4th July, which is world over celebrated by American enthusiasts as the Independence Day of the United States of America, is also very fondly remembered by the Indian soldiers and Indian Army veterans for reasons unknown to many.
It was on this very day, exactly 18 years ago, when Nawaz Sharif had rushed to White House, Washington DC in a dire condition with a one point agenda of meeting President Clinton. While America celebrated their Independence Day, Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif begged President Clinton for US intervention in the then ongoing conflict in Kargil (Jammu & Kashmir).
The conflict of Kargil, which started in the summer of 1999 (May, 1999) was an outcome of a nefarious design planned by the Pakistani Army where they dared to cut away India’s supply to Kashmir with a hope of eventually snatching away the crown state of Kashmir from India, and thereby fulfilling their age old desire of annexing Kashmir to its territory.
But Pakistan being Pakistan, it had to commit blunders as it had in all its previous wars with India, be it in 1947-1948, 1965 or 1971.
This time around, they diverted their forces from Skardu and Gilgit (PoK) to cross-over LOC, crawling more than 10 kilometres into Indian territory disguising themselves as mujahideens (extremist Islamist group operating out of Kashmir).
Pakistan Army’s (in)famous gang of 4 (who were also responsible for overthrowing the civilian government of PM Nawaz Sharif), namely Gen Pervez Musharraf, the then chief of general staff, Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz, FCNA (Force Command Northern Areas), Lt Gen Javed Hassan and 10-Corps commander Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmad, planned and executed this operation to the hilt. But as stated above, Pakistani’s being Pakistani’s; they abandoned their plan and their own soldiers when the Indian Army upped the ante against them. The perpetrators sitting in Pakistan, rather than accepting the consequences for this misadventure, conveniently shifted the blame on the civilian government.
Due to the extreme weather in the mountainous ranges, the Indian Army as a protocol, used to vacate its bunkers on Kargil heights during winter only to occupy them again in summer, as a practice that was followed since Independence, but not in 1999. The Indian Army which is otherwise known for their vigilance and alertness were caught off guard, and rather embarrassingly. They should have known better though, with Pakistan and the venomous snakes of the northern light infantry sitting right across the border. May, 1999 came as a shocker, when the Indian Army learnt their lesson and reaffirmed their conviction on never trusting Pakistan for anything, ever again.
The Northern Light Infantry of the Pakistani Army through an organized effort and with the active support of the Pakistani authorities crept up the Kargil heights and captured more than 140 posts before the Indian Army realized the gravity of the situation.
It is believed that the Pakistani civilian government headed by Nawaz Sharif was also kept in the dark about this plan and the nefarious design was only disclosed to the authorities in the government when all the Indian posts had been encroached and occupied by the Pakistani Forces. The Pakistani soldiers were made to wear shalvar-kameez/pathani’s and skull caps to make them look like local mujahedeen’s with dry fruits and other food materials which would last them for long. Even the Indian Army, had absolutely no idea of the exact extent of the problem, until they were confronted with the brutality of the Pakistani Soldiers.
Capt. Saurabh Kalia, along with 5 other soldiers (Sepoys Arjun Ram, Bhanwar Lal Bagaria, Bhika Ram, Moola Ram and Naresh Singh), was on patrol duty when he and his colleagues were captured alive on 15th May, 1999 and tortured mercilessly by the enemy before being killed. Tortured is rather an understatement to the cruelty the jawans were subjected to. No civilized ethical Army would burn bodies of their war prisoners with cigarettes or have their ear drums and eyes to be punctured with hot iron rods, but the Pakistani Army committed this act gruesome act that no ethical Army would have.
The Pakistani Army, high on morale after becoming a nuclear Power assumed that India wouldn’t dare to open a war front with Pakistan considering that war would lead to mutual destruction of both nuclear powers. But they did not anticipate the havoc that the Indian heavy guns, BOFORS would create and the role it would play in dislodging the Pakistani’s from Kargil.
The Game Changer:
Even though India officially won the undeclared war on 26th July, 1999, now fondly remembered as “ Kargil Vijay Diwas ”, it was the 4th of July that turned the tide and tilted the odds in favour of India.
The Pakistani forces (Northern Light Infantry) were comfortably settled inside Indian bunkers, especially on Tiger hill (Point 4660) and dislodging them seemed like an impossible task. Known for their professionalism and expertise in driving out Pakistani’s every time it tried to intrude into Indian Territory, the Indian Army seemed determined to achieve the unthinkable, yet again. Having learnt their lessons after losing 3 wars against India, the Pakistani Army seemed to have learnt a few lessons in warfare and was giving Indian forces a tough time this time around, only to lose to the bravado of the Indian Army later in July. The Army, which had initially dismissed the issue of Pakistani intrusion as minor skirmishes with Mujahedeen’s, too faced high casualties at the hands of the enemy.
And although there were some small accomplishments by the Indian Army, the fight was still being dictated on Pakistan’s terms and it was important for the forces to reclaim Tiger Hill at the earliest.
Tiger Hill, the highest peak in the Kargil-Dras sector, directly overlooked the Shrinagar-Leh National Highway NH-1A, which is the main supply line for Siachin and a connection line between Srinagar and Leh (Ladakh). It was the combined efforts 18 Grenadiers, 2 Naga, and 8 Sikh of the Indian Army that ensured that Tiger Hill was reclaimed. A special mention is made of Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav who continued his onslaught upwards on Tiger Hill against the enemy in spite of losing his Commander and his teammates and also himself being critically injured while fighting for India.
A small contingent (Ghatak Platoon, of which Grenadier Yogendra Singh Yadav was also a part) rock climbed an almost vertical side from the other side of Tiger hill (16,500 feet plus) while the enemy was engaged in war by continuous shelling by the Indian Army. The tactic used by the Indian Army redefined the way a war was fought on open battle fields with the enemy relying on guerrilla warfare on Mountains. The attack by the Indian Army jawans, who had successfully managed to climb the rocky mountain in the wee hours of 4th of July, took the enemy by absolute surprise leading to their retreat.
This marked the Indian Army’s 1st substantial victory in the region after having suffered major casualties initially in the war. The loss suffered by the Pakistani Army was grave though since any loss of life could not be replaced by them considering they throughout the whole time denied it was them. Add to that misery, PM Nawaz Sharif after his meeting with President Clinton ordered for a withdrawal of his troops from Indian soil. Subsequently the Indian Army took control of Dras and Batalik and absolutely threw out the intruders.
18 years have passed by in a jiffy and the dynamics of India – Pakistan and Kashmir have changed drastically in the meanwhile. Pakistan, who use to lay claim on Kashmir and had some standing on the International diaspora because of China and Saudi Arab’s help, forever lost its claim on Kashmir after having been found guilty of state sponsored terrorism.
India, on the other hand under the leadership of the present government has covered a lot of ground in terms of procuring modern warfare technology. Not only is India the largest arms importer today, but an initiative has been taken by the government to start manufacturing arms and ammunition in the country itself, marking a new beginning for Indian made weapons for the future generations.
Indian made bullet proof vests have already made way, it won’t be long before other requirements of the forces are met with by domestic manufacturers itself.
 The Indian Army lost 527 of its fine soldiers, with more than 1350 injured while fighting the enemy.