The abiding image of India’s victory in Kargil War, is that of a gritty fight-back by the foot-soldiers against all odds. But the lesser-known and the equally inspiring story is how the battle was won from the air.
The man who masterminded the air strikes during Kargil war, for the first time on television, told CNN-IBN correspondent Vishal Thapar, what it took, to bring the Pakistani intruders to their knees and whether India could have fought the War differently. All that on CNN-IBN’s Kargil Anniversary Special
New Delhi: The Kargil conflict broke out in early May, but the Air Force was pulled out only on May 26. A racce by the Aviation Wing of India’s spy agency reveals the presence of not just Pakistani warriors but even its military helicopters on the Indian peaks.
At the time when Pakistan was busy taking over the Kargil heights, Indian surveillance had, quite literally, been put to sleep. The man who was then heading the aviation wing of India's spy agency, R&AW, is now spilling the beans.
The political leadership of the time was too focused on the peace initiative with Pakistan. Indeed, there were explicit instructions to Indian intelligence agencies to go slow.
"Actually the political leadership was so much overwhelmed with the forthcoming ‘Bus Yatra’ of the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Pakistan in February 1999 that the ARC had received specific instructions from the PMO that we have to go slow on Pakistan,” Ex-Intelligence Official, Air Marshal AK Goel told CNN-IBN.
Pakistan used the opportunity to set up a virtual cantonment in Indian territory which remained undetected for long.
Information of Pakistani presence first trickled in through shepherds in May 1999. The intelligence machinery was re-activated only when the Pakistanis started killing Indian soldiers.
And for the first time, India's external intelligence agency was asked to snoop on its own territory from the air. Till then, the Army believed there were just about a 100 infiltrators on its heights. But the results of the reconnaissance were staggering.
“The mission which was formed on May 16 indicated 6 Helicopters of the Pakistani Army parked in our territory in Kashmir valley,” said Air Marshal AK Goel.
Kargil was long considered a no-go area for combat operations. And when Pakistan sought to reverse this long-held belief, India was caught napping.
Should it be acceptable for a country of India’s size and resources that a virtual enemy cantonment should come up on its territory? The RAW visuals suggested that there were many Pakistani helicopters, which were parked on Indian peaks.
“There is not doubt about it that there has been a considerable amount of studies and committees that have done their work on the subject. And all of them have indicated to a certain extent that yes there was a certain lapse in terms of permitting these people to come and occupy high peaks,” said Air Marshal PS Ahluwalia.
In its desperation for atleast some information on the Pakistani intrusions, India availed of Israeli help. Perhaps for the first time, foreigners were allowed by India into a battlezone, to assist its War efforts.