A Commemoration And A Perspective - Kargil 1999

The nation as a whole owes a deep debt of gratitude to the gallant young officers and men who ensured victory against overwhelming odds.

A Commemoration And A Perspective - Kargil 1999

Editor's Note

This article by Lt Gen. Satish Nambiar is based on his talk on 23 Jul 2022 at Defence Colony, New Delhi on the occasion of the 23rd anniversary of the Kargil Day .

The same is published to give the readers a realistic overview to the Kargil 99 war and much more. It is linked to MVI article 'Imperatives of placing our operational  achievements in perspective',  published on 14 Jul 2021.

Kargil Vijay Diwas 2022 is an occasion that needs to be commemorated in all solemnity, as much for the outstanding achievements of the junior leadership and men who participated in the Kargil War in 1999, as for the sacrifices ,many of them made in the process. As also in my personal view, an occasion particularly for our colleagues now in uniform, to remind themselves of the lessons that emerged from the Kargil War, and place our national and military strategy, operational concepts and organisational structures in perspective.

There can be little difference of opinion about the fact that the operations conducted in the Kargil sector after the ingress by the Pakistani military came to light, were an outstanding military achievement by the Indian Armed Forces junior leadership, and the men they were privileged to lead into battle. Measured by any standards, national or international. To attack enemy held positions at forbidding mountainous heights ranging from 15,000 to 18,000 feet, in many cases through hand-to-hand fighting, and restore the ‘status quo’ along the Line of Control in the Sector, was an achievement that will no doubt often be recalled when military tactics are reviewed and studied in institutions around the world.

Success in evicting the Pakistani intrusion was achieved through great feats of bravery and commitment, aided in no small measure, by the performance of our Gunners using the much maligned Bofors, and by our young “Air Warriors” once they were cleared to get into action. With a couple of honourable exceptions, there was hardly any ‘generalship’ involved. Nor was there any display of ‘strategy’ or ‘operational art’. In that, we did not take the battle to the Pakistanis by hitting them hard in the depth areas where it would have “hurt”.  Or by opening up on other fronts. As was done by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in September 1965. It is all very well to now pretend to take satisfaction in the praise conferred on us by our self-styled well-wishers at displaying “RESTRAINT’ as it was. My own impressions in inter-actions and discussions at the international level in later years, has been that while our interlocutors commended us at our faces for the restraint displayed, they actually did not think much of our capacity for political decision making and assertive action in the pursuit of strategic objectives in national interests.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

The nation as a whole therefore owes a deep debt of gratitude to the gallant young officers and men who ensured victory against overwhelming odds. A victory that more or less signalled the end of India’s international isolation following our nuclear tests, and turned the Jammu and Kashmir issue on its head, as the inviolability of the Line of Control is now the mantra in international discourse on Jammu and Kashmir. Not a mean achievement, in as much as, it had, together with the Indian Armed Forces’ similarly outstanding response to the Tsunami disaster, also led to India’s military capability having forged a niche for itself in global and regional security calculations.

Therefore, for all the self congratulatory postures adopted and plaudits claimed by sections of the political leadership and the diplomatic community, for India’s emerging stature on the global stage, the abiding truth is that recent international recognition and acknowledgement of India’s potential as an emerging regional power is firstly, the outcome of the victory in Kargil achieved by the Indian military, coupled with the Tsunami response,  and secondly, the country’s economic growth propelled by our enterprising and determined entrepreneurs who stride the national and international stage.

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It is therefore only appropriate that, on the anniversary of the Kargil War we “SALUTE” our gallant soldiers, sailors and airmen, and more particularly those who made the supreme sacrifice for the Nation. It may also be appropriate on the occasion to remind our political leadership, the civilian bureaucracy, our diplomatic community, our colleagues in the corporate world, the ubiquitous media, and the public at large, that India’s growth potential as a power of some significance, is contingent on its capacity to ensure its territorial integrity and the security of its people and assets. Hence maintenance of a credible military capability is imperative. Such a capability cannot be built on procurement of weapons and equipment alone. It has to be anchored on human resources - the apolitical Indian Armed Forces - that need to be respected and well cared for in times of peace. Peace ensured by the professionalism and credibility of a military that can effectively take on adversaries who no doubt wish to do everything possible to retard India’s growth and emergence in the regional and global arena. Peace sustained by political and diplomatic processes that do not squander away the fruits of military victory achieved at great human and material costs; as we did in 1948 by going to the United Nations when outright military victory in Jammu and Kashmir was within reach; and again at Shimla in 1972.

And here, let me go back in time before returning to Kargil, by taking a brief objective look. In the operations in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-48, notwithstanding all the gallant actions by our troops, what we achieved was to push back the raiders, and the Pakistani Army that supported them. But finally, on 1st January 1949 when the Cease-Fire became effective, a little less than half of the State remained in Pakistani possession; and remains so even today. Can we in all honesty, call that a ‘victory’?

Soldiers of the Indian Army depicted after capturing a hill from Pakistani forces during the Kargil War. Courtesy: Wikipedia

1962 does not merit mention except to make the point that, contrary to what is often put out in the public domain, it was no trauma to guys of my generation. Because many of us are personally aware that, despite questionable political leadership at the time, and in some cases, the senior military leadership, and being so poorly equipped, notwithstanding the odd aberration, our colleagues and the men under their command fought well, and gave the Chinese a bloody nose. Reiterated subsequently at Nathu La in 1967 and at Sumdorung Chu in 1987. The 1965 operations, in which I took part in the Sialkot Sector, was also somewhat of a stalemate. Because, notwithstanding great achievements like securing Hajipir, and closing in on Lahore and Sialkot, we ultimately were back to Square One after Tashkent.

In so far as Kargil is concerned, permit me to repeat that the performance of our young officers and men was absolutely outstanding in terms of recapturing the heights that the Pakistanis had encroached upon. No other Army in the world would have undertaken what our young officers and men did. I state this with some conviction because, as the Head of the UN forces in the former Yugoslavia, I had the privilege of having military personnel from about 34 countries of the world under my command. I did my staff college course in Australia in 1968 when that country’s forces were deployed in Vietnam with the Americans and others. I was a member of a Training Team in Iraq in the mid 1970s and Military Adviser in London in the latter half of the 1980s. I am therefore reasonably better aware of capabilities across the world than many of my contemporaries in the Indian Armed Forces.

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Even so, notwithstanding the fantastic efforts of our young colleagues, in actual fact what we achieved was to recapture what we had held before the first week of May 1999. I say this with some feeling because I do sincerely hope that our young colleagues in uniform, sitting today in war rooms at various levels evolving future strategies and drawing up operational plans, as also working on organisational re-structuring, equipping parameters for the future, and so on, are doing so within a realistic perspective of what exactly our past operations were about. Without being swayed by all the chest-thumping, bluster and rhetoric that appear in the public domain. In that effort the current senior military leadership who were the mainstay of the achievements in Kargil (and the ones to follow) will do well to recall what they were put through. And ensure that at the training courses in various institutions, and in exercises, studies and analyses carried out formation level, every effort is made to develop tactical concepts, operational art philosophies and strategic doctrines so that when the next round comes, no matter who the adversary, we give our young officers and men a better “playing field” than they were given during Kargil.

Kargil War Memorial, courtesy: Force Magazine

Let us be quite clear. The 1971 operations in the Eastern theatre have been the only real VICTORY our Armed Forces have achieved since Independence. In the Western theatre, it was a well executed replay of 1965. But in the Eastern theatre: a new country was born; all Pakistani forces surrendered unconditionally; and about 93,000 prisoners of war were in our custody. That these prisoners were repatriated without securing a permanent solution to the stand-off with Pakistan, is another matter altogether.

It is unlikely that in the foreseeable future, we will secure such a victory again. However, in the evolution of operational strategies, and proposed execution of operational plans, it is imperative that we factor in capacities that enable us to pre-empt our potential adversaries if we can, and/or respond to an aggression in such a manner as to make him/them recoil, and seek termination of hostilities on our terms. My plea to our colleagues in uniform is - do not put our youngsters through another Kargil like situation. By more effective use of political, diplomatic and military options, make sure that, unlike in Kargil, they are given at least an even chance in their efforts at dealing with the adversary.

A recipient of the Padma Bhushan Lt Gen Nambiar served as the first Force Commander & Head of Mission of UNPROFOR. He served as the Director of the USI & is a life member of the IDSA

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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