A Soldier’s Diary: Kargil the Inside StoryA Soldier’s Diary: Kargil the Inside Story by Harinder Baweja
Kargil, 1999. Two entire brigades of Pakistani army regulars infiltrated Indian territory and fortified themselves before the Indian army even realized they were there. The top army brass ignored warnings, downplayed the threat and the number of infiltrators till it was almost too late. They were also poorly prepared, operationally and in every other respect. Infantry soldiers were pushed up with inadequate maps, clothing and weapons and no information of either the enemy’s numbers or their weapon strength.
This is the true story of Kargil as seen through the eyes of one of the front-line commanders. Written in the form of a diary, it offers the first really detailed and exclusive account of the events that led to the invasion and the subsequent battle to retake the peaks occupied by the intruders. Even after almost two decades, the book is still the most accurate account of the many Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in the line of duty.
Presented below is an excerpt from the Foreword written by GL Batra, father of Capt. Vikram Batra, the Kargil war hero and recipient of the highest gallantry award, Param Vir Chakra.
Col. Yogesh Kumar Joshi was ecstatic upon receiving the victory message from Capt. Vikram Batra and Capt. Sanjeev Jamwal. He started moving towards the peak because, before going for the assault both the young officers had promised to have their morning cup of tea at Point 5140 together. A wave of joy had spread across the brigade and the Army headquarters in New Delhi. It was a historical achievement for the Indian Army as well as for India.
The chief of the Army, Gen. V.P. Malik, personally telephoned Vikram for their battalion’s remarkable feat. This was a decisive victory for the 13 Jammu and Kashmir (JAK) Rifles. Col. Joshi’s eyes were moist as he said, “Not a single soldier died in the operation. The victory of peak 5140 would make a textbook on mountain warfare for the manner in which the operation was carried out. A peak at 17,000 feet was literally snatched from the jaws of a powerful enemy… This is God’s grace and the perfect execution of an operation by the youngsters who are the heart, mind and soul of the Army…”
After the capture of Point 5140, the troops (led by Vikram and Capt. Jamwal) had to station there for a few days, as there were chances of a counter-attack by the enemy. They stayed at the top till June 26 to strengthen the defence and reshape the bunkers, and then returned to the base camp to rest and re-energise for a few days. They could not rest for more than three to four days, as the condition on other peaks was worsening.
While trying to capture Point 4875, Indian troops were pinned down by heavy firing from the other side. Point 4875 had to be reinforced, and Lt. Col. Joshi had to decide who would head the mission. Fresh from his victory, Vikram again volunteered to lead the troops. Using tired troops in operations again and again is dangerous, but when the operations are continuous, there is no alternative…
At 1 pm on 5 July 1999, our troops captured Point 4875. But the enemy continued to fire from a position north of the point. It became evident that this post had to be conquered. A strong contingent of enemy troops could be seen on a long and narrow ledge running north of Point 4875. To secure our position, it was necessary to clear the ledge. The battle continued the entire day. On 6 July 1999, it was reported that our troops could not sustain firefighting of such intensity without reinforcements. The reinforcements were immediately brought up. A fresh wave of enthusiasm coursed through the exhausted troops at the top. Through interception of the radio frequencies, the enemy got wind of Vikram’s presence. Once again they threatened him on his radio: “Sher Shah, upar toh aa gaye ho, lekin wapis nahi jane denge; Inshallah, upar hi bhej denge.” (Sher Shah, you have come this far, but you will not go back alive. Inshallah, we’ll kill you.) An undaunted Vikram replied, “Upar toh tumhe aur tumhare sathion ko jana hoga.” (It is you and your companions who will be killed.)
On 6-7 July, Vikram volunteered to head a party and reach this ledge even though he was unwell. Due to high fever and fatigue, his eyes were red as he sat wrapped in a blanket. Looking at Vikram’s condition, his commanding officer hesitated to send him to the battlefront, but Vikram insisted. Motivated by Vikram’s offer, many soldiers volunteered to accompany him. Vikram and the soldiers began their arduous trek. From eyewitnesses, I heard later that, while still at the task, somewhere along the climb, suddenly Vikram’s face changed. The signs of fatigue and fever vanished. He became a man fired by a mission.
The chilling winds of Mushkoh Valley penetrated the bones of our soldiers. It was pitch-dark. The climb was almost vertical. To make matters worse, it began to snow. Vikram continued to move like a snow leopard. He coaxed and encouraged his exhausted troops to press on. Then he heard the rat-a-tat of a machine gun, which had pinned down his troops. Vikram swiftly moved towards the firing gun by hiding behind a rock and then ran to the shelter of the next, till he reached close to the gun, lobbed a hand grenade, and destroyed it. He then asked his troops to follow him. They advanced to the next position since the enemy guns had to be silenced before daylight.
Vikram moved ahead, firing constantly with his AK-47. Fearlessly, he closed in on the enemy. It was a fight at such close quarters that he could no longer use his rifle. He pulled out his bayonet and charged at the enemy. He grappled with a Pakistani soldier, floored him with a punch on the nose, and plunged his bayonet into him. Another intruder attacked him from behind. Vikram threw him off his back and pierced him with his bayonet. A machine gun was firing from the ledge. Vikram jumped inside the ledge, where two soldiers were feeding the gun and another was firing it. A junior officer of the Pakistani Army was supervising them. Vikram leaped inside and single-handedly killed all five of them. However, he was outnumbered and was shot at close range.
Vikram, with another young officer, Anuj Nayyar, fought off the enemy’s counter-attack ferociously. They cleared all the enemy bunkers, encouraged their men to go forward, engaged in hand-to-hand combat, and forced the Pakistanis to retreat. On 7 July, the mission was almost over, when Vikram ran out of his bunker to rescue another officer, Lt. Naveen Anaberu, whose legs had been severely injured in an explosion. The subedar of his battalion begged him not to leave and offered to go instead. But Vikram famously told him, “Tu baal-bachchedar hai, hat ja peeche.” (You have a wife and children, step aside.) He lunged forward to save the young Lt. Naveen Anaberu. As Vikram was dragging Naveen towards cover, the gravely wounded officer pleaded with Vikram to let him continue the fight. Just then a bullet pierced through Vikram’s chest. Vikram was martyred, but he managed to save the life of Lt. Naveen.
To mark India’s victory by successfully taking command of high outposts which had been lost to Pakistani intruders, 26 July is observed as Kargil Vijay Diwas.
About the Author
Harinder Baweja, an Editor with Hindustan Times has earned a reputation as a fearless, committed reporter through her prolonged coverage of conflict zones. Her experience of covering the Kashmir crisis gave her access to a wide range of sources, particularly among the army units that were sent to Kargil. She covered the sharp, short war for India Today magazine, using her enviable range of sources to compile a definite account of the Kargil war.
She has also edited and authored chapters for 26/11 Mumbai Attacked.
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