Good battalions are known to have even launched counter-attacks to bring back custom of war, the Pakistan army refused to take back the bodies of four of its regular soldiers directly from the Indian Army during the Kargil conflict, and finally did so only under international pressure through the Red Cross. Shortly before the Kargil conflict, Pakistan army battalions from regiments like the Punjab, Baluch, Sindh and Frontier Force that had soldiers hailing from Pakistan heartland, were withdrawn from the LoC opposite Kargil district and were all replaced by NLI battalions.
One year ago, the Pakistan army quietly accepted the terms dictated by India’s Director-General of Military Operations at the Wagah border and withdrew from the heights that its regular troops had surreptitiously occupied a few months earlier in the Kargil sector of Jammu & Kashmir.
The withdrawal was seen as a military defeat in Pakistan and came as a shock to the general public. With its military misadventure across a well-defined LoC during the summer months of 1999, through the perennially snow-covered gaps that had never been physically occupied, the Pakistan Army led by General Pervez Musharraf had many dubious firsts to its credit. Its misdemeanours collectively earned for it the sobriquet “rogue army” in military and diplomatic circles across the world.
It became the first modern professional army to employ regular soldiers dressed in civilian clothes for a military operation, ostensibly to pass them off as Kashmiri mujahidden (freedom fighters). However, the army identity cards, pay books and letters from parents, wives and girl friends found by the Indian Army on the bodies of the dead and wounded, flashed on TV the world over, gave the game away.
During the World Wars, two warring sides often negotiated a temporary truce for recovery of the bodies of dead soldiers to be given befitting funerals. Good battalions are known to have even launched counter-attacks to bring back custom of war, the Pakistan army refused to take back the bodies of four of its regular soldiers directly from the Indian Army during the Kargil conflict, and finally did so only under international pressure through the Red Cross.
Perhaps the most chilling deed of the Pakistan General Staff was the perfidious employment of the hardy men of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) regiment as cannon fodder for the onslaught of the Indian infantry and artillery. Shortly before the Kargil conflict, Pakistan army battalions from regiments like the Punjab, Baluch, Sindh and Frontier Force that had soldiers hailing from Pakistan heartland, were withdrawn from the LoC opposite Kargil district and were all replaced by NLI battalions.
This was done to ensure that whatever casualties occurred during Operation Badr, Pakistan’s name for an operation that proved to be a strategic blunder, would be limited to the Gilgit and Baltistan areas from where the soldiers of NLI hail. This treachery was practised to ensure that no body-bags would arrive from the front in full glare of the media in the Punjabi heartland that comprises the ruling class in Pakistan and major Pakistani cities.
The woes of the people of the Gilgit Agency and Baltistan, which now comprised the Northern Areas and were part of J&K state at the time of partition, began on November 4, 1947, when a young British major commanding the Gigit Scouts, overstepped his authority and illegally declared the accession of the Northern Areas to Pakistan. Since then the people of the Northern Areas have been denied fundamental and political rights and governed with an iron hand. They live poverty stricken lives without basic entitlements. The Northern Areas has always resented the tyranny of the Pakistan government and there have been frequent riots and uprisings. In fact it was General Musharraf, then a brigadier commanding the Special Service Group (SSG) commandos, who had been handpicked to put down a Shia uprising in Gilgit in 1988. He did that by bringing in Wahabi Pashtun tribesmen from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). These tribesmen invaded Gilgit and went on an unchecked rampage, including lynching, loot and rape that left the area smouldering for years.
Pakistan’s nefarious designs in using the people of the Northern Areas as cannon fodder and then refusing to acknowledge the contribution of the NLI battalions to Operation Badr were viewed with the utmost consternation by the people. Of the 772 Pakistani soldiers and military personnel who laid down their lives for a militarily futile venture, the majority belonged to the NLI battalions. Of these over 220 were buried with military honours by the Indian Army because Pakistan had refused to take their bodies back. The people of the Northern Areas were extremely agitated by this and expressed their resentment when Mr Nawaz Sharif and Gen. Musharraf visited the region after the Pakistan army had withdrawn. Never before have so many soldiers laid down their lives unwept, unhonoured and unsung.
Fearing a backlash, the Pakistan army announced some gallantry awards and monetary incentives for the NLI soldiers. The NLI was made a regular regiment of the Pakistan army and the Northern Areas were declared a separate administrative unit with a status similar to that of POK. A legislative assembly and a high court have been promised.
However, the people of the Northern Areas are unlikely to be satisfied with these sops. Future generations will not allow a Pakistan army which practised such deviousness with their forefathers to get away with it. It was by all yardsticks, the Pakistan army’s darkest hour. It will never be able to live downlights completely unprofessional military conduct.