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Vijay Diwas: What led to the Kargil conflict and how India won the war

By Vikas
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    New Delhi, July 24: The Kargil Vijay Diwas is celebrated every year on July 26 to commemorate India's victory in the Kargil conflict with Pakistan nineteen years ago. There were heavy casualities on both sides during the three-month conflict with the Indian side losing nearly 500 personnel.

    Kargil victory

    The Kargil Vijay Diwas is celebrated every year for three days to commemorate India's emphatic victory against Pakistan and to remember the supreme sacrifice of 500 bravehearts who laid down their lives for the country. Every year, the Army organises functions and events across the country to honour the war heroes.

    During the war, the Indian Army evicted Pakistani intruders and succeeded in recapturing the Tiger Hill and other posts as a part of Operation Vijay.

    What led to war:

    During the first week of May 1999, India received reports of infiltrators from across the border coming into Kargil occupying it. The security forces initially thought they were Mujahideen, but they soon realized that it was the Pakistani army that had occupied some of the posts. In reaction to the infiltration, India launched Operation Vijay to drive the Pakistani troops out of Kargil.

    The aim of the Pakistani incursion was to sever the link between Kashmir and Ladakh and cause Indian forces to withdraw from the Siachen Glacier, thus forcing India to negotiate a settlement of the broader Kashmir dispute. Pakistan also believed that any tension in the region would internationalize the Kashmir issue, helping it to secure a speedy resolution.

    How did India win the war

    Artillery played a key role

    Artillery played a key role

    The terrain of Kashmir is mountainous and at high altitudes. Even the best roads, such as National Highway 1D from Leh to Srinagar, are only two lanes. The rough terrain and narrow roads slowed down traffic, and the high altitude, which affected the ability of aircraft to carry loads, made control of NH 1D (the actual stretch of the highway which was under Pakistani fire) a priority for India.

    From their observation posts, the Pakistani forces had a clear line-of-sight to lay down indirect artillery fire on NH 1D, inflicting heavy casualties on the Indian forces. This was a serious problem for the Indian Army as the highway was the main logistical and supply route. The Pakistani shelling of the arterial road posed the threat of Leh being cut off, though an alternative (and longer) road to Leh existed via Himachal Pradesh.

    Kargil War memorial wall in Dras

    Kargil War memorial wall in Dras

    India positioned five infantry divisions, five independent brigades and 44 battalions of paramilitary troops in Kashmir. It also deployed as many as 60 frontline aircraft.

    The Indian Army, supported by the Indian Air Force, recaptured a majority of the positions on the Indian side of the LOC infiltrated by the Pakistani troops and militants. Facing international diplomatic opposition, the Pakistani forces withdrew from the remaining Indian positions along the LOC.

    The Indian Army's first priority was to recapture peaks that were in the immediate vicinity of NH 1D. This resulted in Indian troops first targeting the Tiger Hill and Tololing complex in Dras, which dominated the Srinagar-Leh route. This was soon followed by the Batalik-Turtok sub-sector which provided access to Siachen Glacier. Some of the peaks that were of vital strategic importance to the Pakistani defensive troops were Point 4590 and Point 5353.

    A war memorial

    A war memorial

    While 4590 was the nearest point that had a view of NH 1D, point 5353 was the highest feature in the Dras sector, allowing the Pakistani troops to observe NH 1D. The recapture of Point 4590 by Indian troops on 14 June was significant, notwithstanding the fact that it resulted in the Indian Army suffering the most casualties in a single battle during the conflict. Though most of the posts in the vicinity of the highway were cleared by mid-June, some parts of the highway near Drass witnessed sporadic shelling until the end of the war.

    As the operation was fully underway, about 250 artillery guns were brought in to clear the infiltrators in the posts that were in the line-of-sight. The Bofors FH-77B field howitzer played a vital role, with Indian gunners making maximum use of the terrain.

    The Indian army launched its final attacks in the last week of July; as soon as the Drass subsector had been cleared of Pakistani forces, the fighting ceased on 26 July.

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