Nation’s Pride-I

Army’s role in nation building

The Statesman | Aug 14, 2001

For over 50 years since independence, the Indian army nas been at the forefront as the guarantor of the nation's freedom against external aggression, along with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, and as the primary force engaged in keeping the nation together in the face of internal discord, communal disharmony and fissiparous tendencies.

In the first week of July 1999, the Indian tricolour was hoisted on Tiger Hill and soon fluttered atop many other peaks in the Himalayas of Kargil district. By mid-July 1999, Pakistan’s. perfidious intrusions into territory on the Indian side of the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir had been undone after a truly heroic effort and the Pakistan army had been handed out one more military defeat by the Indian army.

This victory was only the latest success of the Indian army in guarding India’s national security interests.

Ever since Pakistani razakars and regular troops poured across the borders of J&K in October 1947, with rape, torture and loot as their weapons of choice, India’s territorial integrity has never been free of threat.

For over 50 years since independence, the Indian army nas been at the forefront as the guarantor of the nation’s freedom against external aggression, along with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, and as the primary force engaged in keeping the nation together in the face of internal discord, communal disharmony and fissiparous tendencies.

Besides the inconclusive operations in Kashmir in 1947-48, in the early years after independence, the army assisted Sardar Patel, India’s Iron Man and first Home Minister, in consolidating some of the recalcitrant princely states with the Indian Union.

Three Wars

In Junagadh, a simple brigade-level demonstration of strength achieved the desired results. The Nizam of Hyderabad dallied for one year and an armoured division had to finally undertake a 100-hour September 1948. When the government of Portugal had failed to see reason for 14 years, in a swift offensive in 1961, the army liberated Goa, Daman and Diu and finally rid the nation of foreign colonisers. Basking in the afterglow of a successful non-violent struggle for independence and carried away by its own rhetoric of Ahimsa and Panchsheel, independent India’s leadership neglected the development and modernisation of the army, secure in the belief that a politico-diplomatic response was adequate to meet the threats and challenges to national security.

Unprepared to execute Pandit hastily conceived “forward policy, the Indian army suffered a crushing blow at the hands of Chinas invading hordes in 1962. However, it is not so well known that individual units mostly fought with spirit and determination in the face of daunting odds.

While the army took the rap for the nation’s worst ever humiliation, with hindsight, the blame must be laid squarely on the national leadership’s inept higher direction of war, unpardonable inability to accept professional military advice – and its myopic vision of the inter-play between national security and foreign policy.

The post-1962 period was marked by rapid expansion of the army, primarily for the defence of the Himalayan frontiers. However, the next major threat came from Pakistan in the west.

Armed to the teeth with shining new Patton tanks and Sabre jets from the United States, Pakistan launched a series of misadventures in the Rann of Kutch in April-May, Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir in August and Operation Grand Slam in the Akhnoor-Jammu area in September 1965.

The Mujahids of the Gibraltar Force were quickly rounded up in Kashmir, Grand Slam was checkmated near Chhamb and Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh’s three-pronged offensive into West Pakistan achieved major breakthroughs. In the largest tank-versus-tank battle since World War II, Pakistan’s famous Patton tanks met their fiery end in a border village of Punjab. Coincidentally but very appropriately named Assal Uttar(real answer), the wheat and paddy fields of this village are even today an eerie graveyard of the flaming metal coffins the fleeing Pakistani crews left behind. At the strategic level, the 1965 war was a stalemate, as the Kashmir issue remained unsettled.

Six years later, Pakistan president General Yahya Khan’s refusal to install Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s legitimately elected Awami League government and his army’s brutal crackdown in East Pakistan, led to the exodus of almost 10 million refugees to India and sowed the seeds of another war. The 14-day war which Pakistan started on 3 December 1971, resulted in a grand Indian victory and the emergence of Bangladesh.

In a brilliantly planned and meticulously executed lightning campaign, the Eastern Command’s multi-pronged offensive spear-heads contained and bypassed well-fortified defences.

They caused a mental paralysis by operating deep inside the enemy’s rear areas and quickly broke the Pakistani commanders will to fight.

On 14 December 1971, Lt Gen JS Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command and Bangladesh Forces, accepted one of history’s greatest surrenders. Lt Gen AAK Niazi and over 90,000 Pakistani soldiers laid down their arms. It is a defeat that Pakistan has still not been able to stomach. With this victory, the Indian army finally overcame the trauma of its defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962.


The ethnic conflict between the Tamilians and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka finally sucked in India when, in response to a request from President Jayawerdene, the Indian army was deployed in Sri Lanka to implement the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987. Initially, the Indian Peace Keeping Force was successful in maintaining peace without the use of force. However, when the LTTE violated the terms of the accord, there was no option but to resort to military action. The LTTE guerrillas proved to be a determined and well-motivated force.

Though they suffered many tactical defeats and serious casualties the jungles of Vavuniya and Trincomalee provided them safe sanctuaries in which to rest, recoup and refit before launching still more raids and ambushes. At the insistence of President Premadasa, the IPKF returned home in March 1990. Whether or not the IPKF made a substantial contribution to the achievement of India’s foreign policy objectives, will remain a debatable point.

That individual soldiers and units performed heroically on foreign soil under extremely unfavourable conditions, including restrictions on the use of force, shall never be in doubt.

India’s other overseas intervention in the 1980s was more successful. The legitimately elected government of President Gayoom of Maldives was overthrown in a mercenary-led coup in November 1988. Flying in from over 2,500 kilometres away at Agra, Indian paratroopers secured the international airport at Hulale and the capital Male in a surgical strike which caught the coup leaders completely unawares.

Normally a nation’s international borders are managed by para-military and police forces during peacetime. However, India’s disputed borders with Pakistan in J&K and with: China along the Himalayas, are managed primarily by the army. Along the LoC in J&K, there has been an eyeball-to-eyeball standoff between the Indian and Pakistani armies since the 1947-48 conflict. Exchanges of small arms and medium machine gun fire are an almost daily occurrence. On occasion, even artillery duels have lasted for a week to 10 days. Many of the posts are in high altitude areas above 3,000 metres height, in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world.


The jawans live in bunkers under primitive conditions and usually only the most basic amenities are available. During heavy snowfall and after avalanches, some of the pickets remain cut off for many months. Casualties have to be carried on stretchers to the nearest helipads and then flown out when the weather conditions permit helicopter flights. To maintain a high level of morale under such trying conditions, superhuman skills of leadership and man-management are required.

The Actual Ground Position Line on the Saltoro ridge west of the Siachen Glacier id an un-demarcated continuation of the LoC beyond the famous map reference NJ 9842. Since 1984, the Indian and Pakistani armies have been fighting at Siachen (average height 5,000 metres or 16,500), the highest battlefield in the world. Unlike the LoC where there is still some restraint, Siachen is an active battle zone.

Artillery duels are commonplace and_= short-range missiles and rocket launchers are employed frequently by both the sides. Incidents of hand-to-hand fighting, though infrequent, cannot be ruled out as attacks are still launched to gain tactical advantage. However, survival against the elements is a greater concern than the fear of an enemy attack. Besides advanced mountaineering skills, a stint at Siachen Glacier requires outstanding physical endurance, steely mental resolve, an indomitable spirit and raw courage.

If there is one bilateral problem between India and Pakistan that needs early resolution, it is the dispute over Siachen and the other glaciers of the Karakoram Range.