In February 1999, across the snow capped peaks in the Kargil and Dras sectors, troops of the Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry, along with elements of the Special Services Group (SSG), infiltrated across the Line of Control and occupied the heights dominating the National Highway 1D. A large number of heavily armed irregulars and Afghan mercenaries accompanied this group to give a facade of this being a Mujahideen group. Code named ‘Operation Badr’ by Pakistan, the initial infiltration went unnoticed by the Indian security forces. Due to maintenance difficulties, Indian forward posts in this sector used to be withdrawn in winter and reoccupied at the onset of Spring. Pakistan thus achieved surprise and soon was in occupation of nearly 200 square km of Indian territory, to include all the dominating heights overlooking the road to Leh.
The battle waged to evict this ingress was long and bitter. The saga of grit and courage exhibited by the Indian Army, will long be remembered. Against all odds, our men climbed up the razor sharp cliffs, disregarding the blistering machine gun fire that came in torrents from the mountain top. Inch by bloody inch the enemy was pushed back from peak after peak till finally on 26 July 1999, the last peak was cleared. Pakistani forces occupying the heights were decimated, and in an act that shall forever rebound to the shame of the Pakistani military, they disowned their dead in battle. Recapturing the Kargil and Dras heights came at a cost for India too, the country losing 527 soldiers KIA (killed in action) and 1363 wounded in battle. But a great victory had been achieved, celebrated now as Kargil Vijay Divas every year on 26 July.
Despite the humiliation of Kargil, Pakistani aggression continues unabated till date, with its unabashed support to terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen. Pakistan continues to run a maze of terror camps which provide training in arms and explosives to young men and women who are then infiltrated into India to carry out acts of sabotage and terror. In July 2015, a police station was attacked in Gurdaspur and in January this year, terrorists from across the border attacked the Air Force Station in Pathankot. The recent violence in Kashmir is also symptomatic of the support provided by Pakistan to terrorist groups operating in India and to the separatist elements within the Valley. This is in effect a fall back on Bhutto’s promise to wage a thousand year war with India and Zia ul Haq’s strategy to bleed India with a thousand cuts.
The Indian Army has been at the forefront in combating violence in J&K along with the state police and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). That violence levels have been contained and normalcy exists in the state is a testament to the success of military operations. However, absence of violence by itself is no indicator of peace. Much more needs to be done to eradicate the source of conflict. Dealing with and eliminating terrorists such as Burhan Wani is but a palliative. The source lies in Pakistan’s policy towards India and the huge amount of funds that are being pumped in, both in J&K and in the rest of the country, from Saudi Arabia to promote Salafi Islam. Both need to be countered if the scourge of terrorism is to be contained and eradicated from Indian soil.
Indian diplomacy at the international level has been fairly successful in convincing the world that the epicentre of terrorism lies in Pakistan. I daresay though, that more than Indian diplomacy, it is Pakistani actions that have greatly helped in this regard. Yet, due to geopolitic compulsions, the US and the West have been constrained to take a soft stance while dealing with this rogue state. This is unlikely to materially change, despite soundbites emanating from Washington, seeking a tougher line on Pakistan. Ultimately, India will have to deal with Pakistan on its own, in a language that is understood by that country. The lessons of Kargil must not be forgotten. We must be vigilant and we must deal with the enemy with a firm hand.