The Kargil War: Origins, Events & Outcomes

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The most recent conflict between Pakistan and India took place in 1999, when the two nations fought a brief war remembered as the Kargil War. Learn about this conflict and its aftermath in this lesson.

Neighboring Countries in Conflict

Although India and Pakistan are two fairly young nations, having only received independence in 1947, they quickly decided that they didn't like one another. They fought three wars during the 20th century and India won all three.

The third and most recent conflict took place over two months in 1999 and has been remembered as the Kargil War because it was primarily centered around the small town of Kargil in the province of Kashmir, itself a disputed province that both India and Pakistan claim.

Map of Kashmir with Kargil

The Kargil War was just one part of the decades-long struggle between India and Pakistan for control of Kashmir. Pakistan believes that it should control the area due to the number of Muslims living there, while India maintains that Kashmir chose to become part of India following independence from the British Empire.

Before the 1999 conflict, however, both sides had relatively few soldiers in Kargil, as it is a very remote area and during the winter months is very difficult to reach.

Fighting Begins

The Kargil War began when members of the Pakistan military infiltrated the region around Kargil, hoping to be able to gain control of the town due to its strategic placement. Since Kargil is a major town along a road that runs through the mountains of Kashmir, whoever controls it controls the road, leaving others with few ways of moving soldiers or supplies through the mountains. Therefore, the Pakistani authorities believed it necessary to infiltrate and capture the area.

Pakistan attacked when India did not expect it, during the coldest winter months when the Indian soldiers were no longer manning bases along the region. They went several miles across the border and captured a number of towns and military posts, ambushing an Indian patrol.

The Indian military sent more soldiers to the Kargil area to reinforce it, although it was not yet clear if they were fighting Pakistan or simply terrorists. As India sent in more soldiers and vehicles, including attack helicopters, Pakistan responded with more of its own soldiers and more weapons, including missiles that could shoot the helicopters down. By then, the Indian army discovered proof of Pakistan's infiltration and knew who they were fighting.

Victory at Kargil

The Kargil War is one of the most well-known examples of high-altitude combat, meaning warfare in the mountains, and there were many difficulties on both sides. Attacking up the side of a mountain is very challenging, and Indian army commanders remembered that they had to use half their soldiers simply to carry ammunition and food up the side of the huge Himalayan mountains. While the soldiers had to use snow for drinking water, some snow was contaminated by artillery shells.

Captured machine guns from the Kargil War
Pakistan guns

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