When Pakistan infiltrated regular troops of the Northern Light Infantry, Special Services Group [SSG] and other irregulars in the garb of mujahideen into various sectors in Kargil in the Indian Jammu and Kashmir in 1999, it was aiming to do a Siachen on India. The military aim of this operation was twofold. The first aim was to occupy and dominate the heights overlooking the Srinagar-Leh highway and then as a next step to establish a firm base with a view to commiting cartographic aggression and at the same time attempt to cut off the Indian lines of supply to Siachen.
In June 1999, Former Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] chief Lieutenant General Hamid Gul said India might have to surrender the Siachen glacier if the intruders and Pakistani Army regulars hold on to their positions in Kashmir for another six to eight weeks! So in reality, the Kargil war was aimed at getting Siachen for Pakistan.
Given the swift Indian response, the Pakistan Army was limited to a ground holding battle that they knew was lost from the very beginning. Pakistan had attempted a similar form of cartographic aggression in the years leading upto 1984 when the Indian Army launched Operation Meghdoot to occupy the Siachen glacier. Presently, India holds the entire glacier and commands the top of all three passes. Pakistan formerly controlled Gyong La at 35-10-29N 77-04-15E that overlooks the Gyong (tributary of the Shyok) and Nubra River Valley’s and India’s access to the Leh District in Jammu and Kashmir. In the seventies, Pakistan had given mountaineering expeditions permission to visit the area. Maps of Pakistan after 1972 had started showing the area beyond pt NJ 9842 as part of Pakistan.
The intelligence factor in Kargil was quite different from that in Siachen. In 1984, the political leadership was willing to listen and being aware that they could not be caught unawares like in 1962, Indira Gandhi gave the green signal for operation Meghdoot. In 1984, the intelligence was timely and acted upon. In 1999, the intelligence was there but no one seemed to be listening or if they did listen they did not want to act. This was the political establishment still enamoured by the Lahore bus ride.
In 1999, Pakistan wanted to do a Siachen on India. They had planned for it before and tried several times but failed to operationalise their plans. It was not as though the Pakistan Army did not try to dislodge the Indian Army from Siachen. The most well known was in 1987 and was masterminded by Pervez Musharraf heading a newly raised elite SSG commando unit. A special garrison with eight thousand troops was built at Khapalu. The immediate aim was to capture Bilafond La but after bitter fighting, the Pakistanis were thrown back and the positions remained with India. India’s highest gallantry award the Param Vir Chakra went to Naib Subedar Bana Singh (retired as Subedar Major/Honorary Captain), who in a daring daylight raid assaulted and captured a Pakistani post atop a 22,000 foot peak, now named Bana Post, after climbing a 457 m (1500 feet) ice cliff face.
Further attempts to reclaim positions were launched by Pakistan in 1990, 1995, 1996 and even in early 1999, just prior to the Lahore Summit. The author is an avid watcher of defence and strategic issues