Kargil Vijay Diwas: How Indian soldiers won back nation's Himalayan crown

The Tricolour atop a Kargil peak. Photo Credit: Sainik Samachar
India remembered its brave martyrs on the 19th anniversary of the Kargil Vijay Diwas on Thursday. The day marks India's victory over Pakistan in the 1999 Kargil War and commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the country.

On July 26, 1999, India successfully took command of the high outposts that had been lost to Pakistani intruders after more than 60 days of fighting.

The three-day celebrations began on Tuesday at the Drass War Memorial in Kargil town in Jammu and Kashmir. On the first day, tributes were paid to the war heroes by laying a wreath at the memorial. On Wednesday, the veterans of the war and serving heroes shared their experiences during the war at a function. There was a briefing on Operation Vijay battles. 

On Thursday, Northern Army commander Lt Gen Ranbir Singh paid tribute to the soldiers who laid down their lives during the war at the Dras War Memorial. Further, in remembrance of the martyrs, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba, and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa on Thursday paid tributes at the Amar Jawan Jyoti in Delhi.  

What and who caused the war?

The circumstances leading up to the conflict, the first where two nuclear-armed nations squared off, are described in detail in Vikas Kapur and Vipin Narang's piece 'The Fate of Kashmir' for the Stanford Journal of International Relations.   

In May of 1999, Pakistani troops pretending to be guerrilla infiltrators crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in the Kargil sector, the authors write. Pakistan's misadventure in Kargil was conceived by the then newly-appointed Chief of the Pakistan Army, Pervez Musharraf, who framed the details of 'Operation Badr', which was the codename for the infiltration. 

Musharraf, according to the authors, thought that "a small Pakistani force" could grab "a sliver of land in Indian Kashmir and thus create a new reality in the region."

The infiltration into its territory evoked a massive response from India, with New Delhi terming Pakistan's actions as a deliberate act of war. The conflict went hot with the killing of five Indian soldiers on May 5, 1999, and the exchange of artillery that began on May 9. 

Who won it?

The result of the conflict was a decisive Indian victory. As Myra Macdonald writes in her book, 'Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War', "For all its bravado, Pakistan had failed to secure even one inch of land. Less than a year after declaring itself a nuclear-armed power, Pakistan had been humiliated diplomatically and militarily."  

How many soldiers laid down their lives for India?

During Kargil, 527 brave souls laid down their lives for India. The Indian side also lost one combat jet, which was shot down, and another one, which crashed, along with one helicopter, which was shot down. 

In January of 2013, in an interview to a Pakistani news channel, Musharraf claimed that India lost 1,600 men in the conflict. 

According to Indian estimates, Pakistan lost between 737 and 1,200 men during the conflict. 

The casualties on the Pakistani side could be higher. In 2003, The Hindu had reported that Nawaz Sharif had claimed that over 4,000 Pakistani troops and officials were killed in the conflict. 

Here is a timeline of the conflict:

  • May 3, 1999: Locals, mainly shepherds, report the Pakistani intrusion in Kargil.
  • May 5, 1999: The Indian Army send a patrol to ascertain the situation. Five Indian soldiers are captured by the Pakistanis and tortured to death.
  • May 9, 1999: Heavy artillery shelling by the Pakistan Army commences.
  • May 10, 1999: The Indian side notices infiltrations for the first time in the Dras, Kaksar, and Mushkoh sectors. 
  • May 26, 1999: The Indian Air Force commences air strikes against the Pakistani infiltrators. 
  • May 27, 1999: Two IAF fighter jets -- MiG-21 and MiG-27 -- lost. Flt Lt Nachiketa was taken a prisoner of war. 
  • May 28, 1999: An IAF MI-17 is shot down by Pakistan. The four aircrew are killed.
  • June 1, 1999: Pakistan escalates attacks by bombing NH-1A.
  • June 5, 1999: Indian Army releases proof of Pakistan's involvement by way of documents recovered from three Pakistani soldiers. 
  • June 6, 1999: Indian Army's major offensive launched in Kargil. 
  • June 9, 1999: The Indian Army re-captures two key positions in the Batalic sector. 
  • June 11, 1999: India releases intercepts of conversation between Musharraf, who was then on a visit to China, and the Pakistan Army's Chief of General Staff, Lt Gen Aziz Khan, in Rawalpindi, as proof of the Pakistani Army's involvement. 
  • June 13, 1999: Indian Army secures Tololing in Dras. 
  • June 15, 1999: US President Bill Clinton tells then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to pull out from Kargil. 
  • June 29, 1999: Two vital posts -- Point 5060 and Point 5100 -- near Tiger Hill captured by the Indian Army. 
  • July 2, 1999: Three-pronged attack launched by the Indian Army in Kargil. 
  • July 4, 1999: Tiger Hill recaptured by the Indian Army after an 11-hour battle. 
  • July 5, 1999: Dras returns to Indian Army's control. Following his meeting with Clinton, Sharif announces the Pakistani army's withdrawal from Kargil.
  • July 7, 1999: In Batalik, the Indian Army recaptures Jubar Heights. 
  • July 11, 1999: Pakistan commences pullout from Kargil. India captures key peaks in Batalik.
  • July 14, 1999: Then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declares Operation Vijay a success.
  • July 26, 1999: The Kargil war officially comes to an end with the Indian Army announcing the complete expulsion of Pakistani intruders.   

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