Was Kargil a Blunder?
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.”
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.
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.