Kargil intrusions : Pakistan getting desperate

Jun 1, 1999

If the Pakistan Army and the ISI have carried out these elaborate intrusions without the prior approval of their Prime Minister, it is apparent that the Army continues to call the shots in Pakistan and negotiating with the elected leadership of that country will be futile and perhaps even counter-productive. The Pakistan Army and the ISI found it hard to accept that the Indian Army could conduct a successful counterinsurgency campaign using minimum force and showing an unprecedented tolerance In the face of mounting casualties.

By sending heavily armed foreign mercenaries and army soldiers in civilian clothes across the Line of Control (LoC) into Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to physically occupy territory on the Indian side, Pakistan has added a new dimension to its ten year old “Proxy War” against India. Pakistan’s provocative action has compelled India to launch a measured but restrained military operation to clear the intruders, including air strikes from fighter-ground attack (FGA) aircraft and attack helicopters. However, it is important for the government to keep all channels of communication open and negotiate at the diplomatic and political levels with Pakistan to ensure that the Kargil conflict remains localised and Pakistan’s military adventurism in Kargil is not allowed to escalate into a larger conflict.

The overall military cost of dislodging the well-entrenched intruders from the precipitous mountain ranges will undoubtedly be high. In three weeks of fighting up to end-May 1999, two Indian Air Force FGA aircraft and one MI-17 helicopter had been lost to shoulder fired Stinger missiles (supplied by the CIA to Pakistan for distribution to the Afghan mujahideen, but furtively kept aside by the Pakistanis). The Indian Army has also suffered heavy casualties with 24 personnel dead, 131 wounded and 12 missing, including three officers. In the same time frame, approximately 200 foreign mercenaries had also been killed. Further airstrikes and relentless artillery fire will take a still heavier toll.

What is the underlying cause behind the military mis-adventure? Clearly, the Pakistani military establishment was becoming increasingly frustrated with India’s success in containing the militancy in J&K to within manageable limits and the Kashmiri people’s open expression of their preference for returning to normal life. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government appeared to be inclined to accept India’s hand of friendship, in keeping with the mood of popular option within Pakistan, and was committed to open up trade, liberalise the visa regime and encourage people-to-people, cultural and sports contacts. Pakistan’s military establishment was concerned to see ten years If it’s concerted efforts in de-stabilising India through its proxy war In J&K amounting to nothing due to the peace overtures between the two countries (see box Futile Proxy War for details). In an act of desperation, the Pakistan Army and the inter services Intelligence (ISI) directorate apparently decided to launch an organised intrusion into unheld remote areas of the Kargil sector to once again ignite the Spark of militancy.

Even as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was shaking hands with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at Lahore in February 1999, feverish activity was apace in Batalik, Kaksar, Mushko Valley and Dras areas of Kargil district to ‘grab’ territory on the Indian side of the LoC. During the period up to end-April 1999, Pakistani regular troops and foreign mercenaries ‘intruded’ up to six to eight kilometres on the Indian side of the LoC and established themselves on the high mountain ridge lines at heights ranging between 15,000 to 18,000 feet. These ridge lines in inaccessible remote areas which are un-inhabited, are patrolled and kept under surveillance by Indian troops during the winter months. During winter months it is well nigh impossible to survive in these areas.

For over fifty years, since the Indian and Pakistani armies have been at eyeball-to-eyeball contact along almost the entire length of the LoC in J&K, there has never been any dispute in these areas. Hence, Pakistan’s present action in occupying them now is extremely provocative. The extent of preparation suggests that the operation has been meticulously planned and methodically executed over a long period. Bunkers have been built on the mountains. Roads and tracks have been extended from inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) to the ridge now occupied and field artillery guns have been moved up. Stocks of ammunition, rations and other supplies have been positioned. It is obvious that the intruders were preparing to gradually build up the newly occupied areas into strong defensible positions.
While the overall aim of Pakistan in engineering these intrusions under the facade of Kashmiri militancy is obviously to provide fresh impetus to the flagging Jehad and again attempt to internationalise the Kashmir issue, the military aims need to be considered more closely. In the Mushko Valley, Kaksar and Dras sectors the aim could be to establish a ‘firm base’ from which traffic on the Srinagar-Leh highway could be disrupted at several places by trained mercenaries within one days return march and to open up a new route for infiltration into the Kashmir Valley. In the Batalik area, which adjoins the Siachen glacier belt, the aim could be only to grab a chunk of real estate to use as a bargaining counter subsequently.

The intrusions in Kargil district have resulted in a qualitative upgrading of the proxy war of the last ten years and are reflective of the desperation of the Pakistan Army and the ISI. India’s response has once again been measured and appropriate. The launching of air Strikes is in keeping with the military requirement of achieving synergy in the employment of all available fire power resources to weaken and destroy the foreign mercenaries and regular Pakistani soldiers ingressing into the Indian side of the LoC in blatant disregard of the Shimla agreement of 1972 and in cynical violation of the spirit of the Lahore Declaration of 1999. In due course, the intruders will be physically cleared by the Indian Army and the status quo ante will be restored. However, the larger issues raised by this wanton act just short of actual aggression, need to be analysed and their long-term impact on the future of Indo-Pak relations needs to be assessed.

Either Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was informed of the impending action in Kargil district before he met Prime Minister Vajpayee and he approved of it, or it was a purely Pakistan Army-ISI operation and the civilian masters were kept in the dark. If Nawaz Sharif was informed and still paid lip service to better Indo-Pak relations during his summit meeting with the Indian Prime Minister, he is obviously a duplicitous person and is not to be trusted in future. If the Pakistan Army and the ISI have carried out these elaborate intrusions without the prior approval of their Prime Minister, it is apparent that the Army continues to call the shots in Pakistan and negotiating with the elected leadership of that country will be futile and perhaps even counter-productive.

India will need to be on guard against more such sinister operations being launched by the callous and vengeful military leadership of Pakistan with a hate-India mindset which has no qualms in sending hundreds of foreign mercenaries to their death in the pursuit of its nefarious goals. There’s a limit to India’s patience and tolerance and India may be forced to consider harder options if there is no let-up to the relentless proxy war being waged {rom across its western border.

Futile Proxy War

Since 1989, Pakistan has been waging a ‘Proxy War’ against India by aiding and abetting Kashmiri militants to rise against the Indian state. Pakistan officially accepts that it is providing diplomatic, political and moral support to the militants. However, it is now internationally accepted that the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (IST) are providing military training, weapons, military equipment, ammunition and explosives to the militants, besides financial support. The ISI spends approximately is 5 crores per month for its proxy war campaign. The Pakistan Army also actively supports the militants to infiltrate into -Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by engaging Indian posts with artillery and small arms fire and provides a large number of regular officers to lead the militants.

In the first few years of militancy in Kashmir Valley, up to 1992-93, the militants had received local sympathy due to perceived grievances against the Indian state. However, it was never a grassroots movement and the Kashmiri people were soon disillusioned by the brutal un-Islamic terror tactics of the militants whose leaderShip had passed into the hands of mercenary mujahideen who were inducted by Pakistan in large numbers to wage a so called Jehad. These mercenaries were from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Turkey and even Bosnia. They had anything but Jehad on their minds. They exploited the power of the Klashnikov to indulge in extortion, drinking orgies, womanising, forced weddings and rape. The systematic ethnic cleansing, carried out at the behest of the ISI, resulted in the forced migration of almost the entire Hindu population of the Kashmir Valley into the Jammu region and other parts of India. This was contrary to Kashmir’s sufi culture.

The activities of the mercenaries caused immense resentment among the people and gradually the recruitment base of Kashmiri militants dried up completely. Also, concerted counter-insurgency operations conducted by the Indian Army and the other security forces, based on the increasing availability of real time ‘actionable’ intelligence from the Kashmiri people, decimated the militants and brought the internal security situation under control in Kashmir Valley by 1995-96. Frustrated in their efforts to create a popular uprising in Kashmir, the Pakistan Army-ISI-Jaamat-e-Jslami combine then evolved a plan to spread the area of militancy to other parts of J&K and to the neighbouring states.

From the summer months of 1996, anew phase of state-sponsored terrorism from across India’s western border commenced in the Jammu Division of J&K. A Series of brutal massacres at Barshala, Parankot, Hinjan Gali. Surankot, Phagla, Chapnari, Horna, Kalaban, Chandi and Sailan, foreign mercenaries targeted the minority population with a view to de-stabilising the hitherto quiet areas of Doda, Poonch, Rajauri and Udhampur-south of the Pir Panjal range and to create an ethnic divide so as to trigger an exodus of the Hindu population from these areas too. However, this diabolical attempt to change the demographic pattern of J&K through terror tactics was quickly thwarted by the Indian Army and other security forces.

Till end-1998, 7742 militants had been killed by the Army and another 24,030 had been apprehended. These included 888 foreign mercenaries killed and 127 apprehended. Another 1,836 militants had surrendered. (These figures do not include the results achieved by the Border security Force (BSF), the Central Reserve Police (CRPF) and other central and state government security forces operating in J&K). Army casualties include 961 killed and 2,878 wounded. Pakistan sponsored terrorism has claimed the lives of 29,151 innocent civilians and rendered 2,78,601 persons homeless. The loss to public and private property has been estimated at Rs 2,000 crores.

Throughout this period, India showed tremendous restraint and immense tolerance in the face of grave provocation to is security. It is inconceivable that any other nation would have acted with the sense of responsibility that India has in not launching trans-Line of Control (LoC) operations to eliminate militant training camps and interdict routes of infiltration.

By mid-1998, the security forces were in complete control of the situation in J&K and the state was rapidly returning to normal. Tourism was flourishing, industrial activity was gaining momentum, schools and colleges were once again opening up, political activity was being gradually revived. And, the Pakistan Army and ISI were becoming increasingly frustrated. In a last ditch attempt to rekindle the almost dead embers of militancy, the ISI pushed in a large number of foreign mercenaries (equipped with sophisticated arms and explosives and led mostly by Pakistan Army regulars) into J&K during the winter months of 1998-99, a period that had generally been relatively much quieter during previous years. Most of these mercenaries were neutralised in a number of fierce encounters with security forces. Radio intercepts clearly revealed their handlers, increasing frustration at almost ten years of effort going inexorably wasted. The Pakistan Army and the ISI found it hard to accept that the Indian Army could conduct a successful counterinsurgency campaign using minimum force and showing an unprecedented tolerance In the face of mounting casualties. Clearly, the Pakistan Army and ISI planners were not willing to accept defeat and were bound to strike back In Whatever manner they could. That opportunity was provided by the poor snowfall during the winter months of 1998-99 and the early heatwave that melted the snows quickly in the Kargil district of Ladakh division of J&K.