By Col Alok Mathur, SM (Retd)
On July 26, 1999, 22years ago, the guns fell silent after 83 days of intense fighting in the Ladakh and Karakoram ranges of the Himalayas. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, admiring the valour and determination of Indian Armed Forces, declared the successful conclusion of Operation Vijay (Kargil War), as the Line of Control (LoC) had been restored.
The Kargil War was the fifth round of conflict between India and Pakistan since the partition of India on August 14, 1947. By drawing the Radcliffe line in western and eastern India, while lowering the Union Jack and declaring Pakistan a separate nation out of India in 1947, the British ensured that the Indian subcontinent remained a conflict zone forever. The first round started in October 1947 when Razakars in massive strength, supported and headed by Pakistani military officers in rogue convoy, advanced on the Muzaffarabad, Baramulla and Srinagar axis and carried out an orgy of violence, rape, loot and murder of LoCals. The war lasted a full year and as the Indian forces were in the process of gradually recovering lost territories, Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru rushed to the UN in panic and a ceasefire was announced. The Ceasefire Line was drawn under UN observers and India lost 78,114 sq km of territory to newly-created Pakistan, although Srinagar was saved. The new term of ‘Pak-Occupied Kashmir’ (P0K) was coined.
The second round was initiated by Pakistan in September 1965 when Lal Bahadur Shastri was the PM. India was in a winning position as its troops had almost reached Lahore. India accepted the USSR-mediated ceasefire and had to return almost 1,920 sq km of territory, including the strategic Haji Pir Pass at the Tashkent summit. Lal Bahadur Shastri died in Tashkent under mysterious circumstances. The third round was a knockout blow to Pakistan in the 1971 war. A new nation Bangladesh was born and East Pakistan ceased to exist and 90,000 Pak troops surrendered. The fourth round was fought in Siachen, the highest battlefield of the world in 1985, called Operation Meghdoot. The masterstroke was occupation of the Quaid-e-Azam Post and dominance of the Saltoro Ridge.
The fifth round – Kargil War – was conceived in 1987 and executed in 1999 by Pakistani Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf in revenge for the Siachen debacle during which he was a Major and had witnessed the massacre of his SSG Company. The peace process was initiated in Feb 1999 by Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and positively responded by Pak PM Nawaz Sharif. Vajpayee had travelled by the Sadbhavna Bus to Lahore on February 19, 1999, along with a civil delegation, including Dev Anand, Satish Gujral, Javed Akhtar, Kuldeep Nayar, Kapil Dev and Shatrughan Sinha. General Pervez Musharraf did not attend the important function as his troops were in the process of intrusion in the Kargil heights, defying orders of his own PM, as the Indian brigade defending the Kargil-Drass sector had gone into winter mode in December 1998, vacating the avalanche-prone, snow-bound dominating heights.
Operation Koh Paima, also called Op Badr, the brainchild of General Pervez Musharraf, was already underway when the Lahore Declaration was being signed between the two prime ministers on Feb 21, 1999. “Koh Paima” was a warfare strategy of Napoleon Bonaparte, who adopted it in many wars to infiltrate secretly and rapidly from narrow points and spread fast in the rear of frontline enemy troops. The top secret plan was known to Lt Gen Aziz Khan, Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmed (10 Corps commander) and Major Gen Javed Hasan who was the Northern Area force commander (Division level force comprising four brigades). The force had 10 Northern Light Infantry battalions (NLI) composed of Baltistan mountain tribes, Sindh and Azad Kashmir battalions and the Special Service Group (Commando force). The invading force divided into three Task Forces, was inducted into Mushkoh-Dras sub-sector (6 NLI, 12 NLI and 3 companies of Special Service Group commandos under Task Force 1) TF1, Kaksar sub-sector (4, 13 NLI and affiliated troops TF2) and Batalik/Yaldor sub-sector including Chorbat La (3, 5 and 8 NLI formed TF3) on Ladakh/Karakoram ranges. These task forces were air maintained initially and later well stocked and had logistics bases at Marpo La and Sanguti. All Pakistani troops were in traditional Salwar-kameez civil dress acting as Mujahideen/ terrorists. Surprisingly, these Pak troops remained in inclement weather, dizzy heights, deadly blizzards, deep inside the LOC, undetected for three months until a few Bakharwal shepherds informed Indian commanders in late April about the presence of unknown troops above Kargil and Dras towns.
Kargil District is today part of Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh. The Kargil heights, located in the Ladakh ranges, were a part of Jammu Kashmir state in 1999, and were the responsibility of the Srinagar Corps HQ, which was under the jurisdiction of the Northern Command of the Indian Army. The National Highway-1 (NH 1) connecting Srinagar to Leh passes through Sonamarg, Baltal, Zojila Pass, Ghumri, Dras, Kargil, Lochum Bridge on the Indus, at Nimmu in this zone. NH-1 is the lifeline for Leh garrison and for logistics support of troops deployed in Eastern Ladakh. Dras and Kargil Heights overlook the NH-1 and if occupied by enemy observation posts, can monitor the movement of convoys and disrupt them with accurate enemy artillery shelling.
The fog of uncertainty was cleared by the first week of May 1999. General Krishan Pal, the corps commander gave his final assessment to Army Commander Lt General HM Khanna that it was not a militant intrusion but regular troops consisting of Division minus of Pak Army with artillery support occupying Ladakh range from Mushkoh-Dras to Yaldor in three pockets. No doubt it was an intelligence failure but as the situation was clear, two divisions were inducted in the war zone. It was the fastest-ever mobilisation. During the initial reconnaissance stage, three patrols of 3 Punjab were sent at Bunji to confirm enemy presence. A patrol led by Capt Saurabh Kalia near Bajrang Post was taken prisoner of war on May 3 and later killed brutally on June 9.
The response of Indian troops was ferocious. 8 Sikh recaptured Point 4256 and Point 4440 and 16 Grenadiers captured Point 4480 by 12 May 1999. Army chief General VP Malik reached Kargil on May 18 and boosted the morale of Indian troops involved in the battle. The government sanctioned the use of Indian Air Force on May 26. Operation Safed Sagar was launched by IAF with 7 combat squadrons and one helicopter sqn. Two fighters and one modified Mi 17 gunship were lost to enemy fire. Later, the Mirage 2000 ruled the sky and inflicted heavy destruction of enemy assets. Five regiments of 155mm Bofors guns reached the war zone and played merry hell on the entrenched enemy troops. On June 13, the 56 Brigade captured Tololing and Point 4590. Area Point 4760, Black Rock and 3 Pimples were captured on June 29. The Tiger Hill battle was won on July 4, breaking the spine of the Pak army.
Pak PM Nawaz Sharif rushed to America to request the US President to speak to the Indian PM for an immediate ceasefire. The same day, Mushkoh and Dras area was recaptured and cleared. From July 12 to July 18, the withdrawal of Pak troops was permitted. Zulu spur was taken by 192 Brigade on July 24. The Western Ladakh range was cleared and the sanctity of the LoC was restored. On July 26, 1999, PM Vajpayee declared that Operation Vijay was over and India had achieved its objective by recapturing the entire territory. The cost of Victory was high. 22 gallant officers, 21 JCOs and 452 brave soldiers made the supreme sacrifice. Pakistan also suffered heavy casualties and lost almost 1,200 soldiers. The fifth round, Kargil War, was over. The Himalayas witnessed silently how yet another assault on India was repulsed by gallant Indian soldiers.
There are many sung and unsung war heroes of the 1999 Kargil War. We salute all those who fought but could return home. Below are some of the unforgettable valour stories:
Captain Vikram Batra (13 JAK) Param Vir Chakra (Posthumous)
Known as Sher Shah in Kargil War, Captain Vikram Batra was commissioned into 13 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles on December 6, 1997. The officer was born at Palampur in Himachal Pradesh on Sep 9, 1974. His father Girdhari Lal was a principal in the local government school and mother Kamal Kanta was also a teacher. He joined the Indian Military Academy (Manekshaw battalion) in June 1996 as a Gentleman cadet and passed out after 18 months of tough training as Lieutenant (Lt). On June 5, 1999, 13 JAK Rifles got orders to move to the Dras sector in Western Ladakh for Operation Vijay, the Kargil War.
The Pakistani troops had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in winters and were firmly entrenched on mountain tops of the Ladakh Range and causing heavy casualties on Indian forward troops and raining heavy artillery fire on the Srinagar-Leh National Highway-1. The Battalion was tasked to regain Point 5140. He volunteered to lead the attack on Point 5140, which was heavily defended by a platoon assisted by Medium Machine guns (MMGs), Rocket Launchers (RLs) and Mortars. The commanding officer Lt Col YK Joshi (now Northern Army Commander) asked for a success signal, Sher Shah selected ‘Dil Mange More’. His team captured the feature 5140 on July 6, 1999 after a fierce battle and with some casualties. After reorganising his troops he gave the success signal. Meanwhile, there was heavy fire coming from a neighbouring height, Point 4875. The CO ordered immediate action as it was another dominant peak on the LoC and had to be captured. Another company was detailed for the task but Vikram volunteered again. The CO told him that he must be tired after the ops on 5140 and advised him to cool down. Vikram Batra finally convinced the CO to go again. He led the assault on the target Peak 4875. They cleared 3 sangars (enemy fortifications) but during the fourth sangar assault his buddy got badly injured. He pulled him behind a boulder safely and continued the assault. Once exposed, he was badly hit by a volley of Light Machine Gun. He crawled to the bunker profusely bleeding and lobbed a grenade. The last sangar was silenced and the advancing troops captured Point 4875. The Indian Tricolour was placed on top. The LoC had been restored in the Dras sector. Col Joshi renamed Point 5140 as “Batra Top”. Capt Vikram Batra was called the Hero of Kargil War and was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously for conspicuous bravery, gallant action, resolute leadership, firm determination in the face of enemy and supreme sacrifice.
Manoj Pandey (1/11 GR) Param Vir Chakra (Posthumous)
During his Service Selection Board interview, when Manoj Pandey was asked by the Presiding Officer why he wanted to join the Army, he replied firmly, “to win the Param Vir Chakra”, and true to his words he won the PVC in the Kargil War, but posthumously, in the best traditions of the Armed forces. Lt Manoj Pandey was born at Village Rudha, Sitapur district in Uttar Pradesh, on June 25, 1975 in a middle-class family. His father was Gopi Chand Pandey and mother’s name was Mohini Pandey, a simple house wife. He joined the National Defence Academy and later passed out from IMA. He was commissioned into the 1/11 Gorkha Rifles in 1998.
The 1/11 GR was ordered to move to Western Ladakh in May 2021 and was deployed in the Yaldor Sector. The enemy was firmly entrenched in Khalubar Hills and Jubar Top and was inflicting heavy casualties on climbing troops. Manoj Pandey was in the leading assault team. There were only a few boulders for taking cover. No movement could take place in the day time. So the assault was launched after midnight under cover of darkness. Lt Manoj bravely approached the sangar along with his team and killed enemy soldiers with his sharp khukri. They cleared a few flanking sangars also and captured Khalubar Hill. Now, while heading for Jubar Top, his column was day-lighted and faced heavy volley from a Jubar Top post. He sustained multiple bullet wounds, but continued firing and motivating the assaulting troops. The Gorkhas beheaded the rest of the enemy troops. The battle was over. Khalubar and Jubar were captured but Lt Manoj Pandey had made the supreme sacrifice for the integrity of his motherland. The brave never die. For the gallant action, unparallelled bravery to capture Khalubar Hill and restoration of area up to LoC, Lt Manoj Pandey was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest gallantry award.
Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav (18 Gren) Param Vir Chakra
Gren Yogender Singh Yadav said in an interview with Doordarshan News, “A soldier has a selfless devotion to the motherland and his regiment and for the integrity of nation and safety of his fellow soldiers one does not hesitate to risk his life.” You cannot miss these live heroes at the forefront of the Republic Day Parade on January 26. Gren Yogender Singh was born in Sikandrabad, in Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh on May 10, 1980. His proud father Karan Singh Yadav is a farmer and mother is Santara Devi. He was just 19 years old when he was bestowed with the highest gallantry award.
The 18 Grenadiers moved to the Kargil-Drass sector in early June 1999. Heavy firing by the enemy sitting on heights was in progress. Pak artillery was taking a heavy toll of convoys on National Highway-1 directed by Ops on Tololing Ridge. The unit was tasked to capture Tololing Top on Jun 10, 1999. The height of the feature was 16,800 feet, with near zero temperature even in summer. The assault was launched on June 12 and the unit suffered heavy casualty of 2 officers, 2 JCOs and 21 Troops and 30 were severely injured.
Gren Yogender Yadav was leading scout of Commando Platoon. The commandos took the rear cliff approach. They climbed with the help of slithering rope. He lobbed the grenade from behind and killed all in the bunker. While neutralising the second sangar, he was hit by several bullets, he continued crawling to the last active post. Commando platoon was by now reduced to half. There were dead and injured all over. In the last sangar, he killed 4 Pakistani soldiers with another grenade. The enemy’s Tololing bastion was destroyed and it sounded the first victory for the lndian forces. The LoC was reached in Tololing area. Gren Yogender Singh Yadav was evacuated by Air to Army Hospital, Delhi. He was almost dead but survived. For Conspicuous gallantry in face of enemy, steel determination, and important role in capture of Tololing Top, he was awarded with PVC. He is currently serving in the Indian Army in the rank of Honorary Lieutenant.
Rifleman Sanjay Kumar (13 JAK Rif) Param Vir Chakra
He was enrolled into the 13 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles in 1996. He was born in March 1976 in Kaloi Bakain village in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh. His father was Durga Ram and mother Bhag Devi used to fondly call him Sanju. He was determined to join the army since school days and was a good long-distance runner.
The battalion under Col YK Joshi had moved to Ghumri and later to the Mushkoh sub-sector in the Dras area. The forward companies had captured Point 5140 led by Capt Vikram Batra, but Point 4875 was still occupied and taking a heavy toll of Indian troops. On July 5, 1999, as the initial assault had stalled at 4 am, the depth companies were launched. Area Flat Top was interfering with heavy automatic fire from Universal Machine Gun (UMGs) and grenade launchers. Rifleman Sanjay Kumar and his buddy were the leading scouts. The first sangar opened up with heavy fire. The assaulting column was pinned down. Sanjay told his buddy to give covering fire and charged at the post. He was hit in the shoulder and fell down but continued crawling and entered the sangar from rear and killed the enemy in close combat. The fire continued from depth locality. The company commander advised him to be evacuated as he was bleeding from gunshot wounds. Rifleman Sanjay rushed to the next sangar, which surprised the enemy. They abandoned the Depth UMG post. By now, Sanjay has finished his ammunition. He picked up the abandoned enemy machine gun and shot dead the fleeing four NLI soldiers. Area Flat Top was captured and this helped in the capture of Point 4875. For displaying devotion to duty, conspicuous courage and gallant action in the face of enemy, Rifleman Sanjay Kumar, now Subedar, was honoured by the President with the Param Vir Chakra.
The following heroes received Maha Vir Chakras, the second highest gallantry award during the Kargil operations. Major Rajesh Adhikari (P) 18 Gren, Tololing Ops, Lt Balwan Singh (18 Gren) Tiger Hill Ops, Capt Anuj Nayyar (P) 17 JAT, Pimple complex Mushkoh, Major Vivek Gupta (P) Tololing, Major P Acharya (P) Knoll, Capt N Kenguruze (P) Knoll, Naik Digendra Kumar, Tololing (All four awardees from 2 Rajputana Rifles), Sepoy Imli Akum Ao, 2 Naga, Mushkoh Point 4875. Lt KC Nogrung (P) 12 JAK Light Infantry, Point 4812, Yaldor Sector. Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja of IAF of Golden Arrow Sqn was awarded the Veer Chakra posthumously.
Ten infantry battalions were also awarded Battle Honour and Special Citations from the Chief of Army Staff and were given the title of the ‘Bravest of the Brave’ – namely 8 Sikh, 18 Grenadiers, 17 Jat, 18 Garhwal, 2 Rajputana Rifles, 13 Jammu and Kashmir Rifle, 1/11 Gorkha Rifles, 2 Naga, 1 Bihar, 12 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles. There are many unsung soldiers who made the supreme sacrifices or were severely wounded for the safety and integrity of the nation. The whole country stood united above religion, caste or creed, and beyond party lines, in paying tributes to them. We salute our War Heroes, especially those who did not come back.
-The writer is an Indian Army veteran and a defence analyst. He has keen interest in Geo-strategic affairs and writes regularly on internal and external affairs issues related to India and neighbours. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda