Chronology of key events:
1983: Mar-Apr – Pakistani Generals decide to stake their claim to the Siachen glacier – an unmarked, strategically important territory claimed by both countries post the Simla Accord, by posting troops to the region. The Pakistan Army order Arctic weather gear from a London supplier, unaware that the supplier provided outfits to the Indian Army; upon receiving intelligence inputs of that development, the Indian Army puts forward their own plan the preempt the Pakistanis in ‘Operation Medghdut’.
Apr 13 1984- Operation Meghdut is a success: 300 Indian soldiers capture the 3 major passes of the Siachen Glacier and all commanding heights west of the Glacier on Saltorro Ridge, preempting the Pakistanis by an estimated 4 days.
1984- DGMO Pakistan ostensibly prepares draft military plan to capture territory in strategically important Kargil on the Indian side of the L-O-C, which is exhibited to ruling Pakistani dictator Zia ul Haq, with the aim of retaliation and removal of Indian assets on the Siachen glacier and to use occupied territory as bargaining chips in future negotiations on territorial demarcation as also to achieve favorable outcomes in resolutions involving the state of Kashmir. Upon pondering possible consequences, including full-scale war, Zia ul Haq denies permission and repudiates the plan, which is consigned to the shelf.
A lengthy period of alternating peace-low intensity conflict with proxy agents in Kashmir follows.
1999 In an atmosphere of Aman, or peace, under reigning, democratically-elected conservative Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, The “Gang of Four”: Gen. Musharraf, Chief of Gen Staff Gen. Aziz, 10 Corps Commander Gen. Mahmood and Force Commander Norther Infantry Brig. Javaid conspire in utmost secrecy to launch the previously relegated plan, with significant amendments: to derail the ongoing détente, perceived as militarily sub-optimal; and to take advantage of a reported vacancy in Indian positions along the L-O-C in a crippling “first-srtike”, with a view to ultimately achieving the initial objectives of the plan. Key among the changes to the plan were: a parallel ignition of the Kashmir insurgency, in slow-burn at that point, to dissuade the Indians from moving troops from Kashmir into the theatre in retaliation; and the threat of nuclear response if escalation was envisaged in India crossing the border.
Unbeknownst to the civilian establishment and to most others in the military establishment, members of the Northern Artillery, released for vacations and dressed as Pakhtun “mujaheddin” are diverted from the PoK areas of Gilgit and Sckardu to the Kargil sub-sector in a secretive operation known only to the Gang of Four and to two other members of Military Intelligence. The immediate objective of the first contingent of approximately 200-300 troops was the capture and occupation of “10 – 20″ forward Indian posts.
By Mar 1999, the first contingent of Pakistani troops arrives at the forward Indian posts, only to discover more Indian posts well inside Indian territory are unoccupied. In all, 140-plus posts, encompassing approx. 130-200sq.km. desolate and unattended, are quickly occupied by Pakistani troops and reinforcements in a spate of two months. The Indian side appears oblivious to the issue, with no apparent response and no primary intelligence tracking of the foreign troop movement. Pakistani troops dig deep and entrench themselves.
May 1999, Indian intelligence receives inputs from local shepherds, who confirm a foreign armed presence in the area. The inscience of the source and the paucity of others means intelligence cannot confirm whether these are mujaheddin or a foreign hostile military presence. Intelligence efforts are redoubled, a patrol team led by Capt. Saurabh Kalia is ambushed in the Kaksar region by combatants perched on the mountaintops. Interception of communications reveal combatants speaking in non-native languages. Subsequent skirmishes in different regions confirm diversity of tactics employed and this, in tandem with communications intelligence, leads to the conclusion that the ingress was conducted by regular troops with possible non-regular assistance. In the interim, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is made aware by a confidante at an ISI-Government briefing, despite military attempts at opacity, of the scale and scope of the Pakistani Army operation. Indian news media level their first charge, despite official Indian equivocation and obscurantism, against the Pakistani Army on May 29, 1999. Charge officially denied by Pakistani high Command.
Indian Govt mobilizes 30,000 troops under Operation Vijay and the Air Force under Operation Safed Sagar in a full-scale reprisal to the incursion. The Indian Navy is mobilized to blockade Pakistani ports. Pakistani troops acting as irregulars receive reinforcement of heavy artillery, anti aircraft guns and unmanned aerial vehicles. Priority NH 1D is secured by the recapture of Point 4590 (nearest peak) and Point 5353 (highest feature) overlooking the key arterial road, with heavy casualties suffered from Pakistani troops reigning down artillery shells from adjacent mountain tops. The successful re-capture of highway control, which enables heavy logistical flow, provides key impetus to the Army advance on other posts that is galvanized significantly by the successful outcome at Tololing. IAF Mig 21′s and and Mig 27′s strafe enemy positions further along the L-O-C. Bofors FH-77B howitzers play a pivotal role, bombarding enemy entrenched positions through the night when full-frontal assaults were launched on posts out-of-visible range.
Early-mid July 1999- Pakistani retaliation continues to be constrained by official non-recognition of Pakistani troops as aggressors. Despite this, successful deliveries of heavy artillery, drones and mortar are made to Pakistani combatants by virtue of more numerous and more suitable access routes and terrain on the Pakistani side. Indian agents receive intercepted telephonic conversations, ostensibly from a perturbed China via the US, between Gen’s. Musharaff and Aziz of the “Gang of Four” taken at a China hotel. Fighting continues in the Kargil sector unabated with gradual retreat on the Pakistani side and incremental, but often sporadic, advances on the Indian side. By the end of the 4th week of fighting, an estimated 60% of captured territory is lost by the Pakistani side. Pakistani government bureaucrats estimate a roughly six-day fuel supply in the event of all-out war due to the Indian blockade. Mounting losses and the threat of full-scale war compel Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to seek U.S. arbitration. President Clinton refuses to intervene unless full withdrawal of Pakistani forces and guerrillas to beyond the line of control is achieved. During negotiations, senior Presidential intelligence aide, Bruce Reidel, reveal satellite imagery of Pakistani nuclear weapons movement for forward deployment.
Mid-Late July 1999- The threat of nuclear war forces the Indian Army to contain its advance on a retreating Pakistani Army to the forward regions. Diplomatic negotiations succeed at achieving a political solution to the impasse at the Washington Summit, with G8 nations, the European Union and ASEAN backing India and condemning the Pakistani atrocity.
Despite this, heavy casualties are inflicted on the Pakistani Army, without cover and in full retreat, which retreat was compromised by the standoff between a political establishment keen to achieve a political resolution and a military establishment unhappy at the outcome.
Full cease-fire was observed on 26th July, with the announcement of complete eviction of the Pakistani intruders.
Intelligence Triumph: Pakistani intelligence forays into Kargil in late 1998 and the discovery of vacant posts on the Indian side of the L-O-C were the first significant auspex that permitted Kargil to become tactically and operationally viable. Pakistani military intelligence was not only able to seize the initiative and dominate the intelligence landscape in the months preceding the conflict: through both human and electronic intelligence sources, it was also able to disguise and successfully conceal the nature, scope and scale of the Kargil plan from its civilian leaders. A shrewd deceptive measure and an obvious feather in the Pakistani intelligence cap was a recalibration of militant Islamist radio activity within P-o-K, so as to confuse Indian singals intelligence monitors and convince Indian intelligence that the incursion was only militant activity.
Tactical Triumph: In its expedition and execution, the Kargil operation was “tactically brilliant”. Pakistani reconnoitering of the area exposed hidden flaws in both India’s intelligence and military apparatus.
The initial forays were able to successfully capture and entrench themselves onto key peaks, including those overlooking the vital Srinagar-Kargil-Leh corridoor, from which they were able to successfully interdict troops and supplies until eventually displaced.
Efficient monitoring of routine Indian winter surveillance operations permitted Pakistani troops to move at times only when they could avoid these regular probing operations. Tactical surprise was achieved owing to reliance on inplace NLI formations, rather than moving in heavier troop contingents, that would have magnified the deployment signature. In addition, efficient use was made of the more capacious supply networks on the Pakistani side, despite sub-optimal constraints later on during the war, to deliver heavy-ammunition, artillery and anti-aircraft guns to Pakistani combatants east of the Saltoro ridge. Pakistani forces were able to maintain their geographical advantage on a number of important peaks, including Tiger Hills and Peaks 5100 and 4875 until well into the conflict, inflicting severe casualties on Indian troops.
Military Fail: The IAFbombing of Pakistani supply lines and depots, including at the NLI’s critical Muntho Dhalo base and the important Point 4388 overlooking Drass all but ended the Pakistani ability to sustain the conflict.
The Pakistani military response was mitigated by its failure/inability to recognize combating troops as its own. PAF jets, attempting to divert enemy air assets from the battlefield airspace, were successfully kept occupied by a reserve of IAF aircraft seconded to its Western Air Command from Central Air Command: through periodic sorties in the Drass sector in the vicinity of the L-o-C and consecutive lock-ons in its own airspace. Effective recce by the IAF regularly pre-empted Pakistani attempts at continuing operations from earlier targets, with the result that the Indian Army advance, particularly in the latter months of June, became steady and not halting.
Crucially, the Pakistani Army was not able to capture key posts occupied by the BSF: such as Chorbat La, which were still manned at the onset of the incursion, and which put a spanner in the works of the plan for disrupting reinforcement through Turtok. The outcome, achieved through a deft combination of both enemy diplomatic and military strategy, was yield of or withdrawal from all military posts, the abnegation of military objectives and mounting loss of men and materials during the retreat.
Strategic Fail: Pakistani strategy was ad hoc. The strategy envisaged the taking of as many possible posts in the area and immediate vicinity of incursion, with the strategy continually expanding as more posts were discovered vacant- with no plan for holding them against prolonged counter-assault. Militarily, the invasion of Kargil did not bargain on a disproportionate military reprisal by Indian forces. The non-recognition of Pakistani troops also placed severe limitations on the deployment of assets, prevented them from opening new fronts and necessitated a measure of imposed clandestineness on logistical operations even as The “Gang of Four” sought to achieve a strategic military reversal. With respect to Kashmir, the Kargil venture, in being ineffectual at retaining viable tradeable positions, failed to produce viable bargaining chips in the outcome. In addition, the insurgency in Kashmir, envisaged as a burgeoning diversion, was also successfully quelled by Indian paramilitary troops with significantly augmented intelligence. On the political front, the strategy of politically linking the incursion by claimed separatist militants to repressive Indian policies in Kashmir, had few takers even among traditional allies: Turkey, the OIC and China. Pakistani complicity in supporting militants in the Kashmiri region began to attract worldwide attention. The political-military distrust, as a result of the subversive concealment of the operation from the polity by military intelligence, also prevented any coherent strategy for either troop withdrawal or conflict resolution. Strategic objectives were compromised by the lack of prevised military objectives, military-political disagreement on objectives and by the delusory strategy with which these contrasting objectives were sought to be attained.
Outcome Fail: The Civilian Government and institutions were left in bitter disarray, and the civil-military trust deficit had widened. The ensuing suspicion prompted a bloodless coup d’état of the Civilian Government, under Nawaz Sharif, by the Gang of Four and the installation of Gen. Musharaff as Pakistan’s fourth Dictator. The Pakistani economy, already weakened by the war, took a turn for the worse amidst the threat of international isolation. Possible Chinese complicity in leaking telephonic conversations to the Government of India, Chinese non-intervention in either a primary military or supporting role and an official stance advocating disengagement as the only solution served to momentarily dampen Chinese-Pakistani ties and lend a new perspective to an hitherto assumed all-weather relationship.
The internationalization of the Kashmir issue, though acknowledged, took a turn that was not in Pakistan’s favor, coming as it did in the midst of a newly initiated peace process: Pakistan’s credibility was hit on the international stage, due to oft repeated statements of “nuclear war”, particularly during the latter half of the engagement and this, coupled with the perception of abetting militancy served to tarnish its reputation and establish one as a “reckless” agent provocateur.
Intelligence (Political/Military Action) Fail: Recent evidence from the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) has emerged to show that the Leh division of the Intelligence Bureau received field intelligence warning of a logistical build up on the Pakistani side of the L-O-C in the Olthingthang region adjacent to Kargil.
A second report pointed to the use of remotely-piloted photo-reconnaissance vehicles by Pakistani pilots in the airspace above the Srinagar-Leh highway. However, both intelligence reports were deemed to have not been specific enough or reliable enough to warrant serious consideration by bureaucrats and Military Intelligence officials who received them, who assumed that the intelligence pointed to Pakistani training and assistance of guerrillas in the ongoing Kashmir insurgency, rather than a full-blown incursion. In addition BSF interrogators in Dec. 1998 were able to pick up significant intelligence from a Hizb ul Mujahideen foot soldier, that pointed to a possible sabotage of the Bandipore-Gurez and Kangaan-Leh roads, in an attempt to isolate the Army’s Gurez division and prevent logistics from being moved into the Drass and Kargil sectors. While the information was ostensibly passed on to Military Intelligence, no further probe of the matter was taken and the report was not passed on to bureaucrats for action as it was deemed sourcewise unreliable. Had use of the Jaguars, as planned for reconnaissance missions, been institutionalized in the preceding year, the first movements of irregulars and troops across the L-O-C would almost certainly have been detected. In addition, Army Chief Gen. Malik’s repeated calls to the Government to upgrade signals intelligence capabilities were singularly greeted by Defence Ministry disinterest. The R&AW, which also separately warned of a possible large-scale Pakistani incursion, was revealed to have erroneously assumed a jihadist manifestation of the motive. Despite being validated as high-priority, by senior divisional intelligence officials, the inadvertentness of the nature of information and its simultaneous insubstantiveness meant that it was not taken seriously by politicians, bureaucrats or Army officials.
Tactical-Logistical Fail: The RAND study on the Kargil War claims that the state of Indian logistical preparedness made for a less expeditious response to the incursion. The lack of viable alternative supply routes to NH1 hindered the Indian advance, at least initially until the victories at Tololing and Marpo La. India’s logistical unpreparedness was also attributed, on more that one occasion, for leaving troops without adequate food supplies, clothing and ammunition. The Indian Armed Forces were also tactically limited by strategic compulsions: of not targeting assets across the L-O-C in a bid to de-escalate the conflict and prevent international fallout. The battle for Kaksar illustrates this: three attempts at retaking the strategically important Bajrang and 5299 Posts were repulsed by Pakistani troops, with officials then repeatedly petitioning Delhi for a limited retaliatory incursion across the L-O-C in the sector, to achieve a disruption of supply lines and eventual attrition of Pakistani forces. These were categorically dismissed by New Delhi as being beyond the scope of the conflict, internationally provocative and geopolitico-strategically sub-optimal. Eventually the capture of these peaks, through the incessant shelling of the Mushkoh valley, was realized through an evacuation of Pakistani troops. Tactically, although hampered by initial logistical inadequacies, the Indian Army subsequently, as claimed, modified offensive tactics and exploited NLI errors. A major revamp of logistical preparedness was deemed necessary after the Kargil War.
Military Triumph: The effective asymmetric use of IAF airpower was pivotal in shaping the war’s successful course and outcome for India. Apart from crucial air-strikes at Muntho Dhalo, Drass and Tiger hills, which critically debilitated Pakistani supply routes and had them on the run, continuous bombing of enemy ground positions considerably softened them up for the 15 Corps. Coordinated, concerted attacks later on in the campaign boosted the morale of beleaguered ground troops, taking heavy casualties from entrenched Pakistani positions and facilitated the early recapture of several outposts.
Casualty evacuation, airlift and reconnaissance missions were considerably augmented by the presence of the Western Command of the IAF, facilitating early and effective advance and denying the enemy the opportunity to regroup. By July 26, Indian forces through a heroic counteroffensive had reclaimed a majority of their seized outposts above Kargil and driven Pakistani troops back across the L-o-C, with all remaining Pakistani forces subsequently vacating the still-occupied positions under the weight of diplomatic pressure. In the end, by its official afteraction count, the Indian Army suffered 471 troops killed in action and 1,060 soldiers wounded during the Kargil fighting. For their part, the occupying Pakistani forces were said by Indian sources to have lost more than 700 troops killed in action with around a thousand more wounded, although much disagreement and uncertainty still surround the latter figures.
Strategic (Political Action) Triumph: Through a well-organized diplomatic and media strategy, India managed to secure a non-qualified condemnation of the incursion by most major world powers and international blocs: including the G8, the European Union and the ASEAN. Where appeals to sentiment or moral outrage failed, forceful persuasion or coercive diplomacy was used through the implicit threat of all-out war to secure international corroboration and assistance. Through U.S arbitration, Indian diplomacy managed to secure the unconditional withdrawal of all Pakistani troops from positions east of the L-O-C. India’s position on Kashmir gained legitimacy, as it was generally viewed to have been the defender of a territory under attack from a belligerent, unprovoked aggressor.
On the diplomatic front, Indo-US relations improved significantly, as India ramped up multi-sector cooperation on a range of issues- including on the combating of terrorism and military-military relations.
Outcome Triumph: The Indian motive for engagement in the war, under nuclear-overhang, was the re-capture of Pakistani-occupied outposts on the Indian side of the L-O-C. With the exception of Point 5353, all outposts were re-captured or ceded by retreating Pakistani forces. India’s major diplomatic and international political offensive bore fruit, with India coming to be viewed as a responsible power on the world stage in the years since. In its report into its causes in the aftermath of the War, the Kargil War Committee and the Indian media severely censure the Intelligence failings, which prompted sweeping changes and a recalibration of strategy. The successful joint-functioning of the Army and Air Force in the attainment of mission objectives was demonstrated; and Kargil was later viewed as emblematic of Inter-Services cooperation. Being viewed as largely successful by most quarter, the war and its outcome strengthened civil-military relations while also highlighting the need for greater accountability among members of the Armed Forces, Bureaucracy and Intelligence. The public mandate for the Government was fortified, the Indian stock market rose 30% on the back of buoyancy and optimism and Defence expenditure was considerably increased in the subsequent budget. India’s alliances with traditional military partners was strengthened: expediting the infusion of new technology and methods; a concerted program for the indigenization of which were also launched. The War also underscored the need for logistical consolidation and heavy investment (including on all-weather tunnels that completely bypass the NH1) came to be made in border roads construction since.
Politically, sub-conventional strategies like Kargil are strategically sub-optimal in achieving dispute redressal, particularly against powers willing to engage in full-scale military conflict. These strategies are sub-optimal both in terms of conflict resolution itself and in terms of multidimensional afterwar outcomes: political, economic, strategic, perceptive and geo-political.
A stable, democratically-elected government is less likely to adopt sub-conventional strategies of warfare and is more likely to achieve quick de-escalation of tensions if they do occur.
India’s intelligence failings, particularly with respect to corroboration and authentication of primary intelligence, were crucial to the scale and scope of the sub-conventional conflict as it occurred.
Despite the intelligence failure, the Indian military was demonstrated to have been capable enough of dealing with the sub-conventional threat, even when limited by surprise.
Even more importantly, and as a precursor to the conflict, in the autumn of 1998, Pakistani shelling along the L-o-C escalated to levels hitherto unknown since the 1971 war. Kargil town itself was devastated, and 17 civilians lost their lives. In a desperate effort to ensure the conflict did not escalate to the point where it would sabotage nascent efforts for a rapprochement with Pakistan, Army Chief Ge. V.P. Malik is believed to have been instructed by the civil apparatus to ensure his troops did not retaliate to Pakistan-fire with heavy calibre guns. Pakistan Army Analyst’s in all probability, drew the obvious inference. If India was both unwilling and unable after Pokhran II to risk an escalation along the LoC despite deliberate and escalating provocation, larger enterprises could now be considered by Pakistan’s military establishment.
A rapid, disproportionate response- and not atrophying or attrition- to a military provocation is crucial to pre-empting sub conventional crises.
Sub-conventional military plans, involving plausible deniability, are not self-sustaining in the era of internationalized conflict.
International political perception, as shaped by cogent and assiduous diplomatic and media strategies, is crucial to achieving favourable long-run political outcomes.