How Pakistani Planners Got Kargil Wrong

Ironically, the Kargil planners wanted Pakistan to be in a better bargaining position to negotiate on Siachen by capturing a chunk of Indian-held territory

How Pakistani Planners Got Kargil Wrong

During the last 76 years Pakistan has had a fair share of strategic trials and tribulations – some self-created and some thrust upon us. The first self-created conflict was ‘Operation Gibraltar’ of 1965 that resulted in the all-out war with India in September 1965. In a similar vein, it was the Kargil adventure called ‘Operation Koh Paima’ in July 1999 that did not result in an all-out war but achieved nothing and left the country bruised and politically isolated. The Kargil conflict like Operation Gibraltar was a strategic blunder, a tactical folly and a political disaster.  

The Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear armed hostile neighbours of South Asia, took place between May and July of 1999. It was the brainchild of a few military minds and it was supposed to cut off links between Kashmir and Ladakh by blocking National Highway no 1 (NH1) that would have forced the Indian forces to withdraw from the Siachen glacier and force India to come to the negotiating table and resolve the festering wound of the Kashmir dispute. This diabolical plan was initiated by a group of senior people in the army in 1999 with General Pervez Musharraf in the driving seat. The master minds of the plan were CGS Lt Gen Aziz Khan, Commander 10 Corps Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmed and Force Commander Northern Areas Maj Gen Javed Hassan. Just like Operation Gibraltar, this plan too was based on wrong assumption. The operation was launched in mid-October when the army chief had not formally approved the plan the elected Prime Minister was not privy to the project and even the air and naval chiefs were not taken into confidence. 

In the Kargil region it was the usual practice of both the Indian and Pakistani forces to leave high altitude posts in the winters because of the extreme weather and reoccupy them with the advent of spring. In the winter of 1999 Pakistan army along with their proxies reoccupied the forward positions and strategic heights of Kargil Drass and Batalik before the Indian forces could do so and this came as a rude shock to the Indian army but they soon got their act together and hurriedly deployed four divisions to take back the strategic posts on high ground and secure their main supply line in Kashmir and this operation to retake territory was called ‘Operation Vijay.’ The battle soon heated up with the Indian assault on the high peaks and the Pakistan army’s very effective response of artillery fire because they had the advantage of being dug in at all long on much higher peaks and from a higher position they had a clear view to target the Indian forces and block the Indian main supply route of the National Highway Number 1 (NH1) and inflict heavy casualties on the attacking Indian forces.

The initial objective of the Indian assault was to dislodge the Pakistan troops from the strategic heights and the area around the Tololing ridge and the focus on controlling the peaks overlooking NH1 and its stretches near the town of Kargil. These attacks proved ineffective so the Indians then inducted the Bofors guns. The assumptions of the planners of the Kargil folly were: 

1.)  Pakistan’s nuclear capability would forestall any major Indian move across the international border, 

2.)  The International community will intervene at an early stage, leaving Pakistan in possession of gains across the LOC; 

3.)  China would adopt a favourable position on its side and the Indian army would not muster adequate forces with high altitude training and acclimatization.

All assumptions proved wrong. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz got a cold shoulder in Beijing. Nobody accepted the Pakistan version that it was the Kashmiri freedom fighters engaging the Indian army, and that the Pakistani army was not involved. 

The Indians hit back with everything they had. Ironically, the Kargil planners wanted Pakistan to be in a better bargaining position to negotiate on Siachen by capturing a chunk of Indian-held territory, and to seek international support for Pakistan’s goal on the Kashmir issue. They planned to block the strategic National Highway 1A so that the Pakistan army could easily cut the rest of India from northern parts of Kashmir and disrupt supplies and reinforcements to Indian troops at Siachen. 

The plan to alter the status of the LOC was driven by a desire to give impetus to insurgency in the Kashmir Valley and other parts of the region. By planning an invasion across the Line of Control, General Musharraf and his colleagues dishonoured the Lahore summit between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan. The Pakistani army at first refused to accept the dead bodies of soldiers on the Indian side, and many of them were buried by the Indian army with full military honours and an Islamic burial. Over 500 brave Pakistanis lost their lives and many more suffered grievous injuries. 

Nawaz Sharif has always claimed that he was kept in the dark about the Kargil plan, but it appears that the truth was somewhat different. It seems that he was aware of the plans but did not realize the serious consequences. Sharif, with his limited knowledge of military affairs, did not know about the strength of the Indian army across the LOC. He was under the delusion that the intruders would be successful and capture Kargil forcing India to accept a the final settlement of Kashmir and he will go down in history as the conqueror of Kashmir. 

Pakistani soldiers and officers across the Line of Control in Indian territory fought extremely bravely and displayed extraordinary courage and tenacity. Many deeds of courage and valour were exhibited such as the courageous stand of captain Karnal Sher Khan who was awarded the Nishan-i-Haider posthumously but all those across the LOC were in fact nothing but cannon fodder cruelly sacrificed at Altar of Kargil by some senior officers. The Indians inducted their air force in the conflict and the Pakistani fighters fought on without air cover and even without food supplies or medical cover. 

By the end of June, it became clear that the operation was nothing but a failure, and now the Prime Minister was asked to step in to save the situation. US President Bill Clinton had already demanded an immediate withdrawal of Pakistani forces from the Indian side of the LOC. Nawaz Sharif flew to Washington along with a large entourage of his cabinet ministers and advisors, and the curtain on Operation Koh Paima finally came down. 

Operation Kargil was perhaps the biggest blunder since after the war in 1971.