By now, many of us have seen the epic movie LOC-Kargil, or are seriously intending to do so. It is a great movie, but all the details and characters can become overwhelming to someone who is not familiar with the actual happenings of that undeclared war between India and Pakistan. This article is intended to serve as a brief primer for people who are interested in getting a concise description of the actual happenings depicted in the movie. Since the movie restricts itself to the actions of the Army, we shall do the same; however, it should not be forgotten that the war would not have been won without the contributions of the Indian Air Force in hammering the intruders' bunkers and logistics bases.
The Causes of the War
The cause for the war was simple: the Pakistani army had illegally intruded on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LOC) dividing the Indian territory of Ladakh from the Northern Areas of the state which are currently occupied by Pakistan. They had done so in direct contravention to the Shimla Pact signed between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan in 1971, and constituted a flagrant act of betrayal in light of the Lahore Accord signed just a couple of months before the intrusions were detected. The Pakistani plan was to intrude and cut off the link between Kashmir and Ladakh, and cause Indian forces to withdraw from Siachen and force India to negotiate a settlement of the broader Kashmir dispute. However, the Pakistanis seriously miscalculated Indian resolve, and ultimately had to retreat after loosing thousands of their soldiers and facing severe international condemnation of their actions.
The Events in the War
At the time of the intrusions, the LOC between Zoji La and Khardung La was thinly monitored by one Indian brigade (about 3000 troops). Clearly, this was a totally inadequate force to monitor such an extensive and rugged terrain, but the decision was based on past experience of a relatively quiet front in that region, and logistical constraints of maintaining men in the harsh terrain of the area. Some Ladakhi shepherds grazing their sheep in the higher reaches near Kargil first reported the intrusions. The intrusions were not taken very seriously, because the local army commanders thought that they were minor infiltrations by terrorists who routinely cross over into Kashmir to perpetrate their heinous acts. The Pakistanis, meanwhile, intruded about 4 to 6 battalions of their Northern Light Infantry into carefully selected areas. In keeping with their broader plans, the Pakistanis had chosen the areas of intrusion with consideration for their strategic value. These features directly overlooked National Highway 1-A, the principal highway connecting Srinagar with Leh,. This highway is one of only two highways connecting Ladakh with the rest of India, and by overlooking it; the Pakistanis were able to direct accurate and deadly artillery fire onto the National Highway and block all traffic plying on it. It is only this artillery firing that finally made the true gravity of the situation apparent.
The Indian Army reacted with consternation at this development. In an immense stroke of luck that directly affected the subsequent outcome of the war, the Border Roads Organization had cleared the Zoji La pass of snow much earlier than expected by anyone. This enabled rapid introduction of Indian troops and material into the theatre of war. The first reaction of the Indian army commanders was to send out patrols to locate intrusions and estimate their magnitude. As part of these efforts, two patrols, one led by Lt Saurabh Kalia, and the other by Lt Amit Bhardwaj, were sent out in the Kaksar area. However, both patrols were ambushed by the intruders, and in an act of great barbarism, Lt Kalia and his men were severely tortured and murdered. It is to India's shame that these acts were not taken as war crimes to an international venue. While the initial response to the intrusions were from the thinly stretched troops already deployed in the area, the gravity of the situation compelled military command to hurriedly call in some additional troops on counter insurgency duty in the valley, to evict the intruders. LOC-Kargil is the story of five such battalions that were ordered into the fray: the 18th battalion of the Grenadiers Regiment (18 Grenadiers), the 8th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment (8 Sikh), the 1st Battalion of 11 Gurkha Rifles Regiment (1/11 Gurkha Rifles), the 2nd Battalion of the Rajputana Rifles (2 Raj Rif), and the 13th Battalion of the J&K Light Infantry Regiment (13 JAKLI). A battalion is a unit of about 800 - 1000 men, commanded by a Colonel.
The 18 Grenadiers was in the Kashmir Valley guarding the valley against terrorist infiltration, when they were urgently summoned to help throw out the intruders. They were led by Colonel Kaushal Thakur (Raj Babbar), and among the officers and soldiers were men like Lt Colonel R Vishwanathan (Monish Bhel), Major Rajesh Adhikari (Karan Nath), Lt Balwan Singh (Akshaye Khanna), Captain Sachin Nimbalkar (Actor Unknown), and Grenadiers Yogendra Singh Yadav (Manoj Bajpai played the survivor and Ashutosh Rana played the one who died). This battalion and the 8 Sikh were among the first battalions hurriedly thrown in to fight the intruders. They were thrown in without adequate knowledge of the magnitude and location of intrusion, and without adequate artillery support since the intrusions were initially assumed to be the handiwork of irregular terrorists rather than the Pakistani Army. The strong resistance encountered by these battalions quickly made clear the true nature of the intruders - they were not only regular Pakistani Army, but were actually supported closely by artillery as well as by elite Pakistani commandos from their Special Services Group (SSG). The harsh and hasty orders from higher commanders led to the unfortunate and avoidable deaths of many fine men like Lt Col Vishwanathan and Major Rajesh Adhikari, but their deaths were not in vain. These brave officers continued the courageous tradition of leading from the front, which is the hallmark of the fine Indian Army. Their sacrifices helped in containing and pinning down the Pakistani intruders, and invaluable intelligence was gained on their actual locations. Subsequent attacks benefited immensely from the lessons learned and transmitted by the first wave of counter attacks by the Indian Army.
After the initial setbacks, the professionalism of the Indian Military reasserted itself. A new commander was sent to lead the Kargil brigade, and a deluge of reinforcements poured in. The reinforcements included nearly two divisions worth of men (about 30,000 men) and all the supplies needed to help them wage a victorious war. This Herculean logistics effort was the true basis of the Indian victory: without artillery, without intelligence, without the sheer number of soldiers assaulting the sheer cliffs, the gallantry of individual soldiers would not have counted for much. The battalions that were subsequently asked to report to the Kargil area were assembled rapidly, but were given systematic acclimatization in the high altitude terrain, and their assaults were carefully planned and supported by immense firepower including air force jets, artillery guns, and multiple rocket launchers. One of these battalions in the Dras Sector was the 13 JAK Rifles, commanded by Lt Colonel YK Joshi (Sanjay Dutt), which included Major Vikas Vohra, Captain Vikram Batra (Abhishek Bachhan), and Rifleman Sanjay Kumar (Sunil Shetty). Another battalion that was inducted farther to the north, the Batalik Sector, was the 1/11 Gurkha Rifles, commanded by Colonel Lalit Rai and including Lt Manoj Pandey (Ajay Devgan) and Havaldar Bhim Bahadur. What is not apparent in the movie is that 1/11 Gurkha Rifles had just returned from duty at Siachen Glacier, and was awaiting orders to move to a peace station. Since they were used to high altitudes due to their tenure at Siachen, the Gurkhas were given several extremely demanding missions in the Batalik Sector, and they achieved all their tasks with great aplomb.
The movie shows all these actions taking place simultaneously, and it becomes difficult to get a broader picture of the actual happenings. In reality, while the battalions were inducted simultaneously, the actual series of eviction actions were carried out sequentially to allow concentration of artillery and air force assets. The sequence of actions was also determined by the necessity to address the most critical areas first. As a result, the first counter attacks were directed against the Tololing Ridge directly overlooking Kargil and Drass. The capture of Tololing Ridge was accomplished by the fabled 2 Raj Rif, commanded by Lt Colonel Ravindranath (Ashish Vidyarthi). The 2 Raj Rif is one of the oldest battalions of the Indian Army, and it had a tremendous reputation to uphold. Lt Colonel Ravindranath and his men prepared and executed a plan that will go down in textbooks as one of the classics of mountain warfare. Their victory, however, came with the sad loss of sterling men such as Maj Vivek Gupta, Maj Padmapani Acharya (Nagarjuna), and Lt. Vijayant (Robin) Thapar ( Amar Upadhyaya). The recapture of Tololing was the turning point of the war. In subsequent assaults, the 13 JAK LI and other battalions captured vital positions such as Pt 5400 and Tiger Hill. Men like Capt. Vikram Batra, and Lt Anuj Nayyar (Saif Ali Khan) of the 3 JAT commanded by Colonel U.S. Bawa (Sudesh Berry) laid down their lives while performing acts of extraordinary bravery, and others like Grenadier Yogendra Yadav and Rifleman Sanjay Kumar did the same and lived to tell the tale.
After the Kargil-Drass area was stabilized, farther to the north, the 1/11 GR went on a rampage on the Kalubhar Ridge. Since they were acclimatized and well supported, they blew aside any resistance they encountered. However, they did face some stiff resistance from some well-positioned strong points, and Lt Manoj Pandey, in an incredible feat of bravery, single-handedly destroyed four bunkers. At times, Hindi movies are known to show heroes doing unbelievable acts. In this case, however, the movie was only a pale reconstruction of Lt Manoj Pandey's unbelievable bravery in Operation Kalubhar. By the time the Indian Army was really getting into gear, international pressure was mounting on Pakistan to reverse its act of perfidy. Sensing the threat of imminent defeat and possible coup from a defeated Pakistani Army, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rushed to USA to get President Clinton to mediate and give Pakistan a face-saving exit from a mess of their own making. On the Indian side, Prime Minister Vajpayee and his administration were only too willing to negotiate an end to hostilities, since a victory was already won and soldiers' lives are too precious to be wasted in emotionally satisfying but strategically pointless actions of chasing & humiliating a defeated & retreating enemy.
In real life, the story of the Kargil war did not end with the capture of Tiger Hill. The war lives on in the memory of all affected by it, and it also brought about some significant geopolitical repercussions. Prime Minister Sharif was made a scapegoat of the loss by the defeated and discredited top brass of the Pakistani Army, and was replaced in a coup by the perpetrator of the disastrous intrusions, General Musharraf. India was amazed by the even handedness shown by the Clinton Administration, which reversed a long standing USA policy of equating the victim with the perpetrator. This positive experience was instrumental in engendering a thaw in Indio-US relationships; a thaw that is now maturing into a strategic partnership of great potential. Furthermore, the Indian defense establishment went into a period of intense soul searching at the causes of the failure to detect and stop the intrusions.
This led to several structural changes in the defence and intelligence institutions, many of which are still in the process of being fully implemented. The hitherto neglected armament needs of the three services were also looked into with fresh urgency, and several vital purchases that were blocked by bureaucrats were pushed through with vigour. The Ladakh region is now defended by a full strength corps, the 14 Mountain Corps (about 50,000 personnel). Most tellingly, a very minor intrusion by Pakistani Army into the Kashmir Valley in 2001, was met with an immediate and massive hammering from the IAF and Indian Army artillery. The Pakistanis are rumoured to have been evicted with major losses on both sides of the LOC. The speed with which the extremely small intrusion was detected, and the magnitude of the response bear testimony that the Indian side, at least, has taken the lessons of the Kargil war to heart.
Links to Biographies of the heroes
- Capt Manoj Kumar Pandey
- Gdr Yogender Singh Yadav
- Capt Vikram Batra
- Rfn Sanjay Kumar
- Capt Anuj Nayyar