A Jaguar could have accidentally bombed the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf right in the middle of the Kargil war in 1999

Some quick thinking by senior IAF officials in 1999 saved India from a potentially dangerous situation during the Kargil war. During the height of the war, an Indian fighter pilot accidentally put a Pakistani military base in its sights and was ready to bomb it, but was pulled back on time.

That June 24, 1999, incident had the potential of triggering an all-out war between the two nuclear neighbours. According to dossier on the conflict, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and then Pakistan Army Chief Pervez Musharraf were present at the base or were in the vicinity.

In The Nick of Time 

According to the dossier, the pilot was tasked to bomb Point 4388 in Kargil but he instead ended up aiming at a Pakistani military base in Gulteri through a cockpit laser designation system (CLDS). Under protocol, a Jaguar pilot first "lased over" the area using the CLDS while a second Jaguar was to drop the bomb on the target coming in the pre-designated path identified by the first one.

"Lasing" refers to locking in on the coordinates of a target. The CLDS system was on trainer Jaguar aircraft that carried no weapons, so the bombing had to be done by a second Jaguar aircraft.

Sharif was in Gulteri to address the troops about his country's position on the ongoing war. He had called for a dialogue with India to defuse the situation along the Line of Control. Sharif, accompanied by Musharraf, was on his first visit to a forward area. According the dossier, some senior Pakistani army personnel, including defence secretary Lt Gen Iftikhar Ali (Retd), Hummayun Akhtar, the chairman board of investment, were also present at the base.

No one on the ground had a clue that they were on the sights of an IAF jet. It is reported the government -- then headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee -- had not allowed the IAF to cross over the LoC.

Retired Air Marshal A K Singh, who was a senior officer in the Western Air Command then, said he was also airborne when the two Jaguars went for the operation. He said the pilot of the first aircraft called him and told him that the target was a big military camp and that he had it on the CLDS.

"The time was around 8.45 AM. I was airborne in the area. When he told me about the target, I told him not to fire."

In an interview to the Indian Express, Singh said it was "purely coincidental" that he was airborne at that time. “Else, once a pilot is in the air, acquires a target and confirms it, he has orders to bomb it,” he told the paper.

Air Marshal Vinod Patney, who was the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Air Command, was overseeing IAF's operation in Kargil. Patney said when the pilot of the first aircraft had a doubt about the target, he told the pilot of the second jet not to fire. Both Singh and Patney said they were not aware of Sharif and Musharraf's presence at the base and the matter was never discussed in official meetings.