Partition and Wars

Indo-Pak Relations – 1

Pre-Partition Saga

Nothing could be more paradoxical than a scholar and poet singing “Saare Jahan Se Achchha Hindostan Hamara; Hum Bulbulen Hain Iski Ye Gulistan Hamara...” (Our Hindustan is best in the world; we are nightingales in our Rose Garden ) and only in a couple of years so radicalises as to propound the two-nation theory that leads to the partition of own homeland giving birth to a religion based alien nation. Yes, this was scholar and poet Muhammad Iqbal who wrote this patriotic song around 1904, as an ode to Hindustan (India, Bangladesh and Pakistan combined), published in 1924 in the Urdu book Bang-i-Dara with so.

Perhaps no words could be as fitting as the following ones from his poem in the context of communal harmony:

Majhab Nahin Sikhata Aapas Main Bair Rakhna
Hindi Hain Hum, Watan hai Hindostan Hamara...

Religion doesn’t teach us enmity;
we are Hindi (Hindustani) and Hindustan is our homeland

The song has remained very popular in India till date, perhaps only few people knowing how Iqbal’s world view had changed from Hindustan to global Islam during his life time.

A strong proponent of the political and spiritual revival of Islam world over, more specifically in India, Allama* Iqbal propagated the idea of the creation of a "state in north-western India for Indian Muslims". His presidential address to the Muslim League on 29 December 1930 is believed to have served as the philosophical exposition while barrister politician Muhammad Ali Jinnah translated it into the political reality in 1947. In this context, another name of Chaudhary Rehmat Ali is also quoted among the precursors of Pakistan as separate homeland for Muslims. Rehmat Ali after initial education and teaching in the erstwhile Punjab, shifted to England and around 1933 published a paper ‘Now or Never’ using the word Pakistan for the first time as new homeland for Muslims after independence.

The two-nation theory ultimately became the founding principle of the Pakistan Movement leading to the partition of British India in 1947. Muhammad Ali Jinnah capitalized on the ideology that, instead of language, ethnicity or any other common heritage, the religion is the chief determining factor in defining the nationality of Indian Muslims. The chief argument put forth was that among the Muslim population the primary denominator of their identity and unity was religion. For the very reason, a Muslim feels more affinity towards a Muslim in another territorial entity (country) than a non-Muslim in the same land. Therefore, Indian Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nations, irrespective of their language and other ethnic commonalities.

Subsequently, the interpretation of the theory was even more radicalised to suit the political needs and, as some historians and independent thinkers believe, perhaps the individual ambitions of key leaders and personalities involved. This radicalised interpretation was that Hindus and Muslims are so different nations that cannot peacefully co-exist together. Therefore, Muslims being in minority needed a separate homeland through the transfer of population i.e. total removal of Hindus from the Muslim-majority areas and Muslims from the Hindu-majority areas to achieve a complete separation of two incompatible nations. This ideology was pursued by the Muslim League and Jinnah, who termed it as the awakening among Muslims for the creation of Pakistan.

As per available accounts, the Indian National Congress including many nationalist Muslim leaders like Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad were against the partition of the country on the communal lines, but the Muslim League under the leadership of Jinnah with the active support of British had their way and the Dominion of Pakistan was created on 14th August 1947, a day before the formal declaration of independence. What followed next was perhaps beyond everybody’s imagination. The Partition marked a massive and bloody upheaval as Hindus living for generations had to flee their homes overnight from the land that was to become Pakistan. Similarly, Muslims too in large numbers had to abandon their existing homes to cross the border into Pakistan. The chaos and violence that erupted went unabated for weeks leading estimated two million killed and more than ten million displaced.

Post-independence, Jinnah took reins of Pakistan and Nehru India’s. Today, population wise India has more Muslims than Pakistan so also civil liberties and democratic rights. The question is whether the two nation theory served any purpose other than meeting personal ambitions. Did Muslims achieve anything beyond religion because more than religion, an individual or community needs a reasonable level of peace, progress and prosperity? Did partition fulfil the intended goal for independent homeland for all Muslims?

Pakistan continue to remain among the most backward and poor nations even after seventy years of its creation. Despite claiming proportionate land for the proportionate population, it could attract and accommodate only a few millions Muslims of the erstwhile India. Then two geographical units East and West Pakistan could not live peacefully together despite common religion. The memories of a large scale bloodbath, arson, loot, sabotage and rape victims in communities as a result of partition left a poor legacy and trail of acrimony and conflict even for the following generations. Does one need to say anything more about the success or credibility of the two nation theory so religiously propagated by Allama* Iqbal and pursued by Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah.

Those who had pursued two nation theory and envisioned Pakistan as a safe destination for the peace and prosperity of Indian Muslims are not around to live else they would have been disappointed, if not ashamed, to see how a nation born out of religious bigotry and hatred have been mishandled by successive autocratic and authoritarian regimes through systematic persecution of religious minorities, human rights violations, sponsoring terrorism and proliferating weapons of mass destruction – a situation wherein as per international protocol, a state is categorized ‘A Rogue Nation’.

Partition Trauma

Partition of the British India in 1947 led to the creation of two independent nations namely the Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan. Based on the criteria of the religious population, two big provinces Punjab in the north-west and Bengal in the east were bifurcated and the boundary dividing India and Pakistan was defined as the Radcliff Line. simultaneously, British Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, Indian Civil Service, Railways and Central Treasury etc were also proportionally divided.

The partition followed a massive transfer of population across the Indo-Pak border in Punjab and Bengal. Out of an estimated 11.2 million in the west, approximately 6.5 million Muslims moved from India to West Pakistan and about 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs crossed border to take shelter in India. Similarly on the eastern part, out of an estimated 3.3 million displaced people, approximately 2.6 million mostly Hindus moved from the East Pakistan to India and about 0.7 million from India to East Pakistan.

These tranfers were not smooth and amicable because the newly formed governments on the both sides were ill-equipped to deal with the peaceful migration and settlement. Consequently, the conundrum that followed soon turned into a large scale mob arson, sabotage, loot and violence leading to countless killings, rapes and other heinous crimes against humanity. Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other were pitted against each other in a kind of bloody civil war. As various independent sources vary in their  accounts and counts, and it is difficult to arrive at a precise number, by sheer magnitude between one to two million people were reportedly killed, leave aside rapes, serious injuries and other heinous crimes - a dark chapter indeed in the history of the Indian sub-continent.

Integration of Princely States

At the time of partition, the territories under the direct British rule were divided into two states namely the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan on the basis of contiguous Muslim and non-Muslim population. Besides, there were a large number of princely states under the suzerainty of the British Crown, with their internal affairs remaining in the hands of their hereditary rulers, and the control over external affairs and defence being vested in the Government of India through the Viceroy. There were about 562 such Indian princely states, to which the British gave option with some guidelines either to join India or Pakistan or remain independent. By far the most significant factor that led to the majority princes' decision to accede to India was the policy adopted by Sardar Patel and VP Menon who were charged with the actual job of negotiating with the princes. Instead of threat and coercion, they relied on a conciliatory approach emphasising the unity of India and the safeguarding common interests of the princes and independent India through the Standstill Agreement and the Instrument of Accession. While the former assured the continuance of the pre-existing agreements and administrative practices and by the latter the ruler of the princely state in question had to agree to the accession of his kingdom to independent India, granting the latter control over the specified subject matters.

The strategy of Sardar Patel worked in so far that over a period most of the princely states agreed to sign the Instruments of Accession enabling a peaceful merger with the Union of India. However, a few states namely Hyderabad, Jodhpur, Junagarh and Kashmir either remain uncertain or wished to remain independent. While the issues of Jodhpur and Hyderabad were resolved, Junagarh and Kashmir proved to be difficult as in them Pakistan also had open intentions and stakes. Consequently, their merger with the Union of India was not without political controversy and conflict with Pakistan. Hence in the context of the Indo-Pak relations, it will be fair to undertake and illustrate the historical events leading to the accession/merger of these states with India.


Annexation of Junagarh

Junagarh was a small princely state in Gujarat surrounded from all sides of its land borders by India, with an outlet onto the Arabian Sea. The princely state had a majority Hindu population (about 80%) and a Muslim ruler Nawab Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III, who was inclined to join Pakistan, much to the resentment of many state officials and prominent citizens. The Nawab unilaterally acceded to the Dominion of Pakistan on 15 September 1947 and Pakistan readily endorsed it on 16 September 1947 against the condition of geographical contiguity and advice of Lord Mountbutton on the logic that Junagadh was joined with Pakistan by sea.

This triggered retaliation from the principalities of Babariawad and Mangrol, both under the suzerainty of the Nawab, claiming independence from Junagadh and accession to India leading to unrest and uncertainty within the state. In response, the Nawab militarily occupied these principalities causing uneasiness in the neighbouring princely states too who despatched their troops to the Junagadh frontier and appealed to the Government of India to intervene. Besides, Samaldas Gandhi, a relative of Mahatma Gandhi and freedom fighter formed a government-in-exile with active support of citizens to symbolise wishes of the majority population that wanted merger with India. The fact that the princely state was contiguous with the Dominion of India with an overwhelming Hindu population, the Government of India, more particularly Sardar Patel, considered that if the Nawab is allowed to have his way, it would exacerbate the communal tension already simmering in Gujarat and a permanent administrative headache for India.

Sardar Patel formally offered Pakistan to reverse its decision and hold a plebiscite in Junagarh. The unsettled conditions in Junagadh had already resulted in a cessation of all trade with India and a precarious food supplies leading to a situation of civic unrest. Unable to handle the crisis, the Nawab, fearing for his life, fled to Karachi with his family and close associates leaving behind Diwan Shah Nawaz Bhutto to deal with the situation.

Following this conundrum, the Government of India eventually decided the use of force for the annexation of Junagadh's three principalities and restoring order in the state. While these developments were taking place, Pakistan offered to discuss plebiscite provided the Government of India restores status quo as on 16 September 1947 i.e. date of acceptance of accession by Pakistan. Junagadh state government, already facing financial collapse and lacking strength and resources to withstand, ultimately invited the Government of India to take control. In a couple of months, a plebiscite was organized by the Government of India, in which approximately 99.95% of the people preferred India over Pakistan. From the available account, out of the 2,01,457 registered voters, 1,90,870 exercised their franchise of which only 90 votes were casted in favour of Pakistan.

Even today, Pakistan formally recognizes the successor(s) of Nawab based in Karachi, as head of the Junagarh government-in-exile. Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, the ex-Diwan of Junagarh too migrated to Karachi, Pakistan; his more famous son Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was destined to play key role in the destiny of Pakistan politics in various capacities including the prime minister and president of Pakistan in the years to come. His inherited bigotry and hatred towards India and famous jibe “Pakistan will fight, fight for a thousand years…” can be well understood, and to some extent this also contributes to already strained Indo-Pak relations over the years.

Accession/Merger of Jammu & Kashmir

In 1947, the state of Jammu & Kashmir (widely called "Kashmir") was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, a Dogra Hindu king, although the state as a whole had a majority Muslim population of approximately 77%. Hari Singh was uncertain about acceding to either India or Pakistan and remained indecisive quite for long. At that point of time, two other major political parties in the state were the National Conference and Muslim conference, The former was headed by the popular leader Sheikh Abdullah enjoying considerable support in the Kashmir Valley who, it is believed, was inclined towards accession of the state to India while the latter more prominent in Jammu region was tilted towards Pakistan. While Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists were keen to join India, sentiment of Muslim population was divided owing to these parties.

Due to prevailing uncertainties, the civic unrest was growing in parts of Kashmir. To force its accession, Pakistan cut off land supplies and transport link while situation in Indian side of Punjab, only link to Kashmir, too was chaotic due civic unrest and mass movement of refugees on either sides of the border. Soon Pakistan army backed militant Muslims and tribesmen from the North-West Frontier Province invaded and made rapid advances in the Kashmir valley with a motive to forcibly occupy and overthrow the Dogra King. This threat became immediate cause for the Maharaja to seek military assistance from India which the Government of India was apprehensive to do without a legal sanction. Consequently, the Maharaja signed an instrument of accession on 25 October, 1947 with the Government of India and in turn India airlifted armed forces and supplies to stop intruders who had resorted to killings, arson and loot for the forceful occupation. The war between the Indian forces and invaders continued till early 1948 and shortly, thereafter, Pt. Nehru sought intervention of United Nations Security Council for the ceasefire and resolution of the issue.

The UN Security Council intervened and passed a few resolutions for exercising restraint by the parties involved. The resolution dated 21st April 1948 inter alia provided for the immediate cease-fire of hostilities, the Government of Pakistan to secure total withdrawal from the state of Jammu and Kashmir of all tribesmen and Pakistani nationals who were not resident but entered the state for the purpose of fighting, and the Government of India to reduce its forces to the minimum to enable conducive circumstances for holding a plebiscite in the state on the question of accession of the state to India or Pakistan.

However, due to mutual mistrust and differences, two sides could never implement their part of pre-requisites of plebiscite for long. In other words, Pakistan never vacated the occupied territory of Kashmir which they had already started calling ‘Azad Kashmir’ – a prerequisite for any referendum, and India did not demilitarize apprehending more deceitful adventure and surprises from the other side. On subsequent occasions, the issue was raised time and again but the existing differences of two sides on methodology could not be resolved. With the passage of time, the question of plebiscite gradually became impractical and irrelevant and United Nations stopped entertaining the issue of plebiscite after 1962 and, instead advising to settle dispute through bilateral negotiations.

Had Pakistan not rushed through coercive measures, the accession of Kashmir issue was still wide open. It can be reasonably believed that despite the Kashmir being a much larger state and high stakes, many Indian leaders including Sardar Patel were not so enthusiastic about taking initiatives as they did in case of Junagarh. Understandably, Pt. Nehru personally chose to handle the Kashmir issue and he was not averse to the idea of plebiscite till Pakistan took recourse to a deceitful aggression. I have consciously used the term ‘deceitful’ because Pakistan clandestinely chose to incite and push tribal mercenaries backed by the army for forceful occupation of Kashmir after signing a standstill agreement with the Maharaja of Kashmir.

The northern and western parts of Kashmir are under Pakistan's control since 1947 and China occupied Aksai Chin in 1962 war, the north-eastern region bordering Ladakh. Now after seventy years when the remaining part of Jammu & Kashmir (about 45%) has been fully integrated with India through massive investment and development through a democratic process, talking of a plebiscite on the basis of religion does not make sense. The subsequent socio-political developments in the subcontinent, including the emergence of Bangladesh from the erstwhile East Pakistan, has rendered two nation theory totally futile and a proof that only a common religion cannot be a criteria for peace, prosperity and progress of any nationality or civilization.

Indo-Pak Wars

Many historians and people on either side of the border consider 1947-48 conflict between India and Pakistan as the first Kashmir war. In the following years, Kashmir became a highly emotive issue rather an obsession for the successive Pakistani rulers and army. It is understood that during the independence speech of Pakistan, Jinnah referred to Kashmir as the “jugular vein of Pakistan.” Subsequently, many heads of state and army chief in Pakistan are known to have repeated this despite a lawful integration of the state of Jammu & Kashmir in India.

Similarly, in one of the iconic speeches in the UN Security Council, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is believed to have uttered the following during the 1965 war: "…Jammu and Kashmir is part of Pakistan, in blood, in flesh, in culture, in history, in geography; in every way and in every form." Needless to mention, subsequent to partition and 1947-48 Kashmir war, the relations of India and Pakistan have never been normal. Ever since, they have fought three wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999 (limited to Kargil), continued diplomatic and military face-off including low-intensity border conflicts in peace time besides unabated insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir remaining the centre stage of all conflicts.

Indo-Pak 1965 War: A Strategic Failure

Outcome of Indo-China War in 1962 and a few subsequent developments possibly made Pakistan to be more vibrant and aggressive with India on territorial disputes of which Kashmir constituted central theme but there were other border disputes too:

  • India faced an ignominious debacle with China in 1962 war exposing its ill-preparedness and strategic blunders;

  • Pt. Nehru expired in May, 1964 and his successor Prime Minister Shastri was considered as a mild and soft-spoken leader;

  • United States had armed Pakistan with sophisticated weaponry including the advanced Sabre jets and Patton tanks considered to be invincible in the conventional warfare.

Some Defence Analysts believe that the military leadership in Pakistan under General Ayub Khan was under impression that due to these developments the political and military strength of India was at low ebb and the Indian armed forces won’t be able to defend Kashmir against a quick, sharp and powerful military campaign.

Reportedly, it started with incursions of Pakistani patrols in the Indian controlled territory of Rann of Kutch in January 1965 and by April they had several intermittent skirmishes between the two armed forces, involving intervention by British Prime Minister to end hostilities and set up a tribunal for resolving the dispute.

Apart from the reasons indicated in the foregoing para, Pakistan apparently was also under impression that the Kashmiri population could be easily turned against India through a covert operation leading to a mass uprisings and support to Pakistan army in the event of a war. Hence Pakistan started a covert strategy of massive filtration by army regulars in Kashmir in August 1965 under the code name Operation Gibralter but the operation was soon exposed thanks to some vigilant Kashmiris and retaliated by the Indian army with full strength.

Soon full scale hostilities broke out between the two sides resulting in an all-out war towards the last week of August, 1965. Contrary to the much hyped Pakistani strength with superior air power and armoury, the field tactics and war strategy on ground of Indian soldiers proved to be more effective. As Kashmir was a central theme in the war, Pakistan resorted to a massive attack with deployment of military and equipment in the Jammu and Kashmir region and had relative progression in Chumb sector and the desert south of Sindh province. India while focusing to her defense in Kashmir was able to capture strategic Haji Pir Pass, almost 8 Km inside Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and made progress in Lahore and Sialkot sectors in Punjab as also parts of Sindh province.

While India and Pakistan had their claims and counter-claims, independent international war analysts held that while going to war, Pakistan had distinct advantage in terms of superior air power with US supplied F-86 Sabre and F-104 Starfighter jets as also in quality and number of armour with Patton M-47 and M-48 tanks of US origin. However, as the war progressed, Indian Folland Gnet fighter (nick-named Sabre Slayer), Centurian tanks and the trained and skilled Indian men with their superior tactics and strategy proved to be for decisive. In spite of qualitative and numerical superiority of Pakistani armour, Indian forces outfought Pakistanis in some of the largest tank battles and made significant progress in Lahore and Sialkot sectors while successfully repulsing Pakistan offensive on Amritsar.

While the war was going on with no clearly emerging victor, the UN Security Council passed a resolution on 22nd September, 1965 calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. Pakistan, it is believed, was running out fast its stockpiles of ammunition and promptly accepted the ceasefire. India too, despite opposition from the military commanders, under intense international diplomatic pressure accepted the ceasefire ending war on the next day. Both sides suffered with heavy causalities (estimated 3,000 Indian soldiers and 3,800 Pakistani soldiers) and loss of equipment and weaponry. By the end of war Indian army had captured about 1,800 Sq Km mainly in fertile areas of Lahore, Sialkot and Kashmir sectors while Pakistan gained about 550 Sq Km in the desert opposite Sindh and Chumb sector in Jammu & Kashmir.

Among the claims and counterclaims of the two adversaries, in the eyes of the neutral analysts and observers, India was largely perceived as a victor. The 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, however, could be summarized as the beginning of an end. The bloody game that was started by Pakistan in the summers of 1965 culminated in a climax, six years later, in the winter of December, 1971 in a decisive war.

Indo-Pak 1972 War: Emergence of Bangladesh

The precursor of the war was Pakistani General Elections in 1970. The Bangladesh Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in the national elections winning 167 of the 169 seats, and thus a clear majority in the 313 seats Majlis-e-Shoora (Pakistan National Assembly). This gave the Awami League the constitutional right to form a government under the prime minister-ship of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman but Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the second largest Pakistan People’s Party and President General Yahya Khan refused to allow Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan; instead they came out with unacceptable alternative proposals such as two prime ministers, and so on so forth. As such East Pakistan was struggling with a long history of socio-cultural, economic and political exploitation and discrimination at the hands of rulers based in West Pakistan since independence. This denial of the transfer of power to the democratically elected party forced the Awami League led by Rehman resorting to agitation and protest.

Yahya khan promptly deployed Pakistan army to crush the popular uprisings in the East Pakistan; the army indulged in a ruthless and widespread arson, loot, murder and rape (later termed as genocide against the Bengalis) to supress the uprisings, more particularly against the minority Hindu population. This led to approximately 10 million refugees fleeing East Pakistan and taking shelter in the neighbouring Indian states. Despite large scale violence and human rights violation for months together by the army in East Pakistan, the international community led by USA and Western Europe did practically nothing to stop the excesses on civil population and consequent rapidly deteriorating situation. India was reeling under the tremendous pressure politically and economically to support such a large number of refugees and prevent human rights violations occurring right under her nose. In such a scenario, India had no option but to provide moral and material support to the freedom struggle of the Mukti Vahini formed in the East Pakistan in retaliation.

Trigger point for the declaration of war came when Pakistan, frustrated with its reverses in the East Pakistan, launched pre-emptive air strikes on eleven Indian airbases on 3rd December, 1971. Consequently, India declared war with Pakistan and the Indian Air Force proceeded with the immediate retaliatory air strikes on eight Pakistani airbases. The scope of air strikes was expanded by the following day and continued thereafter both in the western and eastern wings. Within days, the Indian Air Force established complete control of the air space over the East Pakistan. Indian Navy too swung into swift action and after overcoming some initial resistance was able to contain and inflict heavy losses to Pakistan Navy in the Arabian Sea besides controlling all sea routes in the Bay of Bengal.

Commencement of hostilities on the west front made India formally joining the war of independence in the East Pakistan. This time war lasted for only thirteen days with major cities in the East Pakistan falling to joint command of the Indian forces and Mukti Vahini in succession on the consecutive days. Finally, Dhaka fell on the 16th December leading to the liberation of Bangladesh and Pakistani Armed Forces Commander signing the Instrument of Surrender in the eastern theatre with the Indian counterpart. Approximately 93,000 Pakistani regulars including some para-military personnel and civilians were taken as Prisoners of War (POWs) by the Indian army.

On the Western front too, the Indian Armed Forces conducted massive air, sea and land assaults. While Pakistan once again focused attack mainly in the Jammu & Kashmir region, India fought with a limited objective of not allowing Pakistan any gain on Indian soil in retaliation of what was happening in the Eastern theatre. However, India was better prepared this time and they captured about 14,000 Sq Km of Pakistan territory in Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir regions by the end of war. Despite stiff resistance from Indian forces, Pakistan army with their obsession with Kashmir was able to have upper hand in the Chumb sector (about 40 Sq Km).

By the time India announced a unilateral ceasefire, Pakistan had already suffered a humiliating defeat. With its dismemberment and emergence of Bangladesh, it had lost almost half of its population and economy, entire Army in East Pakistan taken as POWs besides a significant territorial loss on the West front. Despite the victory and dominance of this magnitude, India remained sober and restrained nationally and internationally in post-war scenario. USA had dispatched a strong naval fleet in the Indian Ocean showing threatening gestures in solidarity with Pakistan but the Russian commitment of help in the event of a third nation entering war on Pakistan’s side, barred them from any possible misadventure.

Unlike 1965 war, this time India didn’t succumb to third party intervention in the post-war scenario. The bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan led to the Shimla Agreement on 2nd July, 1972. India showed its goodwill gesture by unconditionally releasing POWs and returning the captured territory in Sindh and Punjab provinces. Besides, under the agreement, an on-going structure for bilateral negotiation and peaceful settlement of any future conflict was also put in place (of course only to be breached again by Pakistan).

This reminded me of the historical event dated March 24, 1940, when the Pakistan Resolution was passed by the Muslim League at Lahore, and Jinnah said, “Iqbal is no more amongst us, but had he been alive he would have been happy to know that we did exactly what he wanted us to do.” Refusing role of the language and ethnicity as bonding factors, Allama Iqbal professed the religion as the only significant denominator among Muslims that really mattered; the same religion could not keep West and East Pakistan together even for 25 years.

Kargil War of 1999 – A Localised Misadventure

The immediate cause of war was the infiltration of Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary personnel occupying vantage positions at Kargil heights on the Indian side of the Line of Control during the winter of 1998-99. National highway NH1D connects Srinagar and Leh through Kargil. Largely unmanned during the extreme winters, Pakistani troops and paramilitary forces in the disguise of mujahedeen had occupied several unmanned Indian posts with an obvious aim to cut the link between Kashmir and Ladakh and compromise Indian deployment at the Siachin Glaciar. Other motive could have been a fresh attempt to internationalise Kashmir issue by igniting tension thereby forcing a settlement of the broader Kashmir dispute by involving the international community.

Pakistani intrusion was soon discovered and reported by the local shepherds. Consequently, five Indian soldiers headed by Captain Saurabh Kalia sent on a petrol were captured on 5th May, 1999 by intruders and badly tortured to death after 22 days. The post-mortem of the dead bodies later revealed the heinous act that the bodies of soldiers were burnt with cigarettes, ear-drums pierced with hot rods, eyes punctured before removing them, most of the teeth and bones were broken, skull had fractures, lips were cut, nose chipped, limbs and private organs chopped off besides inflicting all sorts of injuries before shooting them dead.

This was a barbaric and subhuman act of utmost provocation which compelled massive mobilization of Indian army to Kargil sector and across the LOC in Jammu and Kashmir. Initial strikes were made by the Indian Air Force followed by major offensive by Indian army in the first week of June, 1999. This high altitude war was fought by Indian Army engaging 155 MM Howitzer guns for the first time at such heights and engaging Air Force, and slowly but decisively the army secured several key positions occupied by infiltrators. At those heights of over 5,000 meters, even the Indian artillery and air attack were not very effective, hence many direct frontal ground assaults were undertaken taking heavy toll as infiltrators were occupying heights with vantage position.

With the increasing Indian pressure and their success in retrieving various heights, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sought US President Bill Clinton’s support who, it is believed, instead admonished him to rein in the militants (As per Pakistan version) and Pakistani forces to vacate Indian positions. During the early stages of war, Pakistan maintained that the Indian forces were pitted against the Kashmiri insurgents but later on it was increasingly clear with the documents caught from the dead and rhetoric of Pakistani leaders that fighters were indeed Pakistan’s regular and paramilitary troops. While Operation Vijay was in final leg and still on, under the realization of imminent defeat, growing international criticism and President Clinton’s pressure, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif managed to pull back the remaining soldiers from the Indian Territory. The final withdrawal began with effect from 11th July with the complete eviction of Pakistani intruders by 26th July, 1999.

Pakistan’s strategy of denial of its army’s involvement by calling the intruders as ‘Mujahedeen’ or ‘Kashmiri Freedom fighters’ was busted through the documents, marks on ammunition caught and other evidences by Indian army. Many veteran analysts also opined that the battle was fought at heights where only seasoned and well trained troops could survive, a disorganized and poorly equipped mujahedeen would neither have ability nor wherewithal to capture land and defend it. Later in January 2013, Lieutenant General Shahid Aziz, the then head of Pakistan’s ISI analysis wing, wrote in an article in The Nation Daily, “…There were no Mujahideen, only taped wireless messages, which fooled no one. Our soldiers were made to occupy barren ridges, with hand held weapons and ammunition…", leaving no doubts that the intruders were indeed Pakistani regular troops.

Continued to "When State Sponsors Terrorism


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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