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‘Surprise, Strategy and ‘Vijay: 20 Years of Kargil and Beyond’ Revisits Kargil War

Edited by Lt Gen (Dr) VK Ahluwalia and Col Narjit Singh

Centre for Land Warfare Studies & Pentagon  Press 

Pages: 320 in hard cover

Price: Rs. 1195/-


Lt Gen (Dr) VK Ahluwalia (Army Aviation Corps) and Col Narjit Singh (2nd Lancers/Armoured Corps) put  together the book which is a compendium of experiences, insights and comments by writers, some of who were involved in the phase of intensified confrontation by Pakistan of its fourth war against India, which continues till date since the late 1980s,  in area Kargil Heights in 1998-99 and others who are insightful military veterans as well as few scholars/writers. It has emerged as a very useful reference book, also worth revisiting.

Five years after Operation Vijay, the relentless war to eliminate the deceitful Pakistani Army from the Kargil peaks, Lt Gen V.K. Ahluwalia, was posted to command 8 Mountain Division, on his request.  He admits that this posting to Ladakh “opened his vision to the bigger and brighter world of soldiering”. Soon after his arrival, he headed to scale the heights of the Tololing Complex, which symbolised the rawest form of courageous assaults undertaken in the face of fierce enemy fire. In the extreme high-altitude area of Kargil, gasping for air, he could not help wondering how our soldiers advanced up to their objectives perched on steep slopes under bullets and splinter bursts in 1999. Even as an old soldier, he experienced again the fear of climbing the steep and rugged heights.

Having spent over two memorable years at Kargil heights in 2005-07, he considered it a privilege to gather sound knowledge of its vast terrain and formidable features. Besides that, he mentions about reading a number of books on this subject, written by eminent authors like Captain Amarinder Singh, Lt Gen YM Bammi, Maj Gen Ashok Kalyan Varma, Harinder Baweja, General VP Malik, and Nasim Zehra, a Pakistani journalist and the author of From Kargil to Coup, all of which gave detailed accounts of the operations undertaken during Operation VIJAY. Every victory along the 170-km long rarefied mountainous terrain was accomplished by surpassing new challenges and also bringing out in the junior leaders added aspects of personal leadership.

Co-editor Col Narjit Singh, who served in 8 Mountain Division under Ahluwalia, was entrusted with the task of making a documentary on Op Vijay, which was circulated within the formation and much appreciated.

Between May and July 1999 bloody battles were fought almost simultaneously in the five sub-sectors of Kargil- Mushkoh, Dras, Kaksar, Batalik and Turtuk. The war in Kargil will always be remembered as a saga of unmatched bravery, and an unprecedented triumphant show of sheer dedication, determination and raw courage exhibited by our soldiers against all odds. The Line of Control (LoC), delineated in 1972 by senior commanders from India and Pakistan, runs for approximately 220 km eastwards, beginning from the Kaobol Gali.  This unseen line had remained quite intact and quiet for over 27 years (till 1999), except for some artillery firing by the Pakistanis, mainly to interdict the arterial road of National Highway 1A (NH-1A, now NH-1D), and also terrorise the local inhabitants of Kargil.  The LoC in the Kargil region runs along the rugged mountainous Himalayan terrain varying in altitudes between 14000 and 19000 feet. This region was guarded by 121 (Independent) Infantry Brigade comprising a few Infantry units strung along the entire length of the LoC.  Quite naturally, there were a few large unguarded gaps which were covered by foot patrols.  A similar arrangement existed on the Pakistani side of the LoC. However, all this changed in one stroke in early 1999, when Pakistani troops in civilian attire, intruded through the unguarded gaps and occupied the vacant mountain tops and ridgelines.  These chosen routes of intrusions varied from 4 to 12 km inside the Indian territory. Consolidation followed, wherein locally improvised bunkers or sangars (defensive walls with loopholes to fire weapons, made of stones and boulders, with or without the use of mud plaster, or cement-like material) were built. This was followed by induction of heavy weaponry, ammunition, rations and other military hardware.1 The Pakistanis established forward administrative bases inside Indian territory to sustain their troops. Simultaneously, the artillery guns and heavy mortars were moved up close to the LoC so as to provide fire support. Therefore, like the ghost in the darkness, the Pakistanis had in fact succeeded in giving India an absolutely unexpected tactical surprise. By May 1999, when Indian Army reacted to the incursion by Northern Light Infantry, many battalions of which were raised by Pak army specifically for the Kargil misadventure, its troops had been well entrenched for five months at least. The officers, the junior commissioned officers and the fearless soldiers valiantly took on the back-stabbing Pakistanis head on.  Not only did the Indian troops relentlessly attack uphill over the rugged terrain against a well dug-in enemy, but also managed to overcome the highly rarefied air while regaining every inch of occupied territory. As the conflict progressed, the Indian Air Force, despite the disadvantage of not crossing the LoC as per Prime Minister Vajpayee’s decision, reduced many targets to ashes.

It is ironic to recall that when Prime Minister Vajpayee made his bold move of bussing to Lahore and signing the Declaration on 21 February 1999, Pak army’s Op Koh-e-Paima (Call of the Mountains) or Op KP, was were well under way. And it was another three months when Indian Army’s Op Vijay was launched. The irony was in fact greater, because in Pakistan Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif had been kept in the dark about  Gen Parvez Musharraf’s ambitious plan of trying to alter the LoC. Zehra, in her book mentioned, states that Sharif had no clue that Pakistani troops had already crossed the LoC and entered Indian-occupied Kashmir. After Pak army’s withdrawal, Zehra states: “Musharraf had to face tough questions. Hasan, the FCNA commander, could not face his troops…..Internally there was disquiet after the withdrawal. Instructions were that Kargil would not be discussed in any school of instruction … Kargil was a taboo subject and remained so for a fairly long time”.

With a foreword by former Army Chief General NC Vij, the book has been structured into five parts. Part I, titled Blood, Guts And Glory has a chapter by the same name authored by Narjit Singh, assisted by Raghunandan MC and Tejusvi Shukla. Part II, Synergy To Victory has chapters Air War In Kargil: A Revisit, by Anil Chopra; Artillery in Op Vijay: Perspective of a Commanding Officer, by Alok Deb; Keeping The Enemy Air At Bay, by Akhelesh Bhargava; Record Missions in Support: Army Aviation, by B S Pawar; Sappers: Turning the Tide , by Madhusudan Dave; Communications: The Battle Winning Factor, by Narjit Singh; Op Vijay: Logistics Support in Testing Times, by Sushil Chander and The Indian Navy: The Silent Response, by Raghunandan MC and Shreya Das Barman. Part III, Perceptions And Opinions, has chapters Military Strategy in Kargil War, by Gen VP Malik, who was the Army Chief then; A Reminiscence: Kargil 20 Years After, by Mohinder Puri; Defining Moments in Kargil Heights: GOC’s Perspective , by VK Ahluwalia; Signals: 20 Years After Kargil, by Rajeev Sabherwal; Lessons From Kargil Operations, by P K Chakravorty; Paratroopers in Batalik, by BM Cariappa and Random Musings and Reminiscences of My Tryst With Kargil: Operation Vijay and Beyond, by Vivek Murthy. Part IV, Motivation, has chapters Lest We Forget, by Saurav Pandey; Vikram Batra, PVC (P) by Ian Cardozo; Manoj Pandey, PVC (P) by Raj Mehta and Anuj Nayyar, MVC (P), by Rachna Bisht Rawat. And lastly, Part V, has chapters Emerging Challenges and the Way Ahead, by VK Ahluwalia and Rajeev Kapoor; Honours and Awards and Conclusion by Narjit Singh.

It needs to be clarified that Op Vijay was an intensified phase of Pakistan’s fourth war by way of  export of  against India, which continues till date. The book’s coverage is well rounded and will be very useful for all related to national security and the complex subject of Indo-Pak relations.

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