Pakistan Troops Pose Threat To Dras-Kargil Highway
29 August 2000
The Daily Excelsior
B L Kak
New Delhi: A serious threat has emerged in Kargil sector of Ladakh, with the sudden erection of new defences by Pakistan at Point 5353, a 17,397-foot-high feature along the Line of Control (LoC) in Dras section. Located about 11 km from the vital Dras-Kargil road, Point 5353 clearly provides observation of the National Highway 1A. Instead of reckoning the fact that Pak troops continue to be in the possession of this most strategic feature, the Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, has triggered a controversy by his far-from-convincing assertions. Why did the Defence Minister spread falsehood: Point 5353 was firmly in Indian control? Mr Fernandes alone is not to blame. The Army Headquarters, too, has stirred up host of adversaries as a result of its confusing signals with regard to the present and past of Point 5353. The Defence Minister may be accused of lacking basic general knowledge about the terrain and topography of Ladakh region as a whole. But Major-General JJ Singh, Additional Director-General of Military Operations, too, has sent out a wrong signal on the highly sensitive subject. In his ''special briefing'' for two senior journalists at Army Headquarters, Major-General Singh was reported to have declared that an inter-visibility exercise on a detailed contour map showed that the Pakistanis on top of the 17,397-foot-high peak could observe no more than 0.5 km of Highway 1A from a distance of 11.5 km. Major-General Singh’s statement is, obviously, far-from-correct, considering the fact that Point 5353 is clearly visible for an 8 to 10 km stretch along Highway 1A. Can he dispute the undisputed reality that Point 5353 has an uninterrupted line of sight over the Highway in the Dras section along which several Army bases are located ? How come the Defence Minister and Army Headquarters have chosen to ignore the Indian Army’s briefing of the media on July 25 last year, when it was abundantly made clear that heavy fighting was on to capture Point 5353 and the tri-junction? The Army’s briefing clearly indicated that Pakistani forces did not control Point 5353 prior to the Kargil conflict. The Army’s emphasis was on measures to capture Point 5353 and the tri-junction, both areas vital to gain dominance at the Line of Control. Why has the Army Headquarters now-a-days gone to great lengths to re-affirm that Point 5353, in keeping with the 1972 Shimla Agreement, was, and continues to be, in Pakistani control? Major-General JJ Singh, who has been approved for promotion to Lieutenant-General, was also reported to have declared that the LoC follows an ''imaginary line'', a claim which contradicts the Army’s oft-repeated assertions during the Kargil conflict that the LoC was clearly and unequivocally demarcated on 17 maps duly signed by India and Pakistan officials as part of the 1972 Shimla Agreement. The Army Headquarters wants the nation to be rest assured as the Indian troops occupy equally highest peak, known as Point 5608. But will it counter the adversary’s position at Point 5353? Perhaps not, considering the fact that Point 5608 is some 15 km away in the Kaksar sub-sector. And the undisputed fact: Point 5353 provides clear observation of the vital National Highway 1A. Indian forces have been reported to have erected defences at Point 5070, roughly 3 km west of Point 5353. Indian Army has also deployed its troops at Point 5245, about 5 km east of Point 5353. According to the Defence Ministry, both Point 5070 and Point 5245 provide ''good'' observation of the Pakistani supply route for Point 5353. However, considering the fact that Point 5353 is the highest peak in the Dras section, the Defence Ministry as well as Army Headquarters have so far found it difficult to refute the assessment that Point 5353 provides fair view of the Indian supply route to Marpo La and Point 5070 and Point 5245. Why has the Indian Army tried to downplay the importance of Point 5353 ? Is it not a fact that this peak is of tremendous tactical importance in the Dras section in terms of its proximity to Marpo La ? According to defence analysts, there can be no two opinions on the fact that Point 5353 is the ''most crucial'' peak in the Dras area.