Kargil operation of 1999 was first, and probably the 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 basis 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 La, Bilafond 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.
- Kargil was a big success for Pakistan, claims Musharraf (dailymail.co.uk)
- Can we solve Siachen without solving the Jammu and Kashmir dispute? (kafila.org)
- Commend Musharraf for crossing LoC to be with troops: General VK Singh (ndtv.com)
- Some people trying to scandalize Pakistan Army over Kargil war, Pervez Musharraf (thenewstribe.com)