10 years after Kargil
The boom of the Bofors guns does not echo anymore. There are no frenzied television crews beaming live pictures to millions of drawing rooms across the globe. It is a tense silence at the Line of Control where India and Pakistan fought pitched battles during the Kargil conflict in June-July 1999.
In these 10 years, the Indian Army has rejigged its plans. Going by the Kargil experience, it has virtually clawed back to a position of supremacy in holding on to the strategic Drass-Kargil-Batalik sector.
The snow-clad, rugged and treacherous Himalayan ridge line in this part rises beyond 16,000 feet. It forms a strategic tri-axis with Pakistan to the west and China to the east of India. It was this slice of the mountains that had prompted Gen Pervez Musharraf, the then Chief of the Pakistan Army, to carry out his “mis-adventure”, hoping to cut out Leh and Siachen.
After having evicted the enemy in 1999 through sheer grit and against all odds, today the biggest challenge for the Army has been to hold onto the icy peaks and
create an impregnable defence, opined a senior officer. Now, troops and officers man fully equipped posts on top of the snow-clad ridge line throughout the year. On the LoC, Indian and Pakistani troops sit in their respective posts that are separated by a few hundred metres through the air.
Such is the extreme that day-time temperatures in June are minus 5 degrees Celsius. Some of the posts are cut off from the world from November through June. The communication is through a telephone line as temperatures go down to minus 40 degrees Celsius in the winter.
The earlier practice of vacating these peaks during winter had led to the intrusion. Particularly crucial were Tiger Hill, Point 4875 and Tololing from where the Pakistanis pounded the Srinagar-Leh highway relentlessly as they occupied vantage points.
Now, a series of big guns like the 155 mm Bofors and the 105 mm Indian field gun have been based in this area. To know about intrusions, if any, the Army has access to satellite images besides gathering human intelligence.
The strength of the Army has been increased from a brigade — roughly 6,000 troops — in 1999 to three times its size to have a division based here.
A new corps has been raised at Leh with a Lt Gen rank official heading it while a “Kargil battle school” continuously trains fresh batches of troops about the nuances of mountain warfare on these heights. In 1999, it had taken the troops some days to be acclimatised and not all of them were trained in the mountain warfare. A couple of new landing strips have been created for faster induction of troops. The National Highway 1-D between Zojila pass and Leh has been widened. At present work is on to widen it further to accommodate two vehicles passing each other in opposite directions.
One of the handicaps of the 1999 conflict was communication between troops and the base camps. This was through hand-held radio sets which was intercepted easily by Pakistanis.
Now secure telephone lines have been laid connecting each small post and outpost with the senior commanders at the bases. Roads have been laid in new inaccessible areas in Batalik, while the Border Roads Organisation is continuously at work to create new much-needed infrastructure.