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Kargil Vijay Diwas: Wasn’t the war of 1999 avoidable?

New Delhi: On 26 July 1999, India handed the infiltrating terrorists of Pakistan backed by their Army a bloody nose and an embarrassing defeat. The Kargil conflict officially came to an end this day 19 years ago. Indian Army announced that day the complete eviction of Pakistani intruders from Indian territory.

Whereas we salute our heroes and seek pride in their sacrifice, the celebration must entail a compassion for the brave hearts. The war could have been avoided or the losses in it mitigated if the intelligence reports were received in time and, whatever little information was available was acted upon with a sense of urgency.

On 3 May that year, local shepherds reported Pakistani intrusion in Kargil. Known as Bakarwals in the local lingo, these shepherds scale such heights of the Kargil hills even soldiers seldom do. India has for long engaged them, in effect, as spies to report suspicious movements, if any, of Pakistanis to the nearest Indian post.

A major, who was posted there a few months before the infiltration began, objected to the nominal payments the Bakarwals got unofficially from the Army. Miffed, the shepherds did not pass on the information when they first noticed Pakistani infiltrators scaling the heights of the hills.

Some shepherds but broke the ranks of their community and alerted the forward posts of the Indian Army. Sources in the Army say that this happened because the major was overruled by his seniors and the payments to the Bakarwals had resumed. By then, the Pakistani infiltrators were entrenched in the caves of the hills, enjoying the advantage of a higher altitude.

Preliminary reports even from regular sleuths of the Research & Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau were ignored, reported Ajith Pillai, Ranjit Bhushan, Murali Krishnan and Nitin A Gokhale in Outlook on this day in 1999. Worse, the report says that there was an inexplicable haste to begin and finish the war against the norm of developing military intelligence strong enough to help the Army strategise on the basis of thorough studies of the situation in hand like the enemy positions, topography, arms and ammunitions required to fight the particular battle, etc.

Or else, the magazine hypothesised, the casualty on the Indian side would not have been as high. The official figure of soldiers who laid down their lives in the Kargil War is 530. Of course, Pakistanis lost more of their terrorists as well as regular soldiers. The US Department of State estimates the Pakistani casualties as more than 700.

The Indian estimate stands at 1,042 dead Pakistani soldiers. Nawaz Sharif said more than 4,000 were killed. And the hardly credible Parvez Musharraf said he had lost a mere 357 of his men. It’s but the brave sons of this soil whose death we must lament as much as we hold our heads high for their sacrifice.

Surajit Dasgupta

By Surajit Dasgupta

The founder of Sirf News has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life and columnist in various newspapers and magazines, writing in English as well as Hindi. He was the national affairs editor of Swarajya, 2014-16. He worked with Hindusthan Samachar in 2017. He was the first chief editor of Sirf News and is now back at the helm after a stint as the desk head of MyNation of the Asianet group.

He is a mathematician by training with interests in academic pursuits of science, linguistics and history. He advocates individual liberty and a free market in a manner that is politically feasible. His hobbies include Hindi film music and classical poetry in Bengali, English, French, Hindi and Urdu.

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