Table of Contents
A WORSENING WAR
Indian troops make considerable progress in Kargil, but it seems improbable
that the war will end even after the intruders are pushed off the hills.
Karim to Afzal: "Their Army has reached very near us. We need more men.
Our water and ammunition is also running low."
Afzal to Karim: "Remember Allah's name."
Karim to Afzal: "I'll worry about Allah later! Right now I need
- excerpts from intercepts of conversations between Pakistan-based commander
Afzal and field commander Karim in the Kargil area.
FOR two nights, the sound of Pakistan artillery shells exploding around Kargil
died down. The impromptu ceasefire was, perhaps, intended to signal Pakistan's
pacific intentions to the massed ranks of the Indian and foreign media brought
in on an Army-organised tour on June 22. Hours after the journalists left
Kargil, the first shells landed on the abandoned village of Baroo, which
Pakistan's military evidently believes to be the headquarters of the 121
Brigade in Kargil. Through the night and the next day, the fire continued
with metronome precision. And as if to make up for lost time, Kargil's main
bazaar was shelled on June 25, the first deliberate targeting of its civilian
But if it at first seems that little has changed in Kargil, India's battle
to evict Pakistani irregulars and troops from the area is gathering momentum.
The capture of the sprawling Tololing heights ahead of Drass marks the first
major Indian victory in the Kargil war. Thirteen Pakistani troops were killed
when the men of the Rajputana Regiment stormed their way up the 4,590-metre
lower summit of Tololing, and a further nine were killed when the highest
5,140-m feature was finally cleared. The operations followed more than five
weeks of sustained Indian artillery fire on Tololing, a bombardment that
minimised casualties on the near-impossible summit assault. Above all, the
assault made clear to the poorly acclimatised and sometimes demoralised troops
that war in the high Himalayas could be won.
Although Tololing has been captured, the battle in the Drass area is far
from over. Initial air and ground surveillance had suggested that upwards
of a hundred Pakistani troops and irregulars were deployed in the area. No
one is entirely certain just how many of these were killed during the battle
for Tololing, since several combatants' bodies are believed to have been
dragged back to Pakistani positions. There is a disturbing possibility, however,
that at least some of the Tololing survivors have regrouped east of the area
for a fresh attack on the national highway. On June 19, Indian troops moving
up the Churkyat Shung nullah (drain) from the Thasgam roadhead came under
heavy fire from a Pakistan-held position on a 5,025-m peak east of the Tololing
Similar battles have been erupting west of the Tololing feature, where Indian
troops are battling to regain control of the Sando nullah which offers access
to the crucial forward position on the Line of Control, the 5,353-m Marpo-La
Pass. Control of Marpo-La would help cut off access to the Mushkoh Valley
to the west of Kargil. Informed sources told Frontline that Indian
troops had so far made significant progress in attacking Pakistan-held positions
on the 5,062-m peak from where Indian troops moving down the Sando nullah
had been pinned down. Having captured 5,062-m peak, soldiers would then have
to begin the final assault on Marpo-La, which air reconnaissance suggests
has been heavily fortified by Pakistan.
soldiers fire a 155-mm artillery gun in the Batalik sector.
There is little hard information so far on the progress of Indian military
operations in the Mushkoh Valley itself. Securing the valley is a crucial
requirement to cut off the possible movement of Pakistani irregulars into
Kashmir and Doda. The valley opens Sonamarg, from where mountain passes offer
access to Kishtwar and Doda through Pahalgam, and empties through the Talel
Valley and the Kabol gully into Gurez at its western end. As long as Pakistani
irregulars and troops are not evicted from the Mushkoh Valley, army strategists
will have to contend with the nightmare scenario of Indian positions in Gurez
being sandwiched by a fresh Pakistani thrust from the west. Troops of the
79 Brigade, responsible for operations west of the Tingel nullah above Holliyal,
have been operating with intense air support, but the precise number of positions
they are engaging is unknown.
Batalik, west of Kargil, has seen the most bitter fighting in the region
so far. The area is, broadly, dissected by three major nullahs draining south
from the Line of Control (LoC). The furthest to the west of these is the
Gurgudu, heading north from Batalik town towards one of Pakistan's largest
positions on the LoC, Shangruti. A minor drain, the Urdas Langpa, separates
Gurgudu from the Garkhun nullah. To the east of Garkhun is the third of the
Batalik mountain streams, the Yaldor nullah. This nullah heads north from
Dah to the village to which it owes its name, and on to Pakistan-held Muntho
Dalo at 5,065 m. Muntho Dalo has functioned as the headquarters of Pakistan's
Batalik operations, the hub from which troops and supplies are moved forward.
Muntho Dalo came under a massive air attack on June 24, and Indian Air Force
officials claim much of the centre was obliterated. The attack should aid
Indian troops moving up the Yaldor nullah, the area of Batalik in which progress
has so far been the most rapid. Ahead of Yaldor village, troops will have
to vacate Pakistan positions on the 4,821-m Kukerthang and the 5,103-m Tharu
before reaching the LoC ahead of Muntho Dalo. Given that Pakistan now holds
the high-altitude positions that Indian troops vacated last winter, the push
up the Yaldor nullah will involve great courage. On June 10, troops of the
12 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry and the Desert Scorpions paracommando
unit which took a Pakistan-held position found themselves sandwiched by
reinforcements sent down the mountains.
Progress up the Garkhun nullah has been even more difficult. Soldiers moving
up to the villages of Kha Baroro and Baroro face fire from at least three
major Pakistan-held positions on the Jubbar hills rising west of the nullah,
on peaks 4,827 m, 4,938 m and 4,280 m high. In addition, Pakistan's positions
at Kukerthang and Tharu can direct fire east and ambush patrols down the
Garkhun nullah. Finally, Indian soldiers attacking Pakistan-held positions
down the Gurgudu and Garkhun nullahs can be observed by the Shangruti post,
enabling precise artillery and mortar fire. Army officials say they had at
first planned to push down the Gurgudu and Garkhun nullahs simultaneously,
before meeting below a 4,927-m peak to cut off Pakistani supply routes.
Alternative operational plans are now being considered for these areas.
shells at Thesgam village in Batalik sector on June 27.
Interestingly, villagers at Garkhun claim that they were among the first
to detect Pakistani irregulars and troops in the area. In late April, villagers
told Frontline, shepherds from Garkhun and Yaldor saw men dressed
in Pathan outfits on the Kukerthang heights. Most of Yaldor's seven families
spend their winters in Garkhun, moving up with their livestock as the snows
melt. "Nobody actually saw anybody with guns," one villager says, "but we
did run into people with binoculars. They would wave at us to move away."
Garkhun residents claim to have told Army officials on May 3 of the intrusion,
but say that the patrol sent to investigate only moved up the nullah without
searching the heights.
KAKSAR, east of Kargil, has again seen some progress in the face of crippling
odds. The 5,299-m peak along the LoC, below which Lt. Saurabh Kalia is believed
to have been ambushed and then brutally murdered along with his six-member
patrol, is now the scene of bitter battle. Informed sources told
Frontline that soldiers on peak 5,299 are now engaged in virtual
hand-to-hand combat. The Indian Army's efforts to push towards its forward
position at Bajrang Post are met with heavy fire from Pakistan's LoC forward
picket on peak 5,108 m, and from pickets occupied this summer on the 5,284-m
Progress down the nullah in efforts to evict Pakistan's positions in Kaksar
has, however, been relatively slow. In the absence of a clear ridgeline route
as an alternative to a push through the nullah, which is vulnerable to ambush,
at least some military officials have been arguing for an attack from behind
the Pakistan side of the LoC. Such movement, officials argue, would be the
most effective means to evict Pakistani irregulars and troops from the Kaksar
area, without imposing unacceptable losses of Indian soldiers' lives. The
last reported casualties from Kaksar came on June 21, when three soldiers
of the 4 Jat Regiment were killed in Pakistani artillery fire. Pakistan also
appears to be reinforcing its positions in the area, suggesting that further
Indian forward movement may be relatively slow.
ELSEWHERE in the Kargil sector, Pakistan's efforts to evict Indian positions
that were held through the winter have been unsuccessful. The stretch north
from the Border Security Force's (BSF) Chhannigund headquarters to the LoC
has remained secure, albeit under heavy artillery fire. Positions above the
Kirkit Chu nullah, held through the winter, appear to have deterred Pakistani
irregulars and troops from attempting an incursion into this sector. It now
appears clear that the Army's failure to review its policy of vacating
high-altitude positions last year opened a window of opportunity for Pakistan.
High-altitude positions held by the BSF at Chorbat-La, now reinforced by
troops from the crack high-altitude Ladakh Scouts, have contained efforts
by Pakistan to push troops down the Mian Langpa gully.
Minister George Fernandes with the three Service chiefs, (from left) Chief
of the Naval Staff Sushil Kumar, Chief of the Army Staff V.P. Malik and Chief
of the Air Force Staff A.Y. Tipnis, at the all-party meeting convened on
Critically, the pressure of the Indian offensive in most sectors is clearly
beginning to tell on Pakistan's irregulars and troops. The near-total radio
silence observed in the first phase of the Pakistani offensive has given
way to often hysterical missives. Indian intelligence operatives active in
Skardu, Pakistan's rear headquarters for the Kargil area, report that the
local hospital is overflowing with injured irregulars and soldiers. While
it is difficult to verify such reports, given the lack of independent media
access to the region in Pakistan, most analysts concur that its army and
irregular combatants have suffered upwards of 300 fatalities in the Kargil
war. As reinforcements would increasingly have to engage with Indian troops
on recaptured heights, this figure is certain to rise sharply in the weeks
Pakistan, however, seems determined to continue with its efforts to push
reinforcements into the Turtok area through the Mian Langpa. Indian combat
jets and artillery have been attacking new Pakistani positions that appeared
near the LoC around the peak at 5,270 m.
The new Pakistani positions appeared in the same area where the bodies of
Captain Hanif-ud-Din and two soldiers, ambushed in the course of an area
patrol a fortnight ago, still lie.
Pakistan has been attempting a secondary thrust up a stream draining south
from the LoC into Mian Lungpa gully, the Karu Bar. The stream offers access
to the Indian side of the LoC near one of the most spectacular heights of
the entire Kargil area, the 6,040-m Dolmibarak peak.
COURTESY: PAKISTAN TODAY
prepares to fire at an Indian position near the Line of Control.
JUST what shape the Kargil war will take from this stage, however, remains
unclear. A sound but conservative strategy of pushing up the mountains slowly,
building up strong positions at each stage, would suggest that the complete
destruction of Pakistan-occupied positions would take upwards of eight to
12 weeks. Whether the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government would
be willing to go into a general election with Pakistan continuing to hold
territory on the Indian side of the LoC is unclear. There is also growing
pressure from Army and Air Force officials for limited strategic action against
positions on the Pakistan side of the LoC in order to minimise Indian casualties
in the push up the mountains. The possible outcomes and consequences of such
actions are unclear.
With Pakistan's political establishment being under the firm control of the
military and the religious right, the prospect of a negotiated end to its
offensive in Kargil seems unlikely. Pakistan's artillery offensive along
the entire length of the LoC, and the international border in Jammu, indicate
that its military establishment is determined to escalate the conflict further.
It seems improbable that this war will end even after Pakistani irregulars
and troops are pushed off the mountain heights.