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SWJED 06-15-2008 06:15 PM

Restraint as a Successful Strategy in the 1999 Kargil Conflict
Restraint as a Successful Strategy in the 1999 Kargil Conflict
by Colonel Devendra Pratap Pandey, Indian Army, Small Wars Journal


In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf, then Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) of the Pakistan Army, orchestrated a major intrusion into an unoccupied but strategically sensitive complex of Kargil along the northern border of India. The Kargil intrusion was an operation of strategic importance conducted by Pakistan to provide a much required momentum to its weakening proxy war in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), a state of India. Pakistan had waged an irregular war, in J&K, for a decade, exploiting religious similarities to incite secessionist activities, by actively supporting, financing, and training insurgents, while exporting foreign radicals and so called jihadist elements across the borders. This latest aggression across the border by the Pakistan Army was another attempt to redeem its prestige after the defeats of 1947-48, 1965, and 1971. The 1998-99 act of intrusion was of even greater significance because it was enacted during a political peace process when the then Indian Prime Minister was visiting Pakistan on invitation. The surprise intrusion, along a stretch of the border that had historically remained peaceful due to the terrain difficulties, was a spark in an already charged regional tinderbox...

Ray 06-18-2008 11:05 AM

The Pakistan Army has always been psyched to believe that “one Pakistani is equal to ten Indians”.

This has been repeatedly debunked in all the wars fought between India and Pakistan.

While the outcome of wars is debatable, 1971 and 1965’s Battle of Assal Uttar (the physical graveyard of Patton tanks which were superior to anything India had) gave Pakistan no leeway to cover up their inadequacy at combat unlike the fact wherein Pakistan’s Operation Grand Slam is not discussed in history, military or otherwise or for that matter, any other debacle, not even the 1971 fiasco of their own making (except in general vague and defensive terms)!!

That apart, Musharraf has a chip on his shoulder. He is a Mohajir and hence non martial as per the British classification. And yet he was the COAS. In addition, he pipped Khatak (a blue blooded Pathan and a martial race man) to the post of COAS. He also had a personal grievance to settle. Gen. Zia chose Gen. Musharraf (then a Brigadier) in 1987 to command a newly-raised Special Services Group (SSG) base at Khapalu in the Siachen area. To please Gen. Zia, Gen. Musharraf with his SSG commandos launched an attack on an Indian post at Bilfond La in September, 1987, and was beaten back.

Therefore, Kargil.

Mujahideens were not used as a front. They were used as porters. The whole campaign of Pakistan was excellent so long as it was confined to the sand model discussions (sand table). As is wont with all Generals, the logistic aspect was given short shrift. That is where the Waterloo manifested. No re-supply, NO victory! No medevac, low morale! The diary of a Pakistani officer indicated that Allah alone was the panacea! That does not work in real life!

More later since I was there!

Ray 06-18-2008 06:42 PM

The 1971 War was a watershed. Unlike before, where the troops returned to status quo ante after the war, the Simla Agreement stated that the Line of Control would be as is where the troops finally were. Thus the Suchetgarh Agreement redrew the Cease Fire Line to the present Line of Control. It meant de facto that what was captured in Jammu and Kashmir, belonged to the captor!

The terrorism unleashed by Pakistan assisted terrorists, mostly foreign terrorists, for nearly two decades were spluttering. The pipedream of wresting Kashmir which was an impossibility, given the terrain and the military capability was about to be snuffed out since there appeared to be a serious move towards a peace standstill between the governments led by Vajpayee and Sharif. It was the last chance to grab as much territory before it happened and it would give the necessary fillip to the Moslem pride of having had a victory in the end, washing away the previous ignominy!

Ideal to the plot of a final victory was the sparsely guarded area of Kargil, where an independent brigade with elements of the Border Security Forces guarded the rugged, knife edged High Altitude and glaciated frontier from West of Dras to East of Turtuk . The troops were inadequate if it were to have been in the classical LC deployment but the appreciation pre Kargil indicated that it would be sufficient to guard the avenues of approach, whereby large gaps and unheld heights were commonplace.

Given the density of deployment elsewhere in Jammu and Kashmir, Kargil appeared to be ideal for the picking. And so the plot was cast.

However, while on a sand model (sand table) it was an easy operation, logistically it was and proved to be a nightmare. Infiltrating and holding unheld heights was not difficult, but the Pakistani Army blundered on the logistics essential to sustain isolated post well within the Indian territory with hostile adversaries on the flanks and rear, in addition to the problem of moving porter and animal will logistics over knife edged, deep snow covered and rugged footpaths, there being no roads or transport capable tracks. Courage and Allah (as the diary of an officer indicated was the motivation) alone cannot overrule military necessities of food and ammunition replenishment and casualty evacuation and reinforcement. And it was impossible to move by day and some posts created deep was beyond a one night march, given the terrain and climatic conditions!

Thus, failure was axiomatic!

Pakistan has always used the Indian card to divert attention from internal problems. However, it is foggy as to whether Nawaz Sharif had categorically given the green signal or was it a sleight of hand of the Pakistani Army that embarked on this foolhardy and highly flawed military operation. What is the truth will never be in the public domain unless Pakistan has a Commission to probe the debacle. Even then, it might be a whitewash as the Justice Hamdoor Rehman Commission probing the 1971 Bangladesh rout!!

While it was a diplomatic coup for India not to escalate the conflict, it is moot point if India could have confined the area of conflict to J&K if the conflict changed from push to a shove! There can be no doubt that Pakistan would open all the fronts so as to ensure that the Indian forces are dispersed and not concentrated anywhere.

The Indian public indeed wanted Pakistan to be put in its place. However, none wanted the conflict to escalate into a full blown war. The involvement of the Indian public with the Indian war machine was for the first time intimate since the private TV channels and newspapers vied with each other to be first with the news and reporting from the frontline itself! One TV anchor was so enthusiastic that the anchor gave away the game even before it was executed! Of course, the anchor was no Pakistani agent, merely a starry eyed teenager having a grandstand view!! The Army HQ baulked and for a short while all reporters were expelled to only return since it did mobilise the public support!

In so far as Indian politicians were concerned, they were back to the usual game of doing each other down with no a shred of nationalism to care for! Natwar Singh of the opposition Congress Party was at his shrill best and was dithering and frothing at his mouth like a raving lunatic!

In so far as the contention that India could have embarked on a full scale war, the defence purchases during the conflict is an indicator of the feasibility of a win win situation.

In so far as the Air Force is concerned, they had never operated in a combat profile in the High Altitude and thus there were many limitations to their success in the High Altitude. It was a repeat of using Bofors in Siachen till the new Range Tables were formulated. Even PGMs had their limitations.

Notwithstanding what is written by various commentators and notwithstanding the debate whether it would be a better option to cross the Line of Control and take the war into Pakistan held Kashmir, the maturity shown by the then Indian government was an example of statesmanship and in the overall context, India did appear to be a responsible nation that could assert its will without endangering world peace!

Ray 06-19-2008 03:52 AM

Correction to the above, the independent brigade was covering an area West of Dras to West of Turtuk or what has now known as Sub Sector Hanif.

Typographical error.

davidbfpo 09-21-2012 11:51 AM

The Kargil War (new title, all aspects)
Thanks to a lurker's pointer to this Carnegie research paper on an intriguing issue in a delicate setting:

From the preface:

The role of airpower, however, was tinged with controversy from the very beginning. Both during and immediately after the conflict, it was not clear whether the Indian Air Force (IAF) leadership of the time advocated the commitment of Indian airpower and under what conditions, how the IAF actually performed at the operational level and with what effects, and whether the employment of airpower was satisfactorily coordinated with the Indian Army at either the strategic or the tactical levels of war. Whether airpower proved to be the decisive linchpin that hastened the successful conclusion of the conflict was also uncertain—but all these questions provided grist for considerable disputation in the aftermath of the war.

What the Kargil conflict demonstrated, however, was that airpower was relevant and could be potentially very effective even in the utterly demanding context of mountain warfare at high altitudes.
There is an earlier short thread on Kargil, although the word appears on twenty threads:

Ray 09-21-2012 03:13 PM

Airpower in Kargil was not really a coordinated effort as one would want.

There was much to be desired as far as a coordinated effort is concerned.

The IAF, in any case, was not trained for combat in support of High Altitude land operations.

Ray 09-21-2012 07:13 PM


Kargil conflict was a “poor test” of India's air warfare capability, a prominent US think-tank has said, warning that with threats of future wars with Pakistan and China persisting, Indian defence establishment has to prepare accordingly.

“Despite the happy ending of the Kargil experience for India, the IAF's fighter pilots were restricted in their operations due to myriad challenges specific to this campaign. They were thus consigned to do what they could rather than what they might have done if they had more room for maneuver,” said the think-tank in a report released on Thursday.

The Kargil war, in which India emerged victorious over Pakistan, the 70-page report titles 'Airpower At 18,000: the Indian Air Force in the Kargil War' further brought to light the initial near-total lack of transparency and open communication between Indian Army's top leaders and the IAF.

The report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the covert Pakistani intrusion into Jammu and Kashmir had exposed a gaping hole in India's nationwide real-time intelligence.

“On a strategic level, the Kargil War vividly demonstrated that a stable bilateral nuclear deterrence relationship can markedly inhibit such regional conflicts in intensity and scale -- if not preclude them altogether,” it said.

“In the absence of the nuclear stabilizing factor, those flash points could erupt into open-ended conventional showdowns for the highest stakes. But the Kargil War also demonstrated that nuclear deterrence is not a panacea,” the report said.

It said the possibility of future conventional wars of major consequence along India's borders with Pakistan and China persists, and the Indian defence establishment must plan and prepare accordingly.

According to the report, Pakistan's military leaders miscalculated badly in their apparent belief that the international community would press immediately for a cease-fire in Kashmir out of concern over a possible escalation of the fighting to the nuclear level, with the net result that Pakistan would be left with an easily acquired new slice of the terrain on the Indian side of the LoC.

Carnegie said the nuclear balance between the two countries did not deter a determined Indian conventional response, and the successful reaction that India ultimately mounted on the Kargil heights fell well short of being all out in scale.

“Furthermore, since the Vajpayee government scrupulously kept its combat operations confined to Indian-controlled Kashmir, the international community had no compelling reason to intervene,” it said.

As a result, a remote but high-intensity and high-stakes showdown was allowed to run on for more than two months, something the Pakistan Army's leaders all but certainly did not anticipate when they first conjured up their incursion plan.

The Kargil experience also suggested that if China and Pakistan came to appreciate that India possessed overwhelming conventional force preponderance in the region, that presence could act as a deterrent against such provocations in the future, it said.

According to the report, prudent Indian defence planners will likely find themselves shortchanged in their preparations for the full spectrum of possible challenges to their country's security in years to come if they draw undue comfort from the happy ending of the Kargil experience and accept that conflict as their only planning baseline for hedging against future contingencies along the Line of Control.

Gurkha 09-30-2012 05:50 AM

Misleading : what actually won the war were the Bofors, diplomatic pressure & the Pak army chickening out...and not necessarily in that order. Despite being an infantryman myself and notwithstanding the gallant but suicidal assaults by our light infantry at 18000 feet, it was firepower, information warfare & psychological pressure which won the day. The Air force now boasts about it, have few LGB videos to show about interdiction blah blah.. but as with the old axiom : "success has many fathers while defeat is always a bastard !!"

Ray 09-30-2012 07:51 AM

If one can lay his hands on the book "A Ridge Too Far" by Capt Amarinder Singh, who is ex Maharaja of Patiala, one would be able to get an idea of the Kargil War.

He was there after the war and interacted with the people and the units and with us at the Div and then wrote the book.

I would take the IAF doing a great job not very seriously, though the helicopters (Army and IAF) did much service.

Attack on objectives from the air which are narrow and just a spot on the ground by flying in laterally across the mountain ridges and narrow valleys with high performance jets is not an easy matter.

The IAF was new to this type of warfare is the best way to explain.
(courtesy Bharat Rakshak)

omarali50 09-30-2012 08:57 PM

Pakistan Air Force role in Kargil has been well covered by PAF officers (and seems like the truth to an outside observer):

carl 09-30-2012 11:51 PM


Originally Posted by Gurkha (Post 141210)
...what actually won the war were the Bofors,...

That is an interesting comment. Could you expand on it a little so I can understand better?

Ray 10-01-2012 08:23 AM


Originally Posted by carl (Post 141256)
That is an interesting comment. Could you expand on it a little so I can understand better?

Because of the dispersion of the artillery shells as is natural, there were too many 'overs' and 'unders', missing the objective on the narrow ridgeline. Such overs and unders would also affect the attacker since it (the attack) was on mountain slopes.

The Bofors were used in Direct Firing Role to achieve pin point accuracy with devastating effect, as also conservation of ammunition - an important logistic issue given that the single lane precipitous road was under direct enemy observation.

It maybe mentioned at these High Altitude heights there is no cover. Cavalier assault were also not feasible owing the the lack of oxygen which made movement slow and laboured. Therefore, close support was an absolute necessity till as long as possible and so safety distances of Direct Firing infantry weapons were reduced. Artillery in the classical mode of firing would have a greater safety distance owing to the natural dispersion pattern of shells being fired. Direct Firing of Bofors allowed one to overcome the natural disadvantage of the dispersion of artillery shell fired in the classical manner. This allowed the infantry to close in with close support of the Artillery in direct firing mode. The Bofors being capable of greater pin point accuracy than the other guns, having a greater devastation effect of its shell and being capable of faster loading, the number of shells effectively delivered were more and relentless. This had a devastating effect on the physical integrity of the defender's post and also on the enemy's morale. At the same time, it allowed the attacker to close in onto the objective closer with this devastating close fire support and in relatively greater safety.

The credit for deviating from the standard artillery practice goes to Lakhwinder, the Commander Artillery and then Maj Gen Mohinder Puri.

Ken White 10-01-2012 03:04 PM

That's this Bofors
LINK, not the one with which most in the US are familiar (LINK).

Ray 10-01-2012 05:42 PM

Bofors Haubits FH77/B Swedish 155 mm howitzer is the one used in Kargil.

Firn 10-01-2012 07:44 PM



Howitzers on High Ground: Considerations for Artillery Employment in Southwest Asia

An Analysis of Kargil

The first paper is especially instructive. I will comment in detail later.

davidbfpo 10-01-2012 09:40 PM

Moderator adds
I shall have to re-name this thread, 'Airpower at 18k’: The Indian Air Force in the Kargil War' we have moved away from air power to the "queen of the battlefield". Some good gains here too, SWC at it's best and good to see our Indian contributions too.

The new name: The Kargil War (all aspects) and will be merged with an old thread 'Restraint as a Successful Strategy in the 1999 Kargil Conflict'.

Ray 10-02-2012 08:08 AM


The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) efforts, Operation Safed Sagar (White Sea),
produced mixed results. Thin air diminished weapon accuracy and hindered aircraft
performance. Adverse weather and the heightened SAM threat hampered the IAF’s
attempts at close air support (CAS). Aircraft proved unreliable in rapidly changing
weather, and a lack of pilot training for CAS in the mountains further diminished the
IAF’s ability to provide firepower in coordination with ground maneuver. The IAF
eventually adapted and enjoyed some success, primarily against fixed targets. The
introduction of laser-guided munitions (LGM) increased accuracy and contributed to the
fight on Tiger Hill. IAF pressure on NLI soldiers had a significant psychological effect.
Unconventional techniques, such as using aerial munitions to create avalanches over
trails, isolated Pakistani defensive positions and destroyed supply sites.
From the US thesis mentioned above.

blueblood 10-02-2012 11:11 AM

IAF's side of the story.

It's true that IAF did more psychological damage than physical.

blueblood 10-02-2012 11:18 AM

As for the artillery.

As per the official list of Pakistani soldiers who have been killed during the war period, put up on its website by the Pakistani Army, about 190 of the over 400 dead were killed because of shelling by the Indian Army.

The Indian artillery fired over 2,50,000 shells, bombs and rockets during the Kargil conflict. Approximately 5,000 artillery shells, mortar bombs and rockets were fired daily from 300 guns, mortars and MBRLs while 9,000 shells were fired the day Tiger Hill was regained. During the peak period of assaults, on an average, each artillery battery fired over one round per minute for 17 days continuously.

The Gunners of the Indian Artillery fired their guns audaciously in the direct firing role, under the very nose of Pakistani artillery observation posts (OPs), without regard for personal safety.

Firn 10-02-2012 07:20 PM

As usual it is helpful to think in a simple yet disciplined fashion trough METT-TC ( Mission, Enemy, Terrain and weather, Troops and support available, Time available, and Civil considerations) keeping in mind that the missions were framed by the primacy of politics on both sides.

The papers and Ray, blueblodd and Gurkha have described aptly the impact of the specific endowment on the various factors and the adaption to it, especially from the Indian side. For example the time and human effort, mostly by porters, needed just to prepare the infantry part of the final assault was great indeed. According to an unidentified Indian Army major:

a single night-time operation may see as many as a thousand men moving against a single post occupied by only ten people.

Personally I wonder how to explain the relative lack of counter-battery fire by the Pakistani forces, especially considering the excellent OPs. Was it due to masked position of the relevant Indian batteries? Was it an insufficient political will (plausible? deniability, underestimation of Indians will) to muster enough ressources to muster enough artillery and supply?

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