The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have close religious, ethnic and linguistic ties with the people of Drass and Kargil. Historically, Ladakh was under wazir wazarat who was also responsible for Baltistan. Ladakh had three tehsils, Skardu, Kargil and Ladakh. During the liberation war of Gilgit-Baltistan, 1948, Drass and Kargil were captured by liberation forces of Gilgit (irregular) and were also knocking the doors of Leh.

The areas were re-occupied by the Indian Army when the liberation forces retreated to Olding for re-grouping when ceasefire was announced. During the 1971 war, Indian Army crossed the ceasefire line and occupied four villages namely Chalunka, Turtuk, Tykshi and Thang in Shyok valley of Baltistan while there was no opposition. In the 90s, when the Kashmiri intifada was at its peak against tyrannies and murders, Kashmiri mujahideen crossed Line of Control (LOC) to attack Indian army patrols and posts.

In 1998, intelligence agencies detected an Indian army plan to attack Pak army positions in the Shakma sector which were dominating Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Highway. This was further confirmed by frequent visits of the then defense minister George Fernandes to the region. In view of the looming threat in the sector, it was decided at an appropriate level to plug in the gaps between the posts. According to General Pervez Musharraf in his book, ‘In the Line of Fire’, by the end of April 1999, the LoC was secured at a frontage of 75 miles (120 kilometers) and new posts were established of 10 to 20 persons each. During this time, the Kashmiri mujahideen had also occupied some posts vacated by Indian army in winters. The first encounter with the Indian army was reported when an Indian patrol was challenged inside our boundaries and close to a Pak army post followed by a clash with the Kashmiri mujahideen which resulted in heavy Indian army casualties.

The Indian army accused the presence of Kashmiri and Afghan mujahideen in the area for these losses. Later, the Indian army alleged the presence of Pak army in forward areas along with mujahideen and despite these allegations, little evidence was produced to substantiate the allegations. These minor skirmishes led to the Kargil conflict from May 1999 to July 1999. The Indian Army felt threatened and therefore brought additional troops to take back some of the heights occupied by mujahideen and the Pak army in depth locations, covering gaps. The Indians realised the threat to Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway; the only link between Ladakh and Srinagar. It remained closed from mid-November to early June due to Zoji la pass being blocked. On this highway, the entire population of Ladakh and military forces were dependent. Earlier, this highway was within the effective firing range of Pak army. With the occupation of heights, the highway was only 2 to 3 kilometres and Drass, 5 kilometres away.

According to former Indian army chief General V.K Malik in his book, Kargil from Surprise to Victory, the objective of Pakistan was to “recapture a portion of Siachen Glacier to cut off vital Indian communication links of this area and thus disrupt its control”. The Indian Army deployed an additional four divisions with artillery to take back heights which threatened the lifeline to Ladakh and Siachen. The Indian army launched a series of attacks, first on Tololing ridge in the Drass sector because the occupation of ridges made the interdiction of highway even easier which impeded foot and vehicular movement.

The 56th Brigade of the Indian army was tasked to capture the ridge occupied by a platoon of Pak army. The first attack was launched on May 22, by 18 Grenadiers, supported by 1 Naga and 17 Rajputana Rifles and on June 17, after a series of unsuccessful attacks, the ridge was occupied. 100 artillery guns, mortars, rocket batteries were employed to support the brigade attack. The second important battle was fought for the capture of Tiger Hill (16500 feet) located 10 km north of the highway. Tiger Hill was defended by platoons of an NLI regiment. Bofors 155mm howitzers were used in a direct firing role as thousands of rounds were fired. This bombardment was augmented by a rain of rockets by the Indian Air Force (IAF). Tiger Hill was attacked by Indian 192 mountain bridge in the last week of June and after waves of attacks, occupied on July 8. 9000 shells were fired at Tiger Hill defended by a platoon as 100 to 120 artillery guns (Bofors) were used in a direct firing role.

The Indian Army failed to recapture most of the important heights from the Pakistan Army as the Indian gains were a mere 10 percent. According to Colonel Kushal Thakur of 18 Grenadiers “they (Pakistani) fight to the end-even when they were wounded, they fight on”. IAF entered the conflict on May 26, 1999 to support ground troops. On May 27, 1999, two Indian MIGs were shot down, followed by a MI-17 helicopter during attack on Tololing ridge. By end June the Indian army acknowledged that Pak army continued to occupy heights at Drass, Turtok and Chorbat la. The Indian army resorted to mass attacks from the Drass to Chorbat la sectors as brigade size attacks were launched against positions held by 10 to 15 persons. Five NLI battalions forced the Indian army to deploy four divisions plus the support of artillery, air force and gunship helicopters. The India artillery fired over 250000 shells, bombs and rockets during the Kargil war. 5000 artillery shells/rockets and mortars fired daily from 300 guns. Hundreds of officers of Pak army volunteered to fight and reported to the rear headquarters of Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) at Rawalpindi. Despite the Indian onslaught, all ranks of our army kept fighting against all odds bravely. According to Nasim Zehra in her book, “From Kargil to Coup”, when Major Abdul Wahab shaheed (a friend of mine) was under attack, seriously injured, he ordered his injured men to leave and demanded that they fix a large machine gun (LMG) “that I can fire at the approaching enemy”. He embraced shahadat firing at the enemy from this position. His body is still there on the top of Kargil heights and he was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat posthumously.

During the battle of Tiger Hill, India launched attacks, wave after wave against a Pakistani platoon under Capt Sher Khan. He was seen carrying an LMG and attacking Indian army troops from his post. He killed several enemy soldiers before embracing shahadat. The then commander of the Indian 192 mountain brigade, Brigadier Bajwa wrote a citation, praising his bravery and leadership. For his personal gallantry and leadership, he was posthumously awarded the Nishan-e-Haider. Hawaldar Lalik Jan, bore the maximum brunt of enemy attacks and repulsed seven attacks in 48 hours and defended his post till his last breath. He was awarded the Nishan-e-Haider posthumously for exceptional courage, leadership and leading from the front. The NLI regiment was recognised as full-fledged regiment of Pak army and at par with other regiments for displaying high professionalism and unshakeable determination by its troops. In the case of the Indian army, a lot of controversies also generated when they awarded the highest military award Param Vir Chakra posthumously to a soldier whose wife claimed that he was still alive and admitted in a hospital. Pakistan army still enjoys strategic superiority in the Kargil sector, where it still threatens India’s main supply route to Ladakh and Siachen.