Recently, Lt Gen Shahid Aziz has written a thought-provoking book, “Ye Khamoshi Kaha Tak”, and a part of it is about the Kargil conflict.

Aziz has been a career officer. During his tenure as a general officer, he had held premier assignments that could only be assigned to a distinguished officer. As the portion of his book about Kargil has become controversial, and since I’ve commanded in the Kargil sector in 1961, I am going to interpret the author’s thought on what happened in 1999.

The sector that faced Kargil was Olding, also known as Olthingtong. Its defence was primarily on holding heights facing Kargil. During those days, Kargil had a sizeable force with troops deployed over the heights. The Ceasefire Line (CLF), which was marked by the UN after the Kashmir War of 1947, divided the Pakistani and Indian-controlled parts of Jammu and Kashmir; it is an unfinished agenda of partition. The UN observers were deployed on it to resolve the disputes whenever they occurred between the two countries.

During the 1965 war, Pakistan had occupied 1,600 sq miles of India’s territory; whereas, the latter occupied 450 sq miles of the former’s territory. The war ended after a peace agreement, Tashkent Declaration, which was signed between Pakistani President Field Marshal Ayub Khan and Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shatri. The troops were pulled back to vacate the captured territory, thus, restoring the CLF to its original status. Only the bunkers, which had been destroyed during the war, were rebuilt under the supervision of the UN observers.

One of the heights, about 14,000 feet overlooking Kargil, was called Kafir Pahar; it was under Pakistani control. On my first visit to the check post, after an overnight stay with the troops deployed there, I could distinctly count the people moving around in Kargil. It had a landing facility for the helicopter. The Kargil-Ladakh road was an important supply line and any movement was clearly visible.

It was conventional for troops on either side of the CFL to vacate the posts during snowfall and withdraw the troops to the rear. The Indian commanders always wanted to occupy Kafir Pahar and the allied heights to deny direct observation of this area by Pakistani troops. They did this after the 1971 war, as they did in 1984 when they occupied Siachen when after 1971 war late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, met in Simla and agreed to change the status of CFL into Line of Control (LoC), thus implying that the troops would remain in situ and would not withdraw to their original location. With this, Kafir Pahar and the allied heights in Kargil went under Indian troops’ control. Since then, there had been no direct observation of Kargil by the UN observers.

Anyway, in 1999, India’s Defence Minister George Fernandes announced that the aggressors were only 500 to 600 mujahideen and would be dislodged soon. However, he was totally unaware of the extent of the onslaught. The Indian establishment realised the seriousness of the situation only when casualties started arriving at the hospitals in New Delhi hospitals. This happened because the Kargil-Ladakh road was under the direct observation of Pakistani troops. That meant that the transfer of logistic supplies to sustain the Indian troops located in Kargil and Ladakh during winter was not possible. Thus, leaving no option for them either to desert the area or die of starvation. Indeed, this could have helped Pakistan to negotiate with India on the Kashmir issue. I think the PM should have supported to retain what had been gained by the army and mujahideen.

India went all-out to pressurise Pakistan to withdraw. Our civilian government, instead of agreeing to a ceasefire, opted for total withdrawal while the troops were in the battlefield. Since it was a wrong decision, it caused immense damage to the Pakistani troops as well as the mujahideen at the hands of the Indian forces. This shows who is responsible for the soldiers, who died in the Kargil conflict.

Pakistan, indeed, lost a golden opportunity to negotiate with India on the Kashmir dispute from a position of strength. If we recaptured our own area by force, what is our fault? The Pakistan Army is a disciplined institution and the people should not accuse it without knowing about the facts. India, however, has always tried to defame and demoralise it.

Having said that, let’s not talk about it anymore.

 The writer is a retired major general and managing director of Pakistan Education Network.