandes, our defence minister, thinks otherwise and has given Sharief and the ISI a 'clean chit' -- proving that we never learn from our previous mistakes -- history always repeats itself!

What is the Line of Control (vis a vis ceasefire line)?

After the 1971 war, India emerged the undisputed victor and was able to bargain from a position of strength. The Simla Agreement between Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi is now part of history. By the provisions of this agreement the ceasefire line of 1948 and 1965 were no longer valid. Areas captured in 1971 across the ceasefire line by the Indian army, were to be occupied and not returned to Pakistan. The border in Kashmir would now be the Line of Control -- LoC -- areas physically controlled by either armies. India therefore acquired all areas captured in Kashmir during the 1971 conflict. The new Line of Control was the mutually agreed upon border between the two countries.

Alignment of the LoC in the Kargil sector:

The great Himalayan range separates the Kashmir valley from Kargil and other parts of Ladakh. The altitudes average 5,500 metres and remain snowbound for more than six months in the year. Ladakh and Kargil are maintained administratively by air during the winter months. In summers, convoys carrying men, material and supplies traverse through the Zojila Pass -- which is 3,250 metres high.

The region north of the great Himalayan range is extremely rugged, a wasteland of lakes, glaciers and mountains. The LoC traverses this region and overlooks National Highway NH-1A as it emerges out of Zojila. It dips southward close to Drass at a height of 5,353 metres, from here it runs almost parallel to NH-1A, till Kargil town. Thereafter, it crosses the Indus, north of Batalik. It terminates north of the Shyok river -- short of the Karakoram glaciers.

Due to the proximity of the LoC to Kargil town, the road between Srinagar and Leh and the town of Kargil are totally dominated by the Pakistanis, who hold the dominating heights across. The road between Drass-Kargil is vulnerable and consistently targeted by Pakistan artillery. Both in 1965 and 1971 we attacked and captured Pak posts overlooking these areas but had to return them. In 1971 the Indian army captured Tortuk and Chalunka in the Shyok valley (including capturing the highest post in the world). The area is therefore well known and has been the battleground on both occasions (1965 and 1971).

Is Drass the second coldest inhabited place in the world?

Drass is a small town at about 11,000 feet above sea level. Billed by J&K Tourism as the 'second coldest inhabited place in the world', the town and adjoining villages with a population of about 10,000, brave winters where temperatures dip to minus 60 degrees Celsius. This is because Drass is in a funnel with biting winds blowing 24 hours which causes the temperature to drop.

When I was posted in Ladakh (between 1969 and 1971), Drass was a transit-camp, where convoys stopped for the night before proceeding to Leh next morning. Kashmira Singh was once posted as a clerk in the transit camp. He had been a recruit under me. He came to my Arctic tent at night with two bottles of rum and two glasses. In rustic Punjabi he explained, "Sahebji, it is very very cold here. Let us both drink one bottle each -- only then will we be able to get sleep in this place!" Completely incorrect advice which I did not heed -- but found very amusing! It was miserably cold -- hats off to our jawans fighting there. I know how very tough it can get just surviving the elements of nature.

Why do we withdraw from posts in winter?

It is no secret, that both India and Pakistan, in many of the higher snowbound areas along the LoC in Kashmir, pull back from their posts during winter, to less colder areas and re-occupy them when these areas become accessible once more. This is common practice because it is physically impossible to remain on these posts in the most hostile of weather conditions, or maintain such posts logistically. It is an age old established practice by both armies that they ensure the reoccupation of such posts before either side can pre-empt the other. This time however, the Pakistanis have successfully pre-empted us.

In the Drass-Kargil sector, Pakistan has sent specially trained groups equipped with sophisticated weapons, communication and missile systems to occupy vacant heights along the LoC. This build-up was planned and executed since the last 4 to 6 months. However, Pakistan has a problem.

No large force can be maintained here and the mercenaries have to remain within Pakistani artillery range to face the Indian army. To evict them the Indian army, however, has to physically assault each post to drive back the mercenaries and recapture locations occupied by them.

Troops in the Kargil sector:

For reasons of security the exact location and strength of troops holding various posts cannot be disclosed. As already mentioned in various newpapers and magazines, the Kargil sector is held by an Infantry Brigade Group. This has more than three infantry battalions, artillery for supporting fire and other logistic units for its support. This sector will be further reinforced to meet the present threat.

'Mountains eat up men' is the common army slogan. One cannot hold every feature, but now that the infiltrators have physically occupied heights on the LoC, they will have to be evicted till all areas are cleared. This will involve a major deployment of troops.

The Indian army will prevail in the end. It always has, but the price will be high in terms of sweat, blood and lives on both sides.

How do the troops pass time in high altitude areas/posts:

This is a very difficult question to answer and every commander tries his best to keep "the boys going". The treacherous weather conditions, rarified atmosphere, long separations from their homes and families have a negative effect on the troops. This has to be guarded against. Playing games like basketball and volleyball, watching television, listening to music, singing, playing cards. Writing home and congregational worship on Sundays are some of the recreational activities.

Patrolling, physical training, firing and musketry keeps the troops fit and mentally alert. Visiting neighbouring posts, rotation of troops from one post to the other helps break the monotony. Sending them on leave at regular intervals is a must.

Special rations for extra energy are also authorised in high altitude. A warm meal does wonders -- especially when there is loss of appetite at such altitudes. Visitors (not infiltrators!!) are always welcome and jawans go out of their way to welcome a new face.

When war breaks out, it is a totally different scenario. The vigil is round the clock. There is no fixed time or schedule. You are here today, reinforcing another post tomorrow, moving out in the middle of the night. The suspense is always thick, especially when you await orders to attack the enemy and seek revenge for a fallen comrade or dislodge a treacherous enemy with sinister designs.

The Kargil Crisis

The Rediff Specials

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