Indian authorities admitted on May 26 that they have used aircraft to attack mujahideen controlling the area around Kargil, a town 220km northeast of Srinagar. It is the first time they have used aircraft against the mujahideen since the uprising began 10 years ago. 150 mujahideen were reported killed, along with several Indian soldiers. These figures were not confirmed.
The admission comes at the end of a month in which Indian troops have suffered a number of setbacks at the hands of the mujahideen, and have got the worst of several exchanges of artillery fire with Pakistani forces across the Line of Control (LoC).
India’s concerns were reflected in a decision to rush 10,000 troops to the LoC early in the month, and an additional 5,000 more two weeks later. Two months ago, India used helicopter-gunships, again a first .
On May 23, the Indian army chief, general Ved Prakash Malik, went to Srinagar, capital of Occupied Kashmir, to review the deployment of troops in the Valley at first hand. This also indicated the seriousness of the situation.
At the end of each winter, when the mountain passes clear of snow, Indian troops try to seal off the border with ‘Azad Kashmir’ (Free Kashmir), allegedly in order to ‘stop the infiltration’ of Kashmiri mujahideen from across the border. Artillery duels are also launched for the same purpose.
This year, however, it appears that the Indians have suffered unexpected reverses. These included a direct hit on an ammunition-dump in Kargil, causing numerous casualties, a huge amount of damage and massive disruption to military traffic and other operations.
Pakistan’s high commissioner to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, on May 22 accused India of starting the artillery duel which began May 9. ‘The shelling was started by the Indian side and the Pakistan side only responded to it,’ he told reporters while visiting the northern Indian resort of Shimla.
Brigadier Rashid Qureshi, director-general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) - the Pakistan military spokesman - when asked to comment on the reported deployment of two IAF squadrons for possible operations in Occupied Kashmir, said at a press conference in Rawalpindi on May 22, ‘We have the information that concentration of aircraft and troops is taking place. We are alive to the situation and ready for all eventualities.’
He added that during the 10-year history of the freedom movement, India has never deployed fighter aircraft. ‘Therefore placing of fighter squadrons on high alert is a threat to us,’ he said. But brigadier Qureshi said that India had suffered heavy casualties and that, according to his information, the Indian Brigade Commander and General Officer Commanding are to be sacked because of this incident.
The latest fighting and the activity of the mujahideen have also unnerved the Indians, who had made loud claims last year that the uprising had been crushed. The puppet chief minister of State, Farooq Abdullah, had asked people to resume normal life.
He encouraged officials once again to go to the many parks and picnic-areas in order to give the impression of normality. Foreign tourists were also being welcomed. For a while, this created the impression that the uprising had been contained, even though it had not been completely suppressed.
Then came the spectacular strikes by the mujahideen in Kargil. The flare-ups in this sector contradict Indian claims of have wiping out the ‘insurgents.’ In order to cover their embarrassment, Indian military spokesmen have now accused the Taliban of involvement in the fighting in Kashmir. This, of course, is a ludicrous suggestion in view of the fighting in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have their hands more than full.
A Pakistan foreign office spokesman, Tariq Altaf, while expressing disappointment with continued Indian violations of various inter-State agreements and the spirit of the Lahore Declaration, stressed that Islamabad was committed to dialogue.
He also stressed on May 20: ‘I would like to dispel the impression that progress in promoting peace and security in the region is somehow possible without a just and final settlement of the Kashmir dispute, as stipulated in Article 6 of the Simla Agreement ... The Kashmiris must be given their right to self-determination in accordance with the United Nations resolutions.’
Muslimedia: June 1-15, 1999