July 26, 1999 will go down in the annals of Indian history as a day when the determined Indian forces achieved a glorious victory over the retreating Pakistani army.
It was on this day that the Indian victory over Pakistan was complete. True to its character despite having to pay a heavy price for fighting a war within its territory, the Indian forces allowed the Pakistanis to return across the Line of Control (LoC). It was a gesture which depicted the great Indian tradition of forgiving even the enemy, when it pleads for it. For Pakistan, it was another lesson which it would probably not forget for a long time. It would also put Pakistan to shame, for it chose to torture and kill the Indian prisoners of War (PoWs), rather than handing them over safely as was done by India through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Fighting against all odds in the icy heights of Kargil, a remote region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian forces ensured that the supreme sacrifice made by their gallant soldiers did not go waste. As the nation stood like a rock behind the men fighting a war forced upon India by Pakistan, the plea from Islamabad to allow a safe passage to the trapped Pakistani soldiers was an ultimate proof about the capabilities of the Indian defence. The successful eviction of Pakistanis by the concerted action of the Indian Armed Forces clearly demonstrated that while India remains a votary of peace, it has the will and the capability to fight and win a war. The advancing Indian forces left no stone unturned to ensure that not even one Pakistani soldier remained on the Indian soil. With the backing of the Indian Air force (IAF), the Indian Army achieved a feat which would be hard for any of the armies around the world to match. It was also a milestone in the history of military aviation, as it was for the first time that air power was deployed with such effectiveness in such a hostile environment. The lessons from Kargil would also be applicable to all Air Forces for the world.
Though Indian forces initially suffered some losses, they were able to gain control of various heights very quickly. From Patalik to Chorbatla, from Valdor to Shangruti, the Indian soldiers were victorious everywhere. The Pakistanis were surrounded from all sides. Despite fighting uphill, the brave Indian officers and jawans cut through the Pakistani barricades. And for once the nation stood united like never before. The religion was relegated to the background and all communities were one. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari there was an outpour of emotion for the valiant Indian soldiers. Every time a body returned from the battlefield, entire nation shed tears and only vowed with further resolve to show no mercy for the Pakistanis. The nation also did not lag behind in lending the much needed financial support for the families of the soldiers who had laid down their lives protecting the Indian sovereignty. Aware of the need for a boost in the morale of the soldiers going to the front who had knowledge that they may never return home, singers and stars turned up in large numbers at the railway stations. The Indian cricketers also palyed their part and visited the hospitals where the wounded were being treated. It was an effort to show India was not divided as the enemy was hoping.
Incidentally, our policy of restraint and resolve during the Kargil crisis was appreciated by the international community. The blatant misadventure of the Pakistani military establishment in Kargil failed miserably on the politico-diplomatic and military fronts. The Pakistani attempt in Kargil has had such far reaching effect that it has still not been able to emerge from the indignity it invited upon itself.
Viewed against the background the historic initiative taken by Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee to visit Lahore in February 1999 and the signing of the Lahore Declaration, which clearly reflected India’s willingness and determination to resolve its differences with Pakistan through a process of dialogue and confidence building, the Pakistani intrusion in Kargil was a betrayal of trust. Even while accepting India’s extended hand of friendship in Lahore, Pakistan was planning its clandestine, unprovoked full-scale intrusion across the LoC. Taking undue advantage of the unheld gaps in the continous and glaciated terrain, Pakistan attempted this aggression against India which led to the occupation of strategic territory on the Indian side of the LoC.
But in the end a great disservice was done by the Pakistani Army to not only all their countrymen but particularly to their soldiers, who were laying down lives in a war which had no idea, ideology or purpose. They did not know as to why they were fighting. While here in India there was an outpour of emotion and solidarity, the Pakistani soldiers died an unrecognised death. They were also not given a decent burial by their own men, whereas the Indian soldiers despite knowledge that these were the bodies of the enemy choose to give them a burial. For it goes by the Indian tradition to pay respect to the dead human, whoever he or she may be. Instead of recognising their sacrifices, the best traditions of the Armed forces, the Pakistani army not only treated their soldiers as cannon fodder, but adamantly refused to acknowledge their presence across the LoC. Later, despite being made fully aware of the identities of their slain soldiers, it continued to turn its back on the dead. This evidently was so because it would have immediately exposed the direct involvement of the Pakistani army.
Unable to face the humiliation inflicted by the Indian forces, Pakistan finally did acknowledge that some of the dead were their men. But then it asked India to hand over the bodies to the ICRC rather than accepting them directly. This again reflected little or no concern of Pakistan towards its own dead soldiers who will never return home and to their families. In fact, by this refusal, the fate of many Pakistani soldiers will remain an unsolved mystery, a pain that will be very hard to endure. And, the pain and agony suffered as a result by the families of these soldiers who are no more will squarely rest with the Pakistani army.
Kargil has lessons for both, India and Pakistan. India’s policy of peace has earned her recognition from world over, yet it must not take defence preparedness for granted. The lesson for Pakistan is, it must understand that dialogue is the best course for sorting out mutual problems between the two countries.