Kargil: A brilliant operation to wrest back Siachen was frustrated for petty politics….

Nawaz Sharif being received by General Pervez Musharraf

Hussain Saqib

Kargil operation of 1999 was one, and probably last, in the series of operations to take back the Siachen Glacier occupied by the Indians in 1984. The Kargil conflict is a major cause of India’s, and also Nawaz Sharif’s, frustration against Musharraf and will continue to steal the limelight. The then prime minister of Pakistan and his party are screaming at the top of their voice to bring Musharraf to book for instigating a nuclear conflict by initiating the Kargil operation. Whether or not a LIC of the scale of Kargil was the threshold to ignite a nuclear war, Musharraf and his army will keep receiving the bashing from politicos.

It is important for the general readers to know that Kargil was not something extraordinary, not at all of the intensity of the Meghdoot. The prime minister, ironically, was on board and was informed of the capture of Indian posts by Pakistani forces by no less than the Indian prime minister himself. His army kept him in dark, or so he claims. This also shows that his ISI chief reporting direct to him, who was subsequently elevated by Nawaz Sharif, was also unaware of the conflict. If this is indeed true, then it is not Musharraf but his ISI chief, his clansman, who has to be brought to book. This is another matter that there used to be joint press briefings on this conflict on daily by the information minister and army’s DG ISPR.

Was Gen Musharraf violating any international law when he decided to land personnel from para-military troops across the line of control (LOC), a loose border demarcation but not having the status of an international border. Both India and Pakistan have been occupying certain posts across LOC and then using them as bargaining chips. The action on Kargil posts was no exception. This is how India occupied Siachen glacier and continues to occupy it. The Kargil was a response, though made unsuccessful by gaining political mileage and for looking like a good boy in the eyes of you-know-who. The Siachen Conflict, began in 1984 with India’s successful Operation Meghdoot during which it wrested control of the Siachen Glacier (unoccupied and not demarcated area). India has established control over all of the 70 kilometres (43 mi) long Siachen Glacier and all of its tributary glaciers, as well as the three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier—Sia LaBilafond La, and Gyong La. Pakistan controls the glacial valleys immediately west of the Saltoro Ridge. According to TIME magazine, India gained more than 1,000 square miles (3,000 km2) of territory because of its military operations in Siachen.

Did Indians demand any Siachen Commission to bring their generals to book who occupied the Glacier?

A Cease-Fire Line Agreement (CFL) was signed and ratified by India, Pakistan and the UN Military Observer Group in 1949 that delineated entire CFL. In 1956-58, a scientific team led by the Geological Survey of India recorded its findings publicly including information about the Siachen and other glaciers. After Pakistan ceded Shaksgam Valley to China in a boundary agreement in 1963, Pakistan started giving approval to western expedition to the east of mountain K2. In 1957 Pakistan permitted a British expedition under Eric Shipton to approach the Siachen glacier through the Bilafond La, and recce Saltoro Kangri. Five years later a Japanese-Pakistani expedition put two Japanese and a Pakistani Army climber on top of Saltoro Kangri.  Maps from Pakistan, the United Nations and other global atlases depicted the CFL correctly till around 1967-72. The United States Defense Mapping Agency (now National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) began in about 1967 to show international boundary on their Tactical Pilotage Charts as proceeding from NJ9842 east-northeast to the Karakoram Pass at 5,534 m (18,136 ft) on the China border. Numerous governmental and private cartographers and atlas producers followed suit. This resulted in the US cartographically giving the entire 5,000 square kilometers (1,900 sq mi) of the Siachen-Saltoro area to Pakistan.

In the 1970s and early 1980s several mountaineering expeditions applied to Pakistan to climb high peaks in the Siachen area due in part to U.S Defense Mapping Agency and most other maps and atlases showing it on the Pakistani side of the line. Pakistan granted a number of permits. This in turn reinforced the Pakistani claim on the area, as these expeditions arrived on the glacier with a permit obtained from the Government of Pakistan. The Indian government and military took notice, and protested the cartography.

According to Wikipedia, neither India nor Pakistan had any permanent presence in the area before 1984. Having become aware of the US military maps and the permit incidents, Colonel Narendra “Bull” Kumar, then commanding officer of the Indian Army’s High Altitude Warfare School, mounted an Army expedition to the Siachen area as a counter-exercise. In 1978 this expedition climbed Teram Kangri II, claiming it as a first ascent in a typical ‘oropolitical’ riposte. Unusually for the normally secretive Indian Army, the news and photographs of this expedition were published in The Illustrated Weekly of India, a widely-circulated popular magazine. The first public acknowledgment of the maneuvers and the developing conflict situation in the Siachen was an abbreviated article titled “High Politics in the Karakoram” by Joydeep Sircar in The Telegraph newspaper of Calcutta in 1982.

Reportedly with specific intelligence of a possible Pakistani operation, India launched Operation Meghdoot on 13 April 1984, in which the Kumaon Regiment of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force went into the glacier region. India was soon in control of the area, beating Pakistan to the Saltoro Ridge high ground by about a week. The two northern passes – Sia La and Bilafond La – were quickly secured by India. When the Pakistanis arrived at the region in 1984, they found a 300-man Indian battalion dug into the highest mountaintops. The contentious area is about 900 square miles (2,300 km2) to nearly 1,000 square miles (2,600 km2) of territory. After 1984, Pakistan launched several attempts to displace the Indian forces, but with little success. The most well known was in 1987, when an attempt was made by Pakistan to dislodge India from the area. The attack was masterminded by the then Brig Pervez Musharraf heading a newly raised elite SSG commando unit raised with United States Special Operations Forces’ help in the area.

What he could not achieve in 1987, he tried to achieve 12 years later when he had the opportunity and power to wrest back Siachen from India through Kargil. The Indian over-reaction to this low intensity conflict (LIC) indicates that the operation was a military success and, if Nawaz Sharif and Clinton had not come to India’s rescue, the Siachen issue would have been resolved long ago. But our politicians were eager to please India and the USA and they traded gains in Kargil for petty political benefits.

One of the factors behind the Kargil War in 1999 when Pakistan sent infiltrators to occupy vacated Indian posts across the Line of Control was their belief that India would be forced to withdraw from Siachen in exchange of a Pakistani withdrawal from Kargil. Both sides had previously desired to disengage from the costly military outposts but after the Kargil War, India decided to maintain its military outposts on the glacier, wary of further Pakistani incursions into Kashmir if they vacate from the Siachen Glacier posts without an official recognition from Pakistan of the current positions.

Those who accuse the army of instigating a full-scale war through Kargil operation forget the point that the army tried to wrest strategic posts from India in the same manner India did in case of Siachen. This was last in the series of tactical operations to win back Siachen which is right of any self-respecting army commander.

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3 thoughts on “Kargil: A brilliant operation to wrest back Siachen was frustrated for petty politics….

  1. You know the more I hear Musharraf’s pov on this, the more I am inclined to his logic. I heard Shahid Aziz as well and am not sure what he is trying to do here. If he wanted to pen his memoirs, he should have stayed strictly with the military aspects, rather he has put his philosophy on display.

    Kargil is the LoC. Until its converted to IB, its subject to changes on the ground. Why are so many idiots in Pakistan on the back foot with regards to this? Siachen is on the LoC. It was probed and violated by the Indians, why are so many people acting sheepishly about this?

    Our officers and troops made the ultimate sacrifice and it was to further Pakistan’s interests with regards to Kashmir on the ground. All this talk now is essentially undermining their efforts to further Pakistan’s case on Kashmir. What is not in dispute is that Kashmir is a “disputed” state between Pakistan and India. India has taken advantage of this dispute across the LoC since 1948. They took over Kargil in the 65 war, then again in 1971 and kept it. They went into Siachen and took over there and all we are left with is Shahid Aziz sahib’s useless clarity of thought after all has been said and done 10+ years ago and after all the privileges have been consolidated and enjoyed by the Lt Gen sahib.

    The Indians were the first to draw blood this past month across the LoC again. However our suddenly “thirsty for truth” journalist and people cannot understand that the LoC has been breached more times by the Indians than Pakistan. They have adjusted the contours of the LoC when it has suited them and Pakistan has always reacted resulting is less than optimal counter positions (e.g. in Siachen). Kargil was also not something that was initiated on the basis of a knee jerk reaction.

    Gen Jehangir Karamat is on record stating that the Indians had made life very hard for movement along Neelum Valley. Pakistan responded to this and other precedents (such as Siachen) by taking over positions in Kargil.

    For those claiming that Pakistan lost more than 270-300 people, I specifically remember looking at the list of jawans and Officers who were awarded, and due to the difficulty of the terrain and the conditions in which the NLI troops and officers were deployed, almost every single one of those who served there was awarded with at least an imtiazi sanad if not a gallantry award. The lists were never longer than 200-300 people. For someone to suggest that entire units were decimated etc. is absolute nonsense given that real estate was so tight that most posts were not occupied by more than 5-7 people.

    Lastly, why is Kargil a waste or unnecessary? For that matter, why has Pakistan invested in a military and fought wars against the other side? Its because there are unsettled issues. The other side uses strong armed tactics as and when its suits them. What they are good at is that they only raise issues with a context that serves their interests. They talk about beheadings but shamelessly forget what their troops did to some of our NLI boys in Kargil. If you bring it up, suddenly the memory goes shallow. Talking about Pakistan violating the sanctity of LoC, how about not returning Kargil to Pakistan post 1971 war and then taking over Siachen? The point being that they have taken initiative when they have had the need to, our useless idiots should stop making excuses for when we try to shape the LoC to match our interests. All the idiotic bahaduri is left for the Americans who are cursed left and right, whereas the Indians with whom we have direct conflicts are always accommodated by our very own at the cost of the dignity of our nation and its armed forces. What a shame!

    There is plenty of dirty laundry on the Indian side, but one thing they are much better at than us is that they don’t do their dirty laundry in front of everyone. Our people are hopeless on this count.

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  2. In any confrontation, the end result is important. If Kargil did not bring any advantage [as 1965 did not and 1971 proved disastrous, it is high time look back, analyse and make better plans in future.

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