India commemorates Vijay Diwas (Victory Day) every 26th July to honour the remarkable victory achieved by the Indian Army in the Kargil Heights against arch-rival Pakistan in ’99. However, this year’s ‘Kargil Vijay Diwas’ is marked by the absence of a significant figure who conspired to lead two nuclear powers into a ‘limited war’ in the peaceful Kargil-Drass-Batalik sectors of Ladakh.
Pervez Musharraf, the former Chief of Pakistan Army and the mastermind behind the Kargil misadventure, passed away in a Dubai Hospital on 5th February after a prolonged exile from his home country.
The Kargil War is recorded in military history as one of the fiercest and toughest high altitude warfare. As we remember the bravery of Indian soldiers who triumphed in the Kargil conflict, we also reflect on Musharraf’s role in plotting the intrusion and the enduring impact of the war on both nations.
The Challenging Terrain and Sacrifices of Kargil War
The Kargil war, fought in one of the coldest inhabited places on earth, witnessed temperature plummeting to as low as minus (-) 55 degrees. Dras, known as the “Second Coldest Place on Earth,” is home to the Kargil war memorial, commemorating over 500 young officers and soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice for their motherland. This military history records the Kargil War as one of the fiercest and most challenging high altitude warfare battles.
The Kargil conflict focused on capturing the NH-1A (now NH-44), which connects Srinagar to Leh, and spans about 14,000 sq kms of the Kargil area, including Kargil town, Dras, Batalik, Mushkoh Valley, and Tiger Hills. Pakistan’s intent was to ‘isolate’ Siachen Glacier from mainland India, as Leh serves as a gateway to reach Siachen via the Khardungla Pass, one of the world’s highest mountain passes.
The intriguing story unfolds around Musharraf’s appointment as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) by Pakistan’s then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, several months before the Kargil War. Post the Kargil debacle, Sharif acknowledged the blunder of choosing Musharraf as COAS, bypassing two senior military commanders.
During the 1980s, as a Brigadier of the Pakistan Army’s Special Service Group (SSG), Musharraf led multiple unsuccessful attempts to regain Siachen Glacier from India. The SSG, considered an elite force, had even formed Border Action Teams (BAT) with terrorists for beheading Indian soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC) before the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement in Feb ’21.
In 1984, India launched ‘Operation Meghdoot’ after detecting large procurement of Arctic clothes by the Pakistan Army. The operation aimed to capture Siachen Glacier, a highly strategic location. Despite repeated attempts by Pakistan’s elite SSG unit under Brigadier Musharraf, Siachen remained under Indian Army control.
The Capture of Quaid Post and ‘Operation Badr’
In 1987, Indian Army captured the highest post of Siachen, Quaid Post (21000 ft), and renamed it ‘Bana Post’ after Honorary Captain Bana Singh, who received the Param Vir Chakra for his bravery. Musharraf’s ambition to regain Siachen led to the planning of ‘Operation Badr,’ attempting to cut off Indian supplies and reinforcements through NH-1A to recapture the glacier.
The Kargil Conflict and Operation Vijay
Under Operation Badr, Pakistani soldiers infiltrated Indian territory. Local herders alerted Indian Army formations about their presence. From May to July 26, Indian soldiers, aided by Bofors battery and IAF, recaptured all border outposts, marking ‘Operation Vijay’ and ‘Operation Safed Sagar.’ It was India’s first televised war, evoking patriotic fervour and highlighting the sacrifice of Indian soldiers.
Aftermath and Musharraf’s Role
The stunning defeat in Kargil led to tensions between Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf’s coup d’état ousted Sharif, making him the military dictator. He remained in power until 2007 when democratic elections were held, and he faced legal repercussions in Pakistan. Musharraf passed away in Dubai in February.
India’s Increased Surveillance
In the past 24 years, India has enhanced surveillance capabilities, reducing the room for similar misadventures. Kargil Vijay Diwas continues to be celebrated annually, commemorating the victory over Pakistan. This year, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, along with military leaders and war veterans, visited Dras to pay homage to fallen heroes. It also serves as a stern message to adversaries against any future misadventures. The upcoming year 2014 marks the silver jubilee of this remarkable victory.
As India celebrates Kargil Vijay Diwas, it remembers the sacrifices made by brave soldiers while reflecting on the absence of the man who orchestrated the Kargil misadventure. The historical significance of the Kargil War and the strategic importance of the region continue to shape India’s military.
-The writer is a senior defence journalist and War-author. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda