The Kargil conflict

Print edition : November 10, 2001

A Ridge Too Far: War in the Kargil Heights by Amarinder Singh, 1999; Moti Bagh Palace, Patiala; pages 256, price not stated.

THE dirtiest trick the Vajpayee government played on the valiant officers and soldiers who died at Kargil was to make political capital out of their supreme sacrifice. Kargil would never have happened but for the negligence of this government, the incompetence of George Fernandes and the failure of our intelligence services. While Vajpayee was embracing Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, Pakistani troops had planted themselves in bunkers in Kargil. Jaswant Singh had described the Lahore Summit as a "defining moment in Indo-Pakistan relations". Three months later, we had the Kargil war.

Indira Gandhi signed the Simla Agreement in 1972. There was peace between India and Pakistan for 27 years. While stretching her hand of friendship, she did not lower her guard. Vajpayee did.

This thoroughly researched, well-documented book by a former soldier-turned-politician is a detailed and graphic account of the Kargil war and the valour of the 10 battalions that fought at Kargil in near-impossible conditions and brought victory to India.

The former Chief of the Army Staff, General V.P. Malik, in his Foreword says that we were caught by surprise and that "due to inadequate intelligence and poor surveillance at the local level, it took time for the initial fog of war to clear." Amarinder Singh has this to say of the lapses:

The Vajpayee government... was blissfully ignorant of the fact that Pakistan had begun its intrusion of the Kargil sector in the previous autumn. The Pakistani operation had, therefore, already been under way for no less than six months - a source of embarrassment that required covering up after the first realisation of what was afoot was revealed on 03 May 1999.

This absorbing and timely book is divided into four parts. Part One gives an overview of the history of conflict with Pakistan. Part Two describes the exceptionally hostile terrain on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) and the way our soldiers adapted themselves to the terrain and climate and came out victorious. Part Three describes how the Army took time to ensure an adequate build-up before conducting offensive operations and the actual conduct of battle. The final part records the heroic battles fought by the 10 battalions.

We all remember Tiger Hill. The author writes: "No praise is high enough for the stoic way in which the soldiers bore the stress and discomfort of life on the mountainsides. That 8 Sikh should have maintained a siege of three sides on Tiger Hill from 21 May to 03 July, and then fought so gallantly when the time came for that formidable feature to be assaulted must surely be one of the highlights of their proud record." Young jawans and officers unafraid of death died standing on their feet or attacking the enemy running. They defied ice, wind, rough terrain and mountain. A particular hazard was high altitude pulmonary oedema. Normally three months are needed for acclimatisation. No three months were available for them at Kargil. Yet our valiant men fought and won.

Amarinder Singh, thanks to Gen. V.P. Malik, was given every facility by the Army for writing this book. He visited the war theatre, met officers and men who had fought and families of those who had died defending India's sovereignty. He gives exact details of Indian and Pakistani casualties. He gives a life sketch of General Pervez Musharraf, who is the real culprit - he masterminded the Kargil misadventure. The Pakistani General made a major misjudgment. Pakistan thought that its possession of nuclear weapons would deter India from making any large-scale counter-moves across the LoC. Neither country can use nuclear weapons, unless a mad mullah takes over the government of Pakistan.

The biggest lapse was intelligence failure. The author quotes from the report of the Kargil Review Committee:

The Review Committee has before it overwhelming evidence that the armed intrusion into the Kargil Sector came as a complete and total surprise to the Indian Government, the Army and the J&K Government and its agencies.

Not a happy state of affairs at all. The alarming thing is that we do not know if the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee will be implemented. A White Paper on Security promised by the Home Minister (if I remember correctly) is yet to see the light of day. A thorough revamping and re-organisation of our intelligence set-up is required. All that the Central Bureau of Investigation can do is to implicate falsely Madhavrao Scindia, Balram Jakhar, N.D. Tiwari, Arjun Singh, P. Shiv Shankar, Motilal Vora, Natwar Singh and L.P. Sahi in the hawala case. It should be doing serious intelligence work and not appoint unsuitable persons to head these organisations of vital national importance.

This book deserves to be read, both by our military establishment and our ever-alert mediapersons and all officers of the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service. This book has kept up the high standard set by the author in his earlier book, Lest We Forget.

A letter from the Editor


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