10:58 pm - Thursday March 22, 2018

OPERATION VIJAY 1999 : India remembers Kargil Vijay Divas

Tributes to the Heroes of Kargil victory. It is being celebrated at Dras (Kargil) on 25 &26 July as a big event. Col J P Singh recounts this historic event.

Kargil heights are associated with one of the most treacherous episodes of military history of independent India. They evoke painful memories of deep and traumatic national tragedy. In the military terms ‘Op Vijay’ was a small tactical battle with 2 to 3 Divisions involved on both sides. Why remember this small conflict after 15 years? Because we are seeing similar dangers looming large in the Northwest horizon in a manner that it is cause of serious national concern. Our problem since long has been sheer incompetence and ineptitude of political and military leadership particularly of that time and their assessment that this would not happen. Hence a word of caution to the current leadership to be vigilant and watchful.

Mountains have traditionally been a heaven for people seeking peace and spiritual solace. No where does this hold more true than the Himalayas. How ironical that it is here that a treacherous war was fought by India and Pakistan in 1999 for some mysterious gains, still unknown, except for butchering each other. It was in Kargil that armies of both sides fought over the rugged mountains. It is here that we recapitulated that a nation without heroes is a nation without future. For a nation which had patronised Bollywood Actors and Cricket Players as inspirational icons, Kargil brought us a surfeit of real heroes, unwavering leaders and unflinching followers of insurmountable resolve.

On 3rd May1999, a shepherd of border area reported to a nearest unit that Pakistani soldiers were seen in bunkers on our side of the LOC. To verify it, a reconnaissance patrol led by Capt Saurabh Kalia, was dispatched. On 5th May, they were ambushed. They were brutally tortured to death against all norms of Geneva Convention. Their mutilated bodies were returned. This front page news shocked the nation. This otherwise an act of border skirmish turned into a full-fledged war due to Pak treachery. An unfriendly and treacherous neighbour forced a 4th War on a peace loving neighbour in 1999 which came to be known as ‘Op Vijay’. ‘The good won over the evil’. It happened soon after Indian Premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee had travelled to Lahore by bus in February 1999 to sign ‘Lahore Declaration’ to promote peace. This ‘big peace initiative’ was clear indication of India’s willingness to resolve simmering issues. Follow up Kargil war was ‘a big betrayal’. It was repeat of 1947 and 1965 wars with raiders surreptitiously sent across the LOC. They occupied dominating heights which had been vacated by the Indian troops during winters. It necessitated large mobilisation of Indian Army from outside J&K. Indian Air Force also got involved in this operation in a big way.


Kargil is a District town 205 kms away from Srinagar. During winters temperature often drops there down to – 50 degree C. NH 1D connects Srinagar to Leh. It cuts across Kargil. 180 Kms stretch along the Highway, from Dras to Batalik, was occupied by Pak intruders. The posts on these ridges were between 16000 to 18000 ft which used to be held during the summers and vacated during winters. The reason why Kargil was chosen was its vulnerability to pre-empt seizure. Hence Pak elite SSG and Seven Northern Light Infantry Battalions backed by Kashmiri insurgents and Afghan mercenaries occupied the vacated heights. They were sure of cutting off Leh from Srinagar and altering the LOC. But two Divisions of Indian Army backed by 10,000 paramilitary forces, 250 Arty Guns and 3,600 civilian porters foiled their designs.


High peaks with strongly fortified defences gave the intruders an advantage of a fortress. They also heavily mined their positions. Any assault on such impregnable posts would require a far greater ratio of troops. ‘Mountains eat troops’ is taught in mountain warfare. For the carriage of ammunition, rations, defence / war like stores and preparing defences after recapture, additional troops were required. This task was earlier done by ‘Pioneer Coys’. They were disbanded after 1971 war. Hence 6 ‘Porter Coys’ of 600 each were raised post haste. Rising to the occasion, K P Singh, a social activist exhorted youths, formed teams of volunteers and by end June got 3000 volunteers enrolled as fighting porters. This youth brigade was named ‘Tanda Tiger Force’ since enrolled in Tanda Military Cantonment.


Army’s first priority was to recapture dominating posts closer to NH1D. Hence Tololing and Tiger Hill were captured first. Their capture, tilted the combat in India’s favour. Army mounted direct frontal attacks on many posts as high as 18000 ft. As per military tactics, frontal attacks are better avoided. Army could have gone behind, cut off Pak lines of communication, blocked supply routes and virtually created a siege. Such manoeuvres would have involved crossing the LOC which would have led to expansion of theatre of war and reduced international support for its cause.


Army launched its final assaults in the last weeks of July after Dras sector was cleared of Pak intruders. Fighting came to an end on 26 July 1999 and Army declared the war won. The day has since been marked as ‘Kargil Vijay Divas’. 527 brave Officers and Men laid down their lives. 1,363 were disabled / wounded. Grateful nation acknowledges their sacrifices. 8 civilian Porters of ‘Tanda Tiger Force’ were also martyred besides 150 wounded in shelling. Kargil War Memorial has been built at Dras at the base of Tololing. Every year a grand function is held at the memorial on 25 & 26 July to commemorate Indian Victory over Pakistan. Pak casualties were 700. 8 POWs were repatriated on 13 August 1999. By crossing the LOC and occupying Kargil heights, Pak wrecked the bilateral peace process for which it got a stringent rap from international community. US President appreciated India for not escalating the conflict.


Media played a remarkable role in telecasting Kargil War live from the battle zone in a style reminiscent to the coverage of Gulf War by CNN. This conflict became first ‘live war’ in South Asia. Besides getting valuable diplomatic support for its restraint, it evoked tremendous nationalism among young boys and girls due to remarkable impact of mass media on the public psyche. Craze for joining armed forces suddenly surged.


Importance of Kargil victory will go unjustified if the heroic deeds and sacrifices of thousands of Indian soldiers are not recounted. But the space constraint inhibits such narrations. Hindi Film ‘LOC Kargil’ recounted entire Kargil conflict. Abhishek Bachan portrayed Capt Vikram Batra of ‘Dil Mange More Fame’ and other veteran actors portrayed other warriors. When Gen. V P Malik, met Sh. G L Batra, he said, “had your son returned from Kargil, he would be sitting in my chair after 20 years”. Other distinguished heroes of the war are Capt Anuj kumar Pandey, Rfn Sanjay Kumar, Gdr Yogendra Singh, Capt Anuj Nayyar, Maj R S Adhikari, Maj Sarvanan, and Sqn Ldr Ajay Ahuja besides hundreds more. Nation will never forget them who gave their today for our tomorrow.


Contrary to the popular belief that a soldier is a war monger, a soldier has the greatest stakes in peace. More than anyone else, he is the one who suffers the ravages of war. He sustains the deepest of the wounds. He is called upon to make greatest sacrifices. If he survives, he lives horrid scars, artificial limbs and memories of his comrades. The parents who lose their sons, the wives who lose their husbands and the children who lose their father live in a trauma and never fully recover to lead a happy normal life. Can we, if we don’t pay them tributes on ‘Vijay Divas’. For the cost of it, wise leadership should win the wars diplomatically, least militarily.

Having heard gory tales of Skardu, Gilgit and Chitral battles from forefathers, the survivors of those wars, and being in HQ Northern Command, it was but natural for me to take keen interest in this conflict so that I could narrate the stories of war realistically whenever an opportunity arose.

 Source: News Bharati


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