The cloud darkens
At 77, he was probably the oldest person to engage the enemy during the Kargil conflict in 1999.
But General JFR Jacob (retd) is no stranger to battle. During World War II, he fought for five years in the middle east, and in Burma against the Japanese. Post Independence, he rapidly rose up the ranks to become Chief of Staff, Eastern Army Command, in 1969.
It was the 1971 war with Pakistan which established his credentials as a strategist, a hero who single-handedly converted a ceasefire under the UN. proposed by Lt Gen Niazi, rejected outright by Bhutto, into a historic unconditional public surrender by the Pakistani army in Dhaka on December 16, 1971. (See historical note below)
In this exclusive column for Sify.com, the intrepid general recalls his trip to Kargil in June 1999, and explains why, despite the heroic conduct by our men in uniform, the operations to evict the Pakistanis from their incursions over a frontage of some 150 kilometres was more of a limited conflict than a war.
The road from Srinagar to Leh, after crossing the Zoji La, winds its way through Kargil and thence to Leh.
The road to Kargil is dominated by stark, steep, barren rocky ridges, some 15,000 feet high. The ridges are covered in deep snow during the winter and the Line of Control generally runs along the crestline.
In 1965 and 1971, the Pakistan army tried to occupy part of the ridge lines. After 1971, there was an unwritten gentleman's agreement that neither side would occupy the vacated positions on the snowbound heights from September 15 to April 15.
In 1998, Pakistan's army chief General Pervez Musharraf started planning to seize positions on the ridges to cut the road to Leh.
The plan was put into execution in early May 1999. The force to be employed comprised the 3th, 4th, 5th , 6th and 12th battalions of the Northern Light Infantry, a few hundred SSB, and some muhajideen, a total force of 4,000 to 5,000, supported by several batteries of 105mm howitzers. to a frontage of 150 kilometres
The incursions were planned over a stretch of some 150 kilometres. They were only detected between May 3 and May 5, and the quantum of the threat was initially grossly underestimated.
Though denied by them, intelligence agencies obviously failed to assess the the quantum and gravity of the threat accurately. The intelligence agencies assert that they had given prior warning to the army, but that these were ignored. There was also a lack of proper patrolling and surveillance by the army, as also air surveillance by Army Aviation.
The army's initial reaction was slow. When informed of the incursions, the army chief, who was on tour in Europe, extended his trip. In all fairness to the army chief, he was not properly briefed about the extent and gravity of the threat. But he should have paid heed to one of Napoleon's maxims to his marshals: 'When in doubt, march to the sound of the guns.'
The incursions were spread over an area of some 150 to 200 square kilometres. The Pakistanis had also built several sangars, or loose stone fortifications, on the ridges. These were protected by anti personnel mines.
Image: General JFR Jacob with some troops at a forward position in Kashmir during the Kargil battle. Picture courtesy JFR Jacob. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.