Artillery and infantry were majorly employed in the Kargil War of 1999. In fact, one of the important reasons for India winning ‘Operation Vijay’ or the Kargil War was the presence and perseverance of these forces.
On Kargil Vijay Diwas today, celebrating 20 years of India’s victory, Major Ashok Sharma (retired), then a senior major commanding independent battery in the infantry, speaks to indianexpress.com about the various uncertainties of what was an “unprepared war”.
How do you describe Kargil War?
I am a fourth-generation artillery officer. My family has actively participated in all wars since World War II. I feel privileged to have participated in both Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka and the Kargil War. During Pawan, I was quite young and a Second Lieutenant. By the time the Kargil War took place in 1999, I was halfway through my career.
Participating in the war was a dream come true. It is not to say I wished a war. Once things were forced upon us, we had to defend the country which was our primary role. I felt good. Today, when I look back at Kargil, we (my regiment, my soldiers and myself), did a wonderful job. Mann ko tassali hoti hai. Acha lagta hai that everyone did a good job. Professional satisfaction is what we got. It is like what you feel after winning a good match.
How was the atmosphere in Kargil?
We had all the odds against us in Kargil, be it climate, terrain, resources or manpower. I wouldn’t hesitate to say probably we were not prepared for it. Our Prime Minister (Atal Behari Vajpayee) had just gone to Pakistan in the Delhi-Lahore bus as a friendship gesture. As an independent commander in the area, I never thought a war could take place. Truly speaking, I was anticipating only a few infiltrators and that I would be able to thwart them with small firing.
Then we realised they were actually trained Pakistani soldiers occupying a 151-km area around the Kargil border.
Why was artillery such a game-changer in the war?
Kargil was a war of artillery because tanks and other big equipment was not there and the Air Force was not effective. Infantry mattered but because of the height, terrain and weather, but it was difficult for infantry to go and occupy those bunkers of the Pakistanis. It was only the guns or shells which could be used to attack the infiltrators.
I was taking care of the heavy motor battery which is only one of its type in the entire country. It is the heaviest equipment, the heaviest artillery that we have got with a shell of approximately 60 kgs. Just to lift it, needs nine persons and another eight to operate the motor. With a 60-kg explosive the mountain shakes.
Army personnel combat the toughest of situations… is it the passion that drives one?
It is the feeling of patriotism, it is the feeling of nationalism. We are soldiers. Once we go there, we don’t think about our families, or think what is going to happen or who comes back alive or is dead. We think that we are here to achieve an objective and we take pride in that.
Mind you, the Army is not a job. In any job, you get paid for it. But once you talk of the services, you are selfless. The service doesn’t count your efforts at par with money. It is much beyond that. The beauty is you are trained to go for a specific job which is to defend the country against all odds whether it is militancy, internal security or terrorism or external aggression.
Your son is a doctor in the Army and your daughter-in-law an officer. Would you say that the younger generation is keen to join the Army?
Unfortunately, we (the Army) have not been able to market ourselves properly. The latest trend going on in the country suggests that we (people) have become materialistic. We (people) want to have cushy jobs in air-conditioned offices and good lives. Many youngsters are not liking the hardships or the adventures of Army life. As a result, we all aim to become engineers, doctors or opt for professions that give us a comfortable life.
My son and daughter-in-law may not be earning in lakhs, but the quality life they are having and the happiness when I look at them is palpable. I feel satisfied as a father.
At the age of 30 you had to retire because of injury sustained in war. What was life afterwards?
I had a spine injury owing to three fractures from a freefall. I had to leave the Army. The journey for me to resettle was very difficult because as an injured person, nobody gives you a job. We all talk big things, but for a soldier who has been injured, there is hardly anything.
A soldier has to fend for himself and his family. In retrospect, a martyr’s family is very well taken care of, which undoubtedly they deserve. There were more than 600 people who never came back home. They didn’t even know whether we won or lost Kargil.
But, the people who fought the war and who were injured in the war, they must also be equally taken care of. If you don’t do that, the youth who have seen the injured soldiers are discouraged to join the army. So, you have to respect your injured, your veterans too.
indianexpress.com spoke to the war veteran at the ‘Let’s Not Forget’- 20 years of Kargil tribute event at Select Citywalk Mall, New Delhi.