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Was Kargil a Blunder?

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Some say Kargil was Pakistan army’s-biggest-strategic-blunder! 

by Sethi Mushtaq

The Kargil war, was an armed conflict between India and Pakistan that took place in between May and July 1999, in the Kargil district of Kashmir and elsewhere along the Line of Control (LOC). The conflict is also referred to as Operation Vijay (Victory in Hindi) which was the name of the Indian operation to clear the Kargil sector.

Briefly the town of Kargil is located 205 km (127 mi) from Srinagar, facing the Northern Areas across the LOC. Like other areas in the Himalayas, Kargil has a temperate climate. Summers are cool with chilling nights. The winters are long and chilly with temperatures often dropping to ?48 °C (?54 °F).

The national highway (NH 1D) connecting Srinagar to Leh cuts through Kargil. Area that witnessed the infiltration and fighting is a 160 km long stretch of ridges overlooking this only road linking Srinagar and Leh. The military outposts on the ridges above the highway were generally around 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) high, with a few as high as 5,485 metres (18,000 ft).Apart from the district capital, Kargil, the populated areas near the front line in the conflict included the Mushko Valley and the town of Drass, southwest of Kargil, as well as the Batalik sector and other areas, northeast of Kargil.

The cause of the war was the infiltration of Pakistani para-military soldiers to recapture inside the Indian Held Kashmir and capturing important dominating high altitude positions on the Indian side of the LOC, which serves as the de facto border between the two states.

The war is one of the most recent examples of high altitude warfare in mountainous terrain, which posed significant logistical problems for the combating sides. To date, it is also the only instance of direct, conventional warfare between two nuclear states.

THE PLAN .

Pakistan’s plan as detailed in a write up in the Military section of the GlobalSecurity.org an online publication was:

” Pakistan’s military aim for carrying out the intrusions was based on exploitation of the large gaps that exist in the defences in the sector both on Indian and Pak side of the Line of Control (LoC). The terrain is extremely rugged with very few tracks leading from the main roads towards the LoC. During winters the area gets very heavy snowfall making movement almost impossible. The only mountain pass connecting the Kargil area to the Kashmir Valley, Zoji La, normally opens by the end of May or beginning of June. Thus, moving of reinforcements by surface means from Srinagar would not have been possible till then. Pakistan Army calculated that even if the intrusions were discovered in early May, as they were, the Indian Army’s reaction would be slow and limited, thereby allowing him to consolidate the intrusions more effectively. In the event, however, Zoji La was opened for the induction of troops in early May itself. The intrusions, if effective, would enable Pakistani troops to secure a number of dominating heights from where the Srinagar-Leh National Highway 1A could be interdicted at a number of places. The intrusions would also draw in and tie down Indian Army reserves. The intrusions would, further, give Pakistan control over substantial tracts of strategic land area across the LoC, thereby, enabling Islamabad to negotiate from a position of strength. The intrusions would irrevocably alter the status of the LoC.

Apart from keeping the plan top secret, the Pakistan Army also undertook certain steps to maintain an element of surprise and maximize deception. There was no induction of any new units or any fresh troops into the FCNA for the proposed operation. Any large-scale troop movement involving even two or three battalions would have drawn the attention of the Indian Army. The Pakistan Army artillery units, which were inducted into the FCNA during the heavy exchange of fire from July to September 1998, were not de-inducted. Since the exchange of artillery fire continued thereafter, though at a lower scale, this was not considered extraordinary. There was no movement of reserve formations or units into FCNA until after the execution of the plan and operations had begun with the Indian Army’s response. No new administrative bases for the intrusions were to be created, instead they were to be catered for from those already in the existing defenses. The logistic lines of communication were to be along the ridge-lines and the nullahs well away from the tracks and positions of the Indian Army troops already in position.”

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/kargil-99.htm

Coming back to the topic after the brief introduction and the intended or assumed plan!

I personally feel on the contrary that this small operation was quite brilliantly planned and executed from the military tactical and strategic point of view.The small contingent of the light infantry consisting of around some hundred para-military force had occupied 132 important dominating posts on highest peaks which over-looked the important supply route of the Indian Army to it’s forces illegally occupying Siachin, since 1984.I really cannot understand how some suggest that Gen.Musharraf should be court martial-ed ,on what grounds ?

Historically Kargil territory which the para-military forces occupied were on the Pakistan side of the LOC and it was India which violated the agreement and occupied these positions in 1971.Thus an attempt to retake them could not be termed as a violation blame or charge on the forces.

What did it achieve other than losing lives from both sides?

There, I agree precious lives were lost on both sides. But militarily Pakistan had gained what they had set off to achieve strategically. Which being to occupy dominating vantage point, over the Indian supply line passing through Dras, for its troops stationed on Siachin. This could have resulted in putting pressure on the Indian leaders, to come to the table to seriously discuss the Kashmir issue with Pakistan, with an upper hand.

Besides this there were more military advantages, which you could learn of ,if you watch the interview in this video containing former General. Musharraf interview given recently to a local channel in response to former Gen. Shahid Aziz, disclosures about the Kargil or operation Gibraltar as it is called.

http://www.zemtv.com/2013/01/30/kal-tak-pervez-musharraf-reply-to-gen-r-shahid-aziz-allegations-30th-jan-2013/

From my perspective it was a brilliant plan, which as said earlier, was successfully achieved militarily. Had the pressure not come from the international community for the withdrawal and the weak political leadership not succumbed under it. The political goal could have probably, been met as well.

Was Kargil, Pakistan army’s biggest strategic-blunder ?

No! Once again, on the contrary it was the biggest intelligence security failure of the Indian Army, for having been caught napping ,while a small contingent of para-military soldiers armed with light weaponry intruded unnoticed within their bounds and captured not only the dominating peaks but, went about a 130 KM inside! Thus all in all the humiliation and embarrassment falls in their lap and not of Pakistan army to whom they attempt to discredit in a false manner. Thus, there cannot be a question of any defeat militarily under the circumstance stated ,which led to the liberating forces to be pressured to withdraw leaving behind all that gained.

Because, the liberators had successfully captured 132 of the most dominating strategic posts on Kargil .More so, by all accounts, the loss of lives and property on the Indian side was 5 times more!

What Gen. Musharraf narrated, I could not but agree with his contention that it was militarily, tactically and strategically a brilliant and flawless plan which ultimately succeeded and should have been executed right till the military and political objectives had been met as conceived!

However, I may add that two things which are found to be suspicious and disturbing were that:

1) Why it was planned right after the nuclear blast and while the political Confidence Building Measure (CBM) efforts were going on to improve relationship and cooperation between the two neighbor countries?

2) It a blunder not to have taken on board the Air and Naval Chiefs, in order for them to have had complete preparedness if God Forbid an all-out war could have broken out in consequence of this action?

The plan was brilliantly executed militarily till the extent of meeting its tactical and strategic objectives. The Indians cannot deny that 132 most dominating positions had been occupied by the liberators or that around 130 KM territory across the LOC, which the Indian Army had been occupying illegally since 1971 were taken back ?. Also can they deny that the Indian Army had to incur heavy losses than those compared to Pakistan?.

Factually it appears, that it was not due to the Indian forces valor and military prowess that the Pakistani forces had to withdraw, but the US pressure on its political leadership to do so.

Pity the political leadership nerves proved weak and couldn’t resist the international pressure.

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  1. Usman Ajmal says:

    Sir, I would still agree that Kargil was a blunder as if we knew Indian weaknesses, we should have waited till the political leadership was on board and then moved in. Any attempt to do it unilaterally by the Army would have had no other consequence other than the one which happened, which was withdrawal.

    Lesson for future, work in unison with the political leadership and other military force chiefs. The opportunity was there to take Kargil and resolve Siachen once and for all, but we missed it by acting too hastily.

  2. Dear Sethi Mushtaq,

    Withdrawal of troops from those positions during winter had been a unwritten custom on both sides. Pakistan taking advantage of this and sneaking into INDIAN territory is a “STRATEGICALLY BRILLIANT” Plan?? And where do you get your Data? From Mussharaf Himself? Indian casualties were 5 times that of Pakistan?? Indian media being free was there in Kargil for the entire duration of the war covering every bullet and shell fired. There is no scope of suppression in Indian media regarding losses. But Pakistan’s media publishes and feeds what is given by the Army, which will in no circumstances say anything to accept defeat. Please ask yourself some honest questions and then comment.

    • My assessment on Kargil, is reinforced by this Indian Generals,acknowledgement and disclosures.

      ” New Delhi: kishanpalstory.jpgA General who led the Indian Army on ground in the Kargil conflict, has broken his 11-year silence to say that he believes India actually lost the war in strategic terms.

      In an exclusive interview to NDTV, Lieutenant-General Kishan Pal, who was then the head of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, says India has failed to consolidate its tactical gains.

      Asked for his assessment of the conflict 11 years later, Gen Pal told NDTV: “Well for 11 years I did not speak at all…I did not speak because I was never convinced about this war, whether we really won it…We did gain some tactical victories, we regained the territories we lost, we lost 587 precious lives. I consider this loss of war because whatever we gained from the war has not been consolidated, either politically or diplomatically. It has not been consolidated militarily.”

      • My articles assessment on Kargil, is further reinforced by this Indian Generals,acknowledgement and disclosures.

        ” New Delhi: kishanpalstory.jpgA General who led the Indian Army on ground in the Kargil conflict, has broken his 11-year silence to say that he believes India actually lost the war in strategic terms.

        In an exclusive interview to NDTV, Lieutenant-General Kishan Pal, who was then the head of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, says India has failed to consolidate its tactical gains.

        Asked for his assessment of the conflict 11 years later, Gen Pal told NDTV: “Well for 11 years I did not speak at all…I did not speak because I was never convinced about this war, whether we really won it…We did gain some tactical victories, we regained the territories we lost, we lost 587 precious lives. I consider this loss of war because whatever we gained from the war has not been consolidated, either politically or diplomatically. It has not been consolidated militarily.”
        http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/not-convinced-we-won-kargil-lt-gen-kishan-pal-to-ndtv-28718

  3. Tariq Shamsi says:

    A well researched and written article. Indeed what most civilians refer to as Kargil ‘war’ was actually only a small scale localized military ‘operation’ that succeeded it achiving all its military objectives, till such time the civilian government crumbled under pressure and ordered a retreat. This operation could never have grown into a full scale war, the reasons being depletion of Indian offensive capability in attempting to shift fighting forces from the Punjab to rescue its troops trapped by the Kargil incursion. Such operations are a norm along the line of control. Having known Gen. Shahid in the days he was a captain and major, it does not surprise me that due to prior heavy indulgence in intoxicating substances, he is loosing control of his mind and unsuccessfully attempting to malign Gen. Musharraf.

    • Thank you for appreciating,Mr.Tariq Shamsi. That’s correct.

      More so in my personal opinion and assessment,on ground it proved to be a successful one,contrary to the Indian version of having been victorious due to their army’s valor and delivering a humiliating and embarrassing defeat to the liberators.I feel in fact the humiliation and embarrassment went into their share from the point of intelligence and security failure, having been caught napping while a small contingent of lightly armed men intruded and captured 132 dominating positions and reaching 130 km inside across the LoC on their side

  4. Dear Ravi,thank you for contributing your valued comments.

    In my personal opinion,striking when and where the enemy least expects and then being successful in execution of the plan,in warfare,is tactically brilliant.

    I believe,India adopted the same strategy in 1984,when it intruded at a time the Pakistan was engaged in the USSR-Afghan war (Soviet war in Afghanistan lasted nine years from December 1979 to February 1989 ) and positioned themselves in Siachin ?.As a matter of fact the Indian action in Siachin,was not only in violation of some unwritten understanding,but the 1972 Shimla accord,as well.

    As regards your claim of the media suppression.Please find appended below the contents and the link of the news from your own Indian media.Which is self explanatory and aptly answers your concerns.

    \ Army fudged Kargil war history: tribunal
    India, Posted on May 27, 2010 at 05:22pm IST

    New Delhi: The Indian Army’s history of the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan may have to be rewritten.

    In a major embarrassment for the Army, a military tribunal has ruled that a senior commander had falsified records of the war that cost a brigadier a promotion.

    The Armed Forces Tribunal has directed the Army to set the records straight and consider Brigadier (retd.) Devinder Singh, who commanded the Batalik-based 70 Infantry Brigade during the Kargil war, for a notional promotion to Major General rank.

    Lt. Gen. Kishan Pal, who headed the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, had written Singh’s annual confidential report allegedly belittling his achievements by noting that he had only partial command of the 70 Infantry Brigade. The 15 Corps was responsible for guarding the Line of Control in Kashmir.

    Justice A K Mathur, in his order, ruled that \the annual confidential reports were not written in an objective and unbiased manner\.

    The tribunal also directed the Directorate of Military Operations to rewrite portions of Op. Vijay: Account of the War in Kargil. A volume of the official history asserts that while \the commander 70 Infantry Brigade (Singh) controlled operations on the Western Flank (Jubbar Complex), Deputy (General Officer in Command) GOC 3 Infantry Division controlled the Stangba-Khalubar Ridge operations\.

    Singh, in his plea, had challenged the post-Kargil operations report that stated that four of his most successful battalions were commanded by the then Deputy GOC of 3 Infantry Division, Brigadier Ashok Duggal.

    \For reasons best known to Lt. Gen. Kishan Pal, he was favouring and giving credit to Duggal and my command tenure was shown in bad light. I had to suffer a lot because of this,\ Singh told reporters in New Delhi.

    Singh had petitioned the tribunal that his report on the pattern of intrusions and number of intruders was played down by his seniors. This led to the then Defence Minister George Fernandes’s claim that the Batalik sector would be cleared in 48 hours but the battle actually lasted 80 days.

    The brigadier lodged a complaint within a year of the war but his claim has been vindicated nearly 10 years later.

    He said that as per the tribunal order, he would now be considered for notional promotion to the rank of a major general.

    \The records about the operations by my brigade in the war will also be set straight,\ he said.

    Singh had filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in 2006 and this transferred to the tribunal when it was created last year.

    Gen. (retd.) V P Malik, who was the Army chief during the Kargil war, told CNN-IBN on Thursday it was unfair to suggest that the entire war history had been doctored.
    http://ibnlive.in.com/news/the-truth-is-out-army-fudged-kargil-war-history/116361-3.html?from=tn

    Please be rest assured that the purpose of writing this article is purely to assess the Pros and Cons and not to malign nor redeem any personality or either party involved in this conflict.

    Best and Kind Regards

  5. Ali Haider says:

    Such operations are prepared and implemented by brave Army Personnel and not the political coward leadership

  6. Our army is trained best in nurturing politicians and then humiliating them, so that they can always have an edge while taking over the country. But they don’t know war is an extension of politics , since u have made a cradle to make corrupt politicians they will have no vision except making money. So is the case with army but they have intitutionalized way of making money. It is always nation on war not only army. But our army always says it’s because of politicians. Like fall of Dhaka or Kargil, or siachin. Our army is so pious that not only single general have ever made a mistake and punished. Sorry sir, those who accept mistake can only take correction measures. Not by always blaming others.
    This army has ruled the country and should take all responsibilities , recent event have shown who is in power in Pakistan.
    As we all know about art of war, winning the war without fighting war, making alliances and such thing. What to talked of alliances with others, Ur sister services were aloof of the situation, what to talked of any dirty politician ( so called). Perveez musharaf was the one who created real heatred in army for the civilians and viceversa . Interwar of nation building he made all efforts to Produce corrupt politicians. Given authorities to persons like Altaf Hussain and Fazalur Rehman . Then we talked of politician and their sinserity . He gave new life to MQM. kept files of all politicians in NAB, and kept them in their team . Sorry sir? We don’t have to play with our nation and say , corrupt politician succumbed. Mush and Zia succumbed to us for their desires not for Pakistan, and this NS is by product of Zia .

  7. Indrasis says:

    really…….you guys are still frustrated ?
    nowadays your brilliant strategic plans are to send jihadis….nice

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