1 - Introduction: the importance of the Kargil conflict  pp. 1-38

Introduction: the importance of the Kargil conflict

By Peter R. Lavoy

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In the spring of 1999, Indian soldiers patrolling near the town of Kargil about 5 miles on their side of the Kashmir Line of Control (LoC) were ambushed by assailants firing from unseen positions high atop frozen peaks of the Great Himalayan mountain range. After several weeks of confusion, Indian officials realized the intruders were not Kashmiri militants, as they initially had thought, but well-trained troops from Pakistan's Northern Light Infantry (NLI), and that the infiltration was much larger and better organized than previously assessed. India then mounted a major military and diplomatic campaign to oust the intruders. After two months of intense fighting at altitudes ranging between 12,000 and 17,000 feet, during which both sides lost several hundred soldiers, Pakistan ordered its forces home, and the crisis ended. Although no territory changed hands – as it had done in previous Indo-Pakistani wars – the Kargil conflict was a landmark event. Occurring less than a year after India and Pakistan openly tested nuclear weapons, Kargil dispelled the common notion that nuclear-armed states cannot fight one another. Like the only other direct military clash between nuclear powers – the Sino-Soviet conflict over Damanskii (Zhenbao to the Chinese) Island in the Ussuri (Wusuli) River starting in March 1969 – the Kargil conflict did not come close to causing a nuclear war.