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Kargil Revisited :MYSTERIES CONTINUE ON POINT 5353, by Col (Dr) P. K. Vasudeva(Retd),28 June 2010 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 28 June 2010

Kargil Revisited



By Col (Dr) P. K. Vasudeva (Retd)


Kargil was one of India’s greatest victories over Pakistan, undoubtedly. Indian soldiers fought valiantly in the battle against heavy odds. The leadership at all levels was at its best and it was a well-coordinated battle of wits, courage and determination. The country is proud of its soldiers who are by far the best amongst the world armies.


Two months into the conflict, Indian troops had slowly retaken most of the ridges that were encroached by the infiltrators. According to official count, an estimated 75%–80% of the intruded area and nearly all the high grounds were back under Indian control. However, a big question or should one say mystery continues on Point 5353 that is on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) and is occupied by Pakistani troops.

Recall, in August 1999, news broke that Pakistan holds one of the most important mountain features in the Drass Sector, Point 5353-metres. Since then, a series of facts and ambiguity surrounding this Point have come to light. The most important revelations have been by senior lawyer and former Rajya Sabha MP R.K. Anand's disclosure that five other positions on the Indian side of the LoC were held by Pakistan.  His revelations were not rebutted, but generated a wave of hostile official statements from Army Headquarters.  

Addressing an audience of businessmen in Mumbai in early August 1999, the then Union Defence Minister George Fernandes put forward the sole cogent official response about Point 5353:  “Point 5353, is the point over which the LoC goes. The fact is, our troops had never occupied that. The normal practice among them has been that where the line goes over a peak, then nobody occupies it." Bluntly, Fernandes’s statement shows that not only did he have little concern for fact but also sidestepped a serious defence matter. 


Pakistan had put forward claims that the LoC was undefined on the ground, and that its territorial contours were imprecise during the Kargil battle. An irate External Affairs Ministry spokesman shot back on June 19, 1999: "The LoC is well defined and delineated.” Adding, that detailed co-ordinates of the LoC were given in 19 annexure of the December 11,1972 agreement between Pakistan’s Lieutenant-General Abdul Hamid Khan and India’s Lieutenant-General P.S. Bhagat.  Further, the spokesman stressed, "so far as the de jure position is concerned, there are no doubts. The maps signed by the Indian and Pakistani DGMOs (Directors General of Military Operations) in 1972 clearly indicate that it belongs to India."


On July 23,1999, media reports talked of fierce fighting taking place in the Batalik and Kaksar sub-sectors as Indian troops tried to evict the intruders from the three pockets they were holding. "Fighting," the reports noted, "was under way at Point 5353 in Drass, Muntho Dhalo and Shangruti Ridge in Batalik, and also at a position in Kaksar." However, two days later, officials announced that the last of the intrusions had been cleared. Notwithstanding, that media reported to the contrary. Namely, that fighting continued in several areas and the army had lost one soldier each in shelling in the Batalik and Muntho Dalo areas.


Making the situation messier, the Pakistan Army had launched a counter-attack on Sando Top and Zulu Spur. And troops on both sides had exchanged small arms fire in the Mushkoh sub-sector of Drass around Point 5353.


Questionably, what were the Indian troops doing if the peak was not on the Indian side of the LoC? Particularly if, as the Army insists, that the peak is of little strategic significance and poses no real threat to National Highway 1A?


Pakistan, which now denies that it holds any territory on the Indian side of the LoC, clearly understood the gains it had made. On July 26,1999 even as New Delhi announced that all the Pakistani intruders had been evicted from the Indian side of the LoC, Pakistan’s Army Brigadier Rashid Qureshi stated: “Contrary to Indian claims, the Pakistan Army is still holding some strategic heights along the LoC and can effectively tackle any Indian attack and target any Indian vehicles on the Kargil-Drass road".


Clearly, Point 5353, along with the features around it, was occupied by the Pakistani troops at the start of the Kargil war. When the hostilities ended, the Indian troops had succeeded only in taking back two secondary positions Charlie 6 and Charlier 7 on the Marpo La ridge-line. But had been unsuccessful in evicting Pakistani soldiers from Point 5240, some 1,200 metres from Point 5353. In retaliation, the Indian soldiers occupied two heights, 4875 and 4251, on the Pakistani side of the LoC, just before the ceasefire came into force.


However, in mid-August 1999, New Delhi used these two heights to bring about a territorial exchange and both sides agreed to leave Points 5353, 5240, 4251 and 4875 unoccupied. Indian and Pakistani troops pulled back to their pre-Kargil position as part of a larger agreement between their respective DGMOs.


But, in October 1999, the Indian Army negated the August pact and decided to take Point 5240 and occupy Point 5353 instead of risking Pakistani reoccupation of these positions. Sadly, the operation was mishandled. The Pakistani troops detected the Indian presence on 5240 and not only promptly launched a counter-assault on Point 5353 but worse, rapidly consolidated its position on 5353. They put up concrete bunkers on the peak and constructed a road to the base of the peak of Benazir Post.


Importantly, Point 5353 and its adjoining area are now linked by road to Pakistan's rear headquarters at Gultari. Thus, any attack will lead to a full-blown resumption of hostilities; hence the Union Defence Ministry and the Army have chosen to remain silent on the issue. Forgetting, that though silence is golden it does no one any favours.  Indian soldiers may have to yet again pay with their lives for ignoring the harsh truth.


The need of the hour is that New Delhi urgently takes up the Point 5353 issue with Islamabad during the forthcoming Prime Ministerial level talks. Pakistan must agree to abide by the 1972 Shimla Agreement and vacate Point 5353. --- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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