Kargil War 1999

Origins of the Kargil Conflict:An Alternative View

As the military action in what is termed the Kargil crisis begins to wind down (at the time of writing), its origin, or at least the factors that led up to it begin to appear hazy and are worth looking at again. The Indian position has been that we were taken unawares by the intrusion in an area that was left unguarded through winter where there appeared to be a sort of "gentlemanly agreement" that there would be no occupation - a sort of tacit admission of naivete and gullibility.

The Pakistanis initially held the position that indigenous Kashmiri militants had been fighting, and that Pakistan and its army had little to do with the fighting, which was, after all, within Indian held Kashmir, and blamed India for needlessly escalating the conflict by bringing in the force of a division of men and the air force to combat a few hundred militants. It must be mentioned, that the Pakistani army did hold one press conference where they admitted that they held a few high positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC), but insisted that the fighting on the ground was with Kashmiri militants.

In contrast to this, the early Indian reports spoke of 400 to 600 "infiltrators" backed by Pakistan who had come across the LoC taking advantage of the early melting of snows to set up strong positions within the Indian side of the LoC, but reports gradually changed to reveal greater and greater involvement of Pakistani troops in the action, and material evidence of this was presented.

On the face of it, the Indian and Pakistani statements are mutually exclusive but it may be possible to "read between the lines" to try and infer how both sides of the story fit in with each other. Based on the reports published in the media so far, it is possible to build up a hypothetical scenario that would explain both the Indian and Pakistani statements.

In this scenario, Pakistani troops and irregulars have encroached onto the Indian side of the LoC over a period of several years, and have gradually increased their hold, taking advantage of the annual winter evacuation of the heights by Indian forces. Perhaps the initial intrusions were missed as they were small, but as they increased they were undoubtedly noticed. However, these intrusions and occupation of forbidding heights were not publicized and none of a series of governments in India had the resolve to either embark on military action to evict the intrusions. Admission of the presence of such an intrusion of course, was out of the question, and perhaps none of a succession of governments would have dared to admit that the Pakistani military had established a foothold in India.

Possibly encouraged by Pakistan’s nuclear tests in 1998, and perhaps by the appearance of instability of the government in India, the encroachment reached, by 1999, a level inwhich it posed a serious threat to Kashmir. The Indian government may have been aware of this in late 1998, but did not react possibly because of the approaching winter.

When summer arrived in 1999, the first batches of infiltrators started pouring in as usual, supported by accurate Pakistani artillery fire directed by their men occupying the heights. But on this occasion, the Indian Army, instead of merely targeting the infiltrators and stopping them as in previous years, may actually have surprised the Pakistanis by deciding to push them back from illegal positions they had held for years back to the LoC. The ferocious, premeditated reaction soon began to target the men holed up in the heights, supported by the Air Force and supplemented by a major diplomatic offensive.

Is there any evidence to support this scenario? The first question is whether the militants, encouraged by early melting of snows in the heights really came in the springtime and surprised the Indian armed forces. We have seen news reports of the militants having built many bunkers, some of them reportedly made of concrete, over a 120 Km stretch from Mashkoh to Batalik. We also now have an indirect idea of the number of bunkers - we know that at least a dozen peaks and ridge line features have been named, and some of them had at least 6 bunkers - and it is likely that the infiltrators had several dozen bunkers, many supply depots and routes over a 300-400 Sq Km area. Would it have been possible for the Pakistani forces to have built up this formidable defensive network in the few weeks after the snows melted in 1999, or even over the winter months of 1998 when some reports say that the intrusions actually began? This seems unlikely - and it is quite possible that these fortifications were built up over years. One report in the Times of India stated that the occupation of heights on the Indian side of the LoC started fifteen years ago - albeit only a few hundred metres inside Indian territory.

It is difficult to believe that such extensive intrusions were completely missed by the Indian Army or Intelligence services. It seems more likely that the gradual intrusions were ignored until it became too late to react without starting a major military conflagration, which might possibly have been a politically unpopular idea. But the crisis grew as the incursions increased and perhaps it was only in late 1998 and 1999 that effective plans were made to push the well entrenched Pakistani forces back to the LoC.

Perhaps the Kargil crisis is not one that was suddenly started by the surprise incursion of militants in the summer of 1999, but the culmination of a decade or more of dedicated Pakistani encroachment into India compounded by decades of neglect of small incursions by a series of weak and preoccupied Indian governments, and their inability to admit to the substantial presence of Pakistanis within Indian territory. At least one recent newspaper report has brought up the possibility of trying to convert the LOC into an international border, but other reports indicate that Indian governments have previously shot down such proposals. If Pakistani intruders had been sitting in Indian territory all these years, it is not difficult to understand why any Indian government would have been loathe to accept the LoC as a border.

15 July 1999

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