Sunday, July 26, 2009

KARGIL /Pakistani views

The very frank views by the Pakistani authors about Kargil is a must for all Indians who are interested in recent history


Investigating Kargil



Thursday, July 02, 2009
Taj M Khattak

'What have you done, my friend, Nawaz Sharif?' was how, as narrated in Bill Clinton's memoirs My Life, the Clinton-Nawaz discourse began soon after the photo-op at the steps of the White House on July 4, 1999. Nawaz Sharif had embarked on that fateful sojourn a little over ten years ago for a face-saving climb-down from Kargil. It triggered politico-military consequences for the country and within a span of another three months, Sharif was overthrown, and the country is still reeling from its effects. Musharraf's unceremonious exit after a rule of nearly nine years has made little or no difference at all.

During much of the eight week period preceding the July 4 meeting in Washington, we had looked helplessly at TV images of pinpoint artillery shoots and resultant instant pulverization of some of the nation's bravest sons on such mountainous salients in the war zone as Point 5140 (Dras), Point 5203 ( Batalik), Three Pimples (Dras) and Tiger Hill.

'Operation Badr', as it was called, was launched to coincide with thawing of snow and summer opening of India's National Highway 1A, which links Srinagar to Leh via Kargil. Regular army personnel of the Northern Light Infantry, supported by special forces, artillery, engineers and other combat support personnel, in the garb of mujahideen and under a well-executed cover plan, infiltrated through gaps into Indian territory to occupy mountain tops between the LoC and the highway at several points.

It is a historical fact that any surreptitious military operations, executed howsoever brilliantly and courageously, are unfortunately of no real consequences, unless backed by such other elements of national power as a robust foreign policy, vibrant economy, national consensus, a cause based on sound internationally acknowledged principles and above all a zeitgeist for what a country sets about to achieve.

As the then Indian Army Chief, General V P Malik observed: "Militarily this situation could not have been better for Pakistan after the incursions, since its troops were inside India and had occupied strategic heights along the highway. Had they stayed, they could have cut off the supply route to Leh along the 160 kilometres LoC, seriously affecting Indian's ability to move, re-deploy or augment troops from one sector to another. They were poised to launch operations in Turtuk close to southern Siachen glacier and re-draw the LoC in Dras-Kargil-Batalik-Turtuk sectors. Intensified, enlarged or prolonged fighting would have enabled them to draw the world's attention to Jammu and Kashmir and a war between two nuclear nations."

So far so good – but beyond that, it appears, it was all lost on our military and political leaders.

At the height of the crisis, Benazir Bhutto had disclosed in an interview to Third Eye Television that President Pervez Musharraf had brought the Kargil plan to her when she was prime minister (when he was director-general military operations) and that she had rejected it.

The Indian army too is by this bug; venturing into Siachen under a similar impulse, and to date India retains under its control an area of the glacier of some 900-1000 square miles. Pakistan launched quite a few efforts to push back the Indians from a nearly 43 miles icy front, the most significant one being in 1984 with a sizeable troop's concentration at Khapalu spearheaded by elite SSG elements, but this was repulsed by the Indians.

This failure too reportedly bears Musharraf's hallmark signatures as one of the masterminds and planners. The 'Banna Post' named after Naib Subedar Banna Singh (the only Param Veer Chakra recipient of the Kargil conflict), taken away from us in fierce hand-to-hand combat in broad daylight, continues to be an eyesore on an otherwise glistening and pristine glacier. The Pakistan Army has just celebrated 'Year of the Soldier'. No prizes for guessing who would win hands down any contest for the 'The Most Failed Soldier of the Decade', were there to be any nominations.

But herein lies the whole irony; the Indian army exploited a 'lack of clarity' in a border demarcation agreement and occupied stretches of glacier which were open to different interpretations. The Pakistan army was trying to change lines over which wars had been fought and which, over a period, had morphed from a ceasefire line post-1965 to line of control after Simla Agreement. This fundamental difference, if not clear to the small coterie of Kargil planners, would have been clearer, had there been a broader consultative decision-making process.

The Hamoodur Rahman Commission on the 1971 debacle had observed that the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Navy learnt about the outbreak of war from the news bulletin on Radio Pakistan. Mainly as a result of this report, naval and air headquarters were shifted from Karachi and Peshawar to Islamabad at tremendous cost to the national exchequer. The National Defence College (NDC) was established at Rawalpindi to jointly train potential senior officers from the three services in the art of war. A Joint Services Headquarters was established to chalk out joint operational plans.

It was hoped that as a result of such measures, a generation of officers would foster closer tri-services understanding, and make joint operational planning more sensible. It is evident from the Kargil misadventure that this is not happening. The bonhomie and camaraderie garnered at the NDC, it seems, is only for extending mundane favors to fellow senior officers from time to time and never quite put to higher national purpose.

At best, Kargil was a tactical surprise -- beyond that it failed at the strategic level. After some hesitation and denials, we accepted the mortal remains of Captain Colonel Sher Khan and Havaldar Lalak Jan and honoured them with the highest gallantry awards, as praise for their courage by the enemy was becoming too embarrassing. There was of course no compunction or embarrassment in promoting/rewarding the four generals largely perceived to bear prime responsibility for the fiasco.

The Hamoodur Rehman commission report remained shrouded in mystery for over three decades, with people remaining unaware all this while as to why exactly we lost East Pakistan, till portions of it were beamed at us only recently from across the border forcing us to release it in its totality. On Kargil too, the people of Pakistan to this day are unaware as to what actually happened and why we drifted to the precipice of a potentially disastrous conflict.

What is known at best are nebulous and hazy facts between Musharraf's now famous 'everyone was onboard' quip to the BBC reporter, the phone call intercept between General Aziz and Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif's approval in principle at a moment when his concentration, to the nation's misfortune, was at the lowest ebb. This is clearly not enough.

The central issue is not whether Nawaz Sharif, the elected civilian prime minister had given an approval in principle and was onboard. It is also not whether another prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, had vetoed the Kargil plan when it was presented to her. Rather, it is the near absolute obsession, of our brethren in Khaki with the LoC, and their inability to resist temptation to do something or the other with it at considerable peril to the country. This obsession has not waned since Ayub's era, without realization that the opportunity to etch the Kashmir border permanently in stone through military campaigns was lost forever, when the Indian Army beat us to the Srinagar airport in 1948 Kashmir War by landing a company strength of troops there. Since then, it has always been only this Line or that; with the square miles area under control of the two adversaries in Azad & Indian Held Kashmir being, more or less a constant.

For as long the LoC remains an LoC, there will always be a danger for another adventure if and when we are through with yesterday's mujahideen turned today's terrorists in Swat, Waziristan and other areas in the north. Isn't it time there was an exhaustive enquiry into it and the right lessons learnt for all time to come. In comparison with re-opening Zulfiquar Bhutto's judicial murder case, which the government is thinking about, it might be easier to investigate Kargil where at least most of the principal witnesses are still around. The chances of that, however, happening in a country where a retired chief of the air staff, has to seek permission from the incumbent COAS just to appear before a National Assembly/Senate Committee, are slim -- unless we undergo a cathartic experience in one form or the other, there will be no relief from this lingering national pain.



The writer is a retired vice-admiral and former vice-chief of the Naval Staff, Pakistan Navy.
Gang-of-Four Planned Kargil, Keeping Pakistan in the Dark

Special SAT Report

WASHINGTON, July 22: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not aware of the Kargil Operation when he received Indian PM Vajpayee in Lahore on Feb 20, 1999, a new book written by a senior former police officer from Pakistan, and published by a New York Publishing house, has revealed.

The book, Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror, is authored by Mr Hassan Abbas, who is currently a Research Fellow at the Harvard Law School and a PhD. candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. He has served in the administrations of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1994-95) and General Musharraf (1999-2000).

The book examines the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan, and analyzes its connections to Pakistan Army's policies and the fluctuating US-Pakistan relations. It includes profiles of leading Pakistani Jihadi groups with details of their origins, development, and capabilities based on interviews with Pakistani intelligence officials, and operators of the militant groups.

The book contains new historical materials on Operation Gibraltar (1965 War with India), conspiracy behind General Zia-ul-Haq’s plane crash in 1988, a botched military coup by fundamentalists in army in 1993-4, the story of National Accountability Bureau (from an insider’s perspective) and lastly about how General Musharraf handled the volatile situation after the 9/11 attacks.

Besides General Musharraf’s detailed profile, the book evaluates the India-Pakistan relations vis-à-vis the Kashmir conflict, and Dr AQ Khan’s nuclear proliferation crisis. The book offers predictions for Pakistan's domestic and regional prospects.

Author Hassan Abbas gives a graphic description of how the Kargil disaster was planned and managed by the Army led by General Musharraf who led a “Gang of Four” and quotes Pakistan High Commissioner to UK, Maleeha Lodhi as saying: “Even corps commanders and other service chiefs were excluded from the decision-making process.”

“So much so that even the very able DGMO, Lieutenant General Tauqir Zia, was initiated into the secret after the gang of four had already taken the irrevocable decision of going ahead with the operation,” the book says.

The chapter on the Kargil Episode asks “Who is to be Blamed” and gives a detailed account of what happened based on author’s interviews with many serving and retired army officers. It says:

“In May 1999, just three months after the frozen road to Indo-Pak dialogue had thawed enough to get a promise for more going, Pakistan launched its operation against the Kargil Heights in the far north of Indian-held Kashmir, just across the LOC. These heights dominated the main Indian supply route to Leh, where India had a small cantonment to house one brigade. It was the Indian routine at Kargil to descend the heights at the start of the winter snows and reoccupy them the following spring. With these heights in Pakistani hands, it meant that supplies to Leh could not be maintained.

And though India did have an alternate route, it was not an all-weather, all-season road. India would therefore have no option but to recover the heights and open the road to Leh or allow its garrison to perish. Though, of course, even if India had any number of alternative roads, its pride alone would have sufficed for them to mount an operation for the relief of Kargil.

This operation had been discussed at least twice before in earlier years and turned down both times. General Zia-ul-Haq was the first army chief invited by the Military Operations (MO) directorate to see a presentation on this operation. After sitting through it, he resorted in his most chaste Urdu, which he would normally do only when he wanted to take someone to task. His ensuing conversation with the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), as narrated by a senior army officer, went somewhat like this:

Zia: When we take Kargil, what do you expect the Indians to do? . . . I mean, don’t you think they will try and recapture it?
DGMO: Yes sir, but we think that the position is impregnable and we can hold it against far superior forces.
Zia: Now that’s very good, but in that case, don’t you think the Indians will go for a limited offensive elsewhere along the line of control, take some of our territory, and use it as a bargaining chip?
DGMO: Yes sir, this is possible, but . . .
Zia: And if they are beaten back there also, don’t you think they will attack across the international frontier, which may lead to a full-scale war?
DGMO: That’s possible, sir.
Zia: So in other words, you have prepared a plan to lead us into a full-scale war with India!

This sardonic observation by Zia ul-Haq caused the demise of the first Kargil proposal. The second time the plan was mooted, it was shot down on the same grounds, that is, it was an easy tactical operation that was untenable in the long run unless Pakistan were prepared to go into a full-scale war with India, in which Kargil would be a secondary objective.

The third and final operational plan for Kargil was put forward by its inspirational father, Lieutenant General Mohammad Aziz Khan, chief of the general staff (CGS). Himself a Kashmiri, he was fully committed to the cause of Kashmiri freedom, and not the sort of man who held any commitment lightly. He is very religious and not known to be a hypocrite.

The tactical parents of the Kargil plan were two. The first was Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmad, the commander of 10th Corps, in whose area of operations the objective lay. He was a comparatively weaker personality than Aziz, with a romance about history. It is believed that he was convinced by the conviction of Aziz, which, combined with his own historical dream, made him a hostage to the Kargil idea.

The second parent of the plan was Major General Javed Hassan, commander of the Pakistani troops in the Northern Areas (Force Command Northern Areas, FCNA) who would actually have to carry out the operation. He had one of the best minds in the army and even more ambition. He gave his unstinting support to the operation, less through any sense of conviction and more because of the promise that such a position held of bringing him into General Pervez Musharraf’s charmed inner circle.

Musharraf was taken in by the enthusiasm of two of his closest generals, and, being eternally levitated by an irrepressible streak of unreal optimism, he became the strongest advocate of the operation. The absolute secrecy that was one of the preconditions of the success of the operation, to secure it against any possibility of leaks, also made it proof against any possibility of a second opinion, and thus against any collusion with a sense of reality.

According to Maleeha Lodhi, “Even corps commanders and other service chiefs were excluded” from the decision-making process. So much so that even the very able DGMO, Lieutenant General Tauqir Zia, was initiated into the secret after the gang of four had already taken the irrevocable decision of going ahead with the operation.

The next task was to bring the prime minister on board. For this, a presentation was organized. The exact date of this presentation is a million-dollar question, as this may consequently decide how history will judge both Musharraf and Nawaz. According to Niaz A. Naik’s narration of the events to Prof. Robert Wirsing, Nawaz Sharif was given a briefing by the army on the Kashmir issue on March 27 or 28, 1999, which probably was the one where the Kargil Plan was discussed.

Similarly, according to Owen Bennett Jones, the army contends that a specific briefing on the Kargil Plan was given in the second week of March 1999, where Nawaz granted formal approval of the plan. Most probably, both Naik and Jones are referring to the same meeting, and it certifies that at the time of Nawaz’s meeting with Vajpayee on February 20, 1999, he was not aware of the Kargil operation.

Anyhow, Nawaz came to hear the Kargil presentation accompanied by the recently retired CGS of the army, Lieutenant General Iftikhar Ali Khan, who was Nawaz’s secretary of defense. Iftikhar knew Musharraf, Mahmood, and Aziz well and should have used his rank and influence to abort the operation, but he did not, though he certainly showed his reservations. Nawaz’s other adviser was Majid Malik, a minister in the cabinet and a retired lieutenant general who had served as DGMO and CGS during his military career a generation earlier. He had a sharp mind and asked all the right questions of the assembled generals, and pointed out all the weaknesses in their overall plan, and its immediate and larger implications.

This should have educated Nawaz Sharif adequately to put the operation on hold pending a detailed reexamination of the project, but it did not. Sharif agreed with the plan, though the operation was already in its final stages and Nawaz was not aware of that. Probably in his reverie, he was looking to the glory that would come his way when the fruits promised by operation were harvested.

However, close associates of Nawaz contend that the said briefing never mentioned that regular troops would be involved in the operation, and the discussion was framed entirely in terms of “increasing the heat in Kashmir.”

Interestingly, in the latest book on the Kargil issue, Shireen Mazari, a Pakistani academic known for her pro-military stance, asserts that the Kargil operation was in fact planned to counter similar moves expected by the Indians in the area, and this military move was in reality a defensive action finalized after credible intelligence reports confirmed Indian designs for incursions across the LOC! This theory is not corroborated by any other source.

In reality, the Kargil plan was for Pakistan to send in a mixture of Kashmiri fighters and regular/paramilitary troops (the Northern Light Infantry Regiment) to occupy the heights above Kargil before the Indian Army moved in to reoccupy them at the end of the snow season and cut off the supply route to Leh.

The operation was to be projected as a solely Kashmiri mujahideen operation, denying absolutely any Pakistani involvement in it or that Pakistan had any control or influence over these elements. It is worth noting that until the occupation of the heights became an accomplished fact, neither any of the other service chiefs nor the rest of the corps commanders or Musharraf’s personal staff officers knew anything about the operation.

The result was that, when the Indian Air Force joined the action, the Pakistan Air Force was in no position to respond while the army’s quartermaster general and master general of ordnance, both of whose support was vital for any army operation, were also left totally in the dark.

Thus if Kargil had led to general war, the army would have learned that its newest fleet of tanks, of which it was so proud, had no APDSFS antitank ammunition! The other effect of the secrecy surrounding Kargil was that no one in the Pakistani diplomatic corps was equipped to deal with the questions arising in the wake of the operation, while it also split the generals into two groups, that is, those who were “in” and those who were left “out.”

The masterminds of the operation were driven by the belief that their nuclear capability provided a protective shield to Pakistan, and that India would acquiesce to this capture just like Pakistan was compelled to swallow India’s seizure of the Siachen peaks in 1984. All the four generals involved in the Kargil project had remained instructors in different military training institutions during their careers, teaching young officers how vital it is to weigh the pros and cons of a military offensive in terms of understanding the possible ramifications and enemy reactions. It is strange that these generals forgot such a basic military lesson and seriously miscalculated Indian capabilities both in terms of military strength and political influence in the international arena.

The Indians reacted in an outburst of justifiable rage, citing Pakistan’s bad faith for having welcomed their prime minister to Lahore while concurrent preparations for the Kargil operation were already under way. In Pakistan there was no widespread feeling of regret, though few knew what had really happened.

Within the army the general feeling about India was that had made its nuclear tests in the belief that this would force Pakistan to show its hand, and that if this came short, Pakistan would be pushed into the status of an Indian satellite; but when this did not happen, Vajpayee came to Lahore to restart a long suspended dialogue merely to lull a nuclear Pakistan to sleep while cooking up some other perfidious scheme against it, and any measure against such an enemy was entirely justified. Pakistan’s explanation of the events at Kargil, though, had a skeptical reception in international circles to begin with, and later their version was entirely discredited.

For India, the exposure of their neighbor’s duplicity must have been satisfying, but surely not enough. After India’s first abortive attacks to reclaim the heights, it started a large military buildup by moving all its 130mm artillery regiments to the target area and picking up a substantial amount of smart munitions around the world. It is an amazing commentary on the coordination between the “mujahideen” occupying Kargil heights and those fighting inside held Kashmir that when the Indian reinforcements were snaking up the winding roads in endless convoys, there was no reported attempt at an ambush by the latter to disrupt this operation.

When the buildup was complete, India subjected the objective to air strikes and massive artillery barrages day after day, followed by determined and courageous infantry attacks in very difficult conditions. The Pakistan Army top brass had confided to various friends who had their trust that their men on the heights were adequately provisioned and well dug in to withstand the rigors of a long campaign. The truth, as it later transpired, was that the digging in was minimal because the rocky soil just did not allow this.

The result was not only that the troops were exposed to harsh weather and the shrapnel of exploding shells, but also to the splinters of rocks that followed the explosions. For most, their only safety was to scramble to the comparative security of the reverse slopes during the bombardment, and then get back to the other side of the hill to meet the infantry attacks that normally followed the artillery barrages.

Pakistani reserves of supplies and ammunition were woefully inadequate to begin with, and became alarmingly low as the operation progressed, with many having to survive by eating the pitiful vegetation that braved the rocky slopes. Under these circumstances, the resistance they put up was both heroic and magnificent, and the quality of junior leadership again proved admirable. But Pakistani generals again failed miserably—as the plan and preparations were defective.

Kargil left an already friendless Pakistan in almost total diplomatic isolation. Even China, whose president had counseled Pakistan as recently as late 1996 to go slow on Kashmir and concentrate instead on the economic viability of the country, felt constrained to distance itself from Islamabad’s latest adventure. Major General Javed Hassan, the commander on the spot, was being threatened by words and gestures of subordinates that could only be described as mutinous. Lieutenant General Mahmood, on whom reality started to dawn fatefully late in the day, saw his adequate jaw falling at an alarming rate.

And though the conviction and inner reserves of Lieutenant General Aziz, helped by blissful ignorance, kept him as gung-ho as ever and also helped keep Musharraf’s optimism afloat, the prime minister had become a case stricken by fright. Under these circumstance, Nawaz was left to plead desperately for a meeting with President Clinton, who found that his schedule allowed him a few free hours on July 4, 1999.

It is widely believed that at this meeting Nawaz swore complete ignorance about the Kargil operation till everything terrible hit the fan. Blaming everything on his generals, he just begged to be bailed out. Clinton told him quite unequivocally that whether the “mujahideen” occupying the Kargil heights listened to Pakistan or not, the immediate step it would have to take was to evacuate Kargil. As a sop he promised the Pakistani prime minister that following this evacuation, he would treat the issue of Kashmir with active interest.

In the midst of this crisis in June 1999, General Zinni, then commander in chief of the US Centcom (Central Command), had visited Pakistan accompanied by G. Lanpher, deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, to impress upon Pakistan’s military commanders the need for de-escalation. This team also visited India during the tour.

However, according to Shireen Mazari, some senior Pakistani army officers are of the view that the United States prevented India from coming to the negotiating table with Pakistan, and in this context she also mentions the visit of Henry Kissinger to India in early June, who was “apparently carrying a message from the US government not to negotiate with Pakistan.”

It is a moot point whether such was the case, but it was obvious that US sympathies were with India in this conflict. To any neutral observer of the international political scene, this was a predictable outcome as US interests were increasingly being linked with those of India in the region, but Pakistan’s military hierarchy was apparently oblivious of what was so clearly written on the wall.

The evacuation of Kargil was followed by a hum of resentment all over Pakistan. The loved ones of those who had given their lives on the desolate and remote slopes there wanted to know that if unilateral withdrawal was to be the end of the whole exercise, what the point was of sacrificing the lives of their sons and brothers? The people of Pakistan had been subjected to the largest whispering campaign in history to expect a great victory.

When the operation fizzled out like a wet firecracker, they were a nation left speechless in anger and disbelief. Musharraf and the planners could not give any excuses in public, but privately they let it be known that the blame for the scuttling of a brilliant operation lay on a panic-prone prime minister, who could not stand up to the US president. Nawaz Sharif too could not say anything in his defense publicly, but privately he let it be known that his generals had taken him for a ride, and that he had to bend over backward to get the US president to help Pakistan out of a very sticky situation."

3 comments:

Lex said...

Hey what an interesting post! I apologize most profusely for this being a rather off topic reply, but I’ve been reading through a few of your posts and I’d very much like to get your opinion on the matter, I just didn’t know where to post it so I went with the most recent entry!

I wonder, given that your references to mental illnesses, whether I might be able to shoot a rather off-topic but very interesting subject to me question your way! It sounds as if you are rather well informed about mental health, I was curious as to whether the mental health recovery movement has hit your region as of yet, and if so in what way?

If so what would you say is better/worse than traditional styles of treatment? I would love to hear your input! But if you haven’t encountered such a treatment plan, I would very much love to hear your take on the recovery model that is hitting the mental health field by storm of late!

The reason I ask is I have been finding some very interesting differences in approaches to the recovery model based on cultural perceptions. The differences I have noticed thus far exist between America, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand and they are all quite interesting in their different styles and emphasis patterns.

I would very much love to hear feedback and if you don’t mind I might even like quote you back on my own blog, the Mental Health Recovery Blog (http://mental-health-recovery.blogspot.com/) if you would be comfortable with such a quotation. I will of course reference back to you, but if you would prefer not to no worries at all I’d still very much love to hear your opinions!

If your not overly familiar with what the recovery movement is, there are some great article links at this post (http://mental-health-recovery.blogspot.com/2009/07/some-great-recovery-based-articles.html), and another great article is here.

I look forward to speaking with you more on the issue!

Warm regards,
Lex
MHCD Research and Evaluations (www.outcomesmhcd.com)

captainjohann said...

Hi Lex,
thanks for visiting and your valued comments.I will post my comments to your research papers after going thrugh them carefully.

captainjohann said...

The following writeup was posted by a friend Wing Commander Parvez jamasji Vrc who was also a former colleque.
New Delhi, July 23 (IANS) Air Commodore A.K. Sinha remembers vividly the first shots he fired from his Mi-17 helicopter at the Pakistanis seated on Tiger Hill and Tololing peaks in the icy heights of Kargil in 1999 -- and celebrating it with crunchy chocolates high in the air.

The stinging attack by (then Wing Commander) Sinha marked a dramatic new twist to the Kargil conflict that almost triggered the fourth full-scale India-Pakistan war since independence in 1947.

'We were waiting for the go ahead. The situation was tense and the army was looking for our support. On May 26 (1999) we led the first helicopter attack on Tololing and Tiger Hill,' Sinha told IANS, talking about the hills that became household names in India. 'I led the main strike force and got to fire the opening shots.'

The helicopters, stretching the flying limits of the machine to extreme, fired salvos that overwhelmed the Pakistanis. What came in handy were the 2,000 flying hours Sinha had under his belt from Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battleground.

'Nowhere in the world has a conflict been fought in such terrain. In Siachen we have been maintaining posts but in Kargil it was direct engagement with an enemy armed with Stinger missiles,' Sinha recalled.

'Our helicopters sneaked up through the narrow valleys and popped up to bombard the peaks. The first operation was a success. We actually celebrated the moment with chocolates we carried on board,' Sinha said with a glint in his eyes.

The face-off in the snowy mountains of Kargil took place in the summer of 1999 after Pakistani insurgents as well as camouflaged troops sneaked into Jammu and Kashmir and occupied key hills along the international border.

Some 530 Indian soldiers were killed in two months of fighting before the Pakistanis were pushed back to their territory. The Pakistani toll remains unclear -- because Islamabad did not accept official involvement in what turned out to be a costly misadventure.

Sinha said that a day after the helicopter assault, the Indian Army intercepted calls from the intruders on Tololing to their handlers saying 'Hum capture hone wale hain'. (We are about to be captured).

Showing the video of two Stinger missiles closely flying past his helicopter, Sinha described the lethality of the Mi-17: 'It had a terrific record during the Russian attack on Afghanistan. It was known as 'terror'. Kargil was one place where it was used in an offensive role. When it (MI-17) fires, there is no question of someone keeping his head up. It is like raining bombs!'

However, on the third day, Sinha lost one of his helicopters and crew after it was hit by a missile. This was the second time a MI-17 helicopter was shot down. The first time was in Siachen.

'I was leading the attack. At least six Stingers were fired. The missile hit the number three helicopter and it crashed. When we spotted the wreckage, there was nothing left.

'That did not lower our morale. My boys were like - 'Let's take these six helicopters to Tololing and finish them up',' said Sinha.

Much after the Pakistanis retreated lock, stock and barrel, providing India its finest military victory after the 1971 Bangladesh war, Sinha won the Vir Chakra, the third highest gallantry award, for the Kargil attack.

Ritu Sharma