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Monday, June 22, 2015
From the Special Forces Operation to a look back at the 1965 War, 50 years on: All the articles in one place
Why it's important to remember the 1965 war between India and Pakistan
Saturday, 20 June 2015 - 4:00pm IST | Agency: dna webdesk
Although the period of June-July every year is normally regarded as the time when the 1999 Kargil conflict between India andPakistanis remembered and discussed, 2015 is perhaps the right time to understand the genesis of the war that Pakistan initiated and lost half a century ago.
Several factors, not the least the belief among some of Ayub Khan’s hawkish advisers that the general population in Kashmir valley was ready to rise in revolt against India, led Ayub to go along with, what later turned out to be a militarily unsound operational plan. Pakistan’s Military Intelligence and the Foreign Ministry (headed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) were of the view that from late 1964 onward, there was a surge in anti-India feelings in the Kashmir valley and the people would be more than willing to welcome Pakistani intervention.
Newspaper reports of the time suggest that the shelling and firing across the CFL (Ceasefire Line, as the Line of Control or LoC was then known), intrusions and other provocative activities increased manifold between January and July 1965. The Army recorded some 1800 such activities in that period as compared to just about 522 in the same period in 1964. In June and July 1965, there were at least half a dozen firing incidents daily across the CFL. The ceasefire violations preceded what was to be one of the largest infiltration planned and executed by Pakistan — much larger in scope than that in Kargil in 1999.
There is consensus among various personal accounts of the 1965 war and newspaper reports of that period that the scheme of infiltration was planned in Pak-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) under the overall command of Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, the then GoC of Pakistan’s 12 Division. All the four sector commanders under Major General Malik were made responsible for organising, training and launching of infiltrators groups from their areas of responsibility. These groups, numbering some 30,000 men, were named the Gibraltar Force. The aim of Operation Gibraltar was clearly laid down - to ‘create large-scale disturbances in Indian-held Kashmir which would force India to take major political and military steps to meet the situation..’
However, the Pakistan army’s Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Musa was not entirely convinced about Operation Gibraltar. In a telling comment, General Musa wrote: “The policy-makers thwarted the professional assessment and advice on matters having grave military implications because of their miscalculation of the politico-strategic situation and the over-ambitiousness of a few individuals involved in decision-making who were prompted by their desire to achieve some quick and spectacular results in Kashmir by clandestine operations.” Musa was mainly talking about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had prevailed upon President Mohammad Ayub, that the time was ripe to wrest Kashmir from India once and for all. Fifty years on, it is difficult to believe that the Pakistani Army — currently considered as the ‘deep state’ and perhaps the final arbiter of the nation’s destiny — could have been overruled by a politician like Bhutto.
There were other factors too that contributed to Pakistan’s swagger that time. One, Pakistan was confident that China, its new found ally and friend would make a threatening move against India, if only to keep some of its newly raised formations in the East from being moved into Kashmir. Two, Pakistan’s army was convinced that the modern arms and platforms supplied by the United States were far superior to the Indian army’s World War II vintage armoury, giving it a distinct advantage in any possible conflict.
In 1954, America agreed to arm up to five divisions of the Pakistani Army with the latest weapons and supply modern fighter jets. A Pakistani author has cited how the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) received a massive boost from America. According to one estimate, between 1956 and 1964 Pakistan was supplied with 100 F-86 Sabre jets, one squadron of F-104 Star Fighters, 30 B-57 bombers and four C-130 transport aircrafts, allowing it to narrow the gap with India. In 1965, the Pakistani Army’s armour strength was superior to that of the Indian Army.
The London-based IISS handbook on Military Balance (1965) revealed that Pakistan had 765 tanks in all, against India’s 720 in 1965. Pakistan had nine regiments of the latest Patton tanks supplied by the US, nine regiments of Shermans and three Regiments of Chaffees. India, on the other hand was saddled with right regiments of Shermans, four regiments of Centurians and two regiments of AMX-XIIIs. Pakistan’s artillery too was far superior in quality compared to India’s. While it had one heavy regiment of 155 mm guns and eight-inch Howitzers, India was mostly doing with 120 mm mortars and one heavy regiment of 7.2 inch guns.
Meanwhile, even as China-Pakistan ties were growing stronger, the American military aid continued unabated. Alarmed at the developments, India under Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and his defence minister YB Chavan (appointed by Jawaharlal Nehru in November 1962) took counter-measures to re-arm, expand and modernise the Indian military. Arms assistance from the Soviet Union was gratefully accepted. Yet, India was in no position to wage another war in 1965, having suffered a morale-shattering defeat in 1962. The three services were in the middle of a modernisation and expansion phase and therefore not fully trained or battle ready.
This was indeed one of the reasons why Ayub Khan and his ambitious Foreign Minister Bhutto were keen to press home the advantage that Pakistan seemed to enjoy in that particular period by launching an action that would free Kashmir from India’s ‘clutches.’
Moreover, the Pakistani leadership was not overly impressed by Nehru’s successor, Shastri and assessed that he was a pushover.
Economically too, Pakistan in that period was doing better than India. Politically, Sheikh Abdullah’s falling out with India was seen as an opportune moment by Pakistan, who felt that the Kashmiri population would support an instigated rebellion against India.
That Bhutto and Ayub were proved wrong, both in their assessment about the ‘loyalties’ of the Kashmiris and underestimating the strength and resilience of the Indian military, is a matter of history. After initial setbacks, the Indian Army not only thwarted the Pakistani offensive but also in September 1965, marched right into the heart of Pakistan: Lahore.
Only an UN intervention saved Pakistan the blushes. As India gears up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 victory a couple of months from now, it is important to remember Pakistan’s perfidy half a century ago.
The author is currently writing a book on the 1965 war between India and Pakistan.
A day after the 4 June ambush on the Indian Army's 6 Dogra Battalion in Manipur's Chandel district that killed 18 soldiers, I was in Guwahati at a Rotary Club function, coincidentally kicking off a discussion on why the media in general ignores the North-east or more precisely why is the media coverage of the north-east always trapped in stereotype?
Many media stalwarts from Delhi—all of them from print and in some ways people with fondness for the north-east—as well media practitioners from the region were in attendance. At the same time, many ‘celebrity’ anchors and big names on TV news had either declined or had simply ignored the invite from the organisers. It was as if they were afraid of exposing their own lack of knowldge about the region. Which is not surprising, given the overall ‘illiteracy’ that prevails in rest of India not just in media, but in almost all walks of life.
As the conference got underway, my mind travelled back to the 1980s when I first went to the region as a callow young man and became a journalist. The ignorance about the region was staggering in those years.
Three decades since then, the divide between “north-east” and the mainland has lessened with more exchange of people and ideas between the two. Actually, North-east exists only in the minds of those who are far away from it--physically and mentally. In my view, every state, in fact every district, in the region has a distinct identity.
And yet, generally, the attitude of the people in rest of India towards the North-east is like our treatment of a distant relative who exists in the mind but about whom we know precious little. Our knowledge about this relative is often based on misinformation, half truths and innuendos. That's exactly how rest of the country largely treats the eight states in the North East!
The Centre too looks at the north-east from the prism of law and order and security. The metropolitan media follows suit and gives place to coverage of the north-east only when there is large-scale violence or an incident like the cross-border raid by the Indian Army’s Special Forces into a neighbouring country.
So how should one look at the north-east? There is one view that there is too much money floating around in the region while others hold the view that the region needs much more assistance to bring it at par with rest of the country in terms of infrastructure and development.
The truth lies somewhere in between. The amount of money that is granted to and spent on the North East is mind boggling. Funds are not a problem, their disbursement is. Loads of money has indeed created a class of corrupt, rich people in the region, who consider themselves immune from law.
So, have we lost the North-east forever? Many optimists, like me, are convinced that the North-east has several things going for itself to catch up with the rest of the country. Unlike most other states, the North-east has a very high percentage of literacy. This itself should be a major strength. All that this pool of manpower resources needs is proper direction. Take the natural resources available with the region. Arunachal Pradesh has so much of water resources available that it can produce about 30,000 MW of electricity through hydel projects. This energy is not only sufficient to feed the region’s states but also to export to the neighbouring countries as well. Another point that the North-east has in its favour is the proximity to South-east Asia.
Identified by economic experts as the boom area of the 21st century, South-east Asia is best accessed from North-east India. The big question however is, who will do this? Not retired mandarins. Not people from MHA. Not people from rest of India. Ultimately, it is the civil society, well-meaning politicians and committed bureaucrats, who will have to take up the lost cause and bring the North-east out of its current mess. Only then rest of India will start looking at the North-east more seriously. Only then others will start treating the North-east not as an exotic faraway entity but as an integral part of the idea that is India.
As it usually happens in India, a precise, excellent special operation by the Indian Army against a group of north-east insurgents hiding in camps located within the geographical boundaries of Myanmar last Tuesday, has got overshadowed by some ill-advised pronouncements by ministers and an even sillier questions posed by ill-informed television anchors.
While junior ministers went a little overboard in claiming the successful raid as a warning to all of India’s neighbours, multiple voices diluted the impact of the cross-border raid. The TV debates—focusing mostly on the question: can the operation in Myanmar be replicated elsewhere (read, Pakistan)--further vitiated the atmosphere.
In all the shrill noises, three standout aspects of the operation have been more or less forgotten. One, the swift response by the top political leadership in giving a go-ahead for a counter-offensive inside Myanmar. Two, the skills and effectiveness of India’s Special Forces and three, the India-Myanmar military cooperation that allowed the forces to cross over and raid militant camps inside that country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his National security Adviser Ajit Doval, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Home Minister Rajnath Singh were quick to seek action against the perpetrators of the June 4 ambush on an army unit in Manipur that killed 18 soldiers. Once the political backing was forthcoming, the Army chose its best force trained for counter-insurgency and jungle warfare, the 21 Para (Special Forces), based in Jorhat and directly reporting to the Eastern Command. Nicknamed Waghnkh (Tiger’s Claw)--the unit was originally 21 Maratha Light Infantry battalion before being fully converted into a Para (SF) battalion—after Chattrapati Shivaji’s famous act of killing Afzal Khan by using the waghnakh, the 21 Para (SF) were tasked to hit the two camps located not very far from the border.
Detailed appreciation of the camps was made based on both HUMINT (human intelligence) and TechInt (technical intelligence) which had confirmed presence of a substantial number of insurgents in these camps. They troops also had a fair idea about the firepower the occupants of the camp possessed. At dawn on June 9, in less than a week after the ambush on 6 Dogras, the Special Forces had walked about six km inside Myanmar, the camps in their cross hairs. Soon, the assault was on. A firefight between an assortment of insurgents (those belonging to the NSCN-Khaplang group, Paresh Baruah's ULFA boys, members of UNLF, KYKL and PREPAK) and the army troops ensued. Many were killed, several injured. As the remaining insurgents fled, the troops started their return march. Incredibly, the Army's Special Forces had suffered no casualty. Months of hard training had paid off.
As the details begun to emerge, Myanmar acknowledged India’s operation: Zaw Htay, director of the office of Myanmar President Thein Sein, confirmed to The Wall Street Journal a day after the raid that Indian troops had entered his country. He said that there was “coordination and cooperation” between the Indian troops and Myanmar’s armed forces based in the area of the raids, but added that no Myanmar soldiers were directly involved. “We will never allow or support insurgents, whether [they are] against Myanmar or against our neighbouring countries,” Mr. Zaw Htay added. However, some ill-considered statements by ministers not directly involved in planning or decision-making and the breathless media narrative which started extrapolating and speculating about the possibility of a similar action on the Pakistan border, forced the Myanmarese to back off and deny that the raid took place inside their country.
As the government began assessing the aftermath of the clinical operation, it had to take note of one major shortcoming: Its strategic communication during a development such as a special operation of this kind, needed to be fine-tuned and brought in sync with the requirement of today’s media landscape which abhors information vacuum. In coming months, top decision-makers will surely find ways to overcome this lacuna.
The sometime silly, many times farcical debates on some of the TV channels notwithstanding, the fact is the 4 June ambush and the subsequent cross-border raid by Indian Special Forces has brought the focus right back on the north-east and China's renewed attempts to stir trouble in the region
For over 15 years since 2000, news from the region had been marked with good tidings: peace engagement with various rebel groups, improved security cooperation with Myanmar and Bangladesh, fragmentation of bigger outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).
The region's biggest insurgent group--the Issac-Muivah group of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland or NSCN-IM--has been in a ceasefire mode with the Government of India since 1997. Its rival group, the Khaplang faction of the NSCN or NSCN-K, led by SS Khaplang, a Burmese Naga, also agreed to a truce three years later only to walk out of it earlier this year after the Indian government objected to the group coming to an arrangement with the Myanmar government.
Since then, in a series of attacks on the security forces and especially on troops of the Indian army and the Assam Rifles, the NSCN-K has upped the ante. By launching big, spectacular attacks in collaboration with other outfits the Khaplang group is hoping to establish its leadership among many other insurgent groups in the region. That it has recently managed to bring together disparate groups spread across different states in the region, is a fact that has not gone unnoticed. A new front calling itself National Liberation Front of West South-east Asia, has been announced in recent months after a meeting convened by the NSCN-K somewhere in the Sagiang Division of Western Myanmar.
That's where the covert Chinese hand is now slowly becoming evident. For nearly eight years now there have been stray incidents pointing to increased Chinese focus on the north-east. In October 2007, on the invitation of the Chinese authorities, Anthony Shimray, in charge of the NSCN(IM)’s foreign affairs had visited China. He handed over to the Chinese a letter from Muivah, self-styled “prime minister” of NSCN(IM), naming Kholose Swu Sumi, a Sema Naga from Zunheboto, their “permanent representative” in China. The Chinese welcomed this and wanted Kholose to keep them updated on the movements of the Indian army, particularly in Arunachal, the activities of the Dalai Lama and Tibetans and on the NSCN(IM)’s peace talks with the Indian government.
In 2008, a north-east militant who chose to surrender to authorities had revealed how groups of insurgents from the region were travelling to the Yunnan province to receive training and then return with arms. In April 2009, it was the turn of Isak Chisi Swu, the NSCN(IM) president involved in talks with New Delhi, to visit China. Paresh Baruah of ULFA, too, visited China in 2010. Reports say he led a group of 80 cadres which received training and weapons in Yunnan province that year.
But it was in 2011 and 2012 that the renewed Chinese interest in insurgencies in the northeastern states became more pronounced. Two major conclaves of north-eastern insurgent leaders were organised by the Chinese at Taga in Western Myanmar. The Khaplang group incidentally has major presence in the area.
Chinese involvement in the north-east is not new. In the 1960s, it had backed the Naga rebels allowing them to travel to China and giving some arms. Subsequently however between the 1970s and 2000s, China lowered its focus only to re-engage the north-eastern rebels in a big way since the beginning of this decade. Past week’s developments in Nagaland and Manipur will prod security managers of the country to refocus on securing the north-east if India wants to realise the true potential of its 'Act East' policy.
(The author is a national security analyst and a long-time north-east watcher, having spent 23 years living and reporting from that region between 1983 and 2006. He has also had the opportunity to walk across into Myanmar with rebel groups and visit their camps in those years)
A view of the new parliament building complex under construction in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar (Photo: AP)
The closest South Asia version of Wild West is perhaps the jungles that make for a porous border between India’s Northeast and Myanmar. It is unguarded, is dotted with thick forests and untamed rivers, and is enveloped in energy-sapping heat and humidity most of the time in a year. It was here that the Japanese met their Waterloo in World War II beaten as they were by better-acclimatised Indian soldiers in the British 14th Army led by the irrepressible General William Slims. The Japanese, on a winning spree till then, were thrown back into the sea as the British army pushed them back all the way from Kohima and Imphal.
And it is in this area that the contemporary Indian Army’s crack Parachute unit, the 21 Special Forces, launched a limited cross-border raid on two insurgent camps located about 7 km inside the Myanmar territory on June 9. The ‘guesstimate’ of the number of killed and wounded has varied from 7 to 100. Officially, the Indian army has only chosen to say ‘significant casualties were inflicted on them.’ Sources in the know have put the figure of dead between 35 and 40.
Whatever the number, the fact is, the Indian establishment broke away from its usual hesitation in launching a pre-emptive strike against a group of Northeast insurgents who have recently come together to form an anti-India front with support from elements within the Chinese establishment.
An assortment of Northeast insurgent groups (a veritable alphabet soup-NSCN-K, PLA, UNLF, KYKL, KCP, ULFA, NDFB-S) have once again come together to form a front ostensibly to create a separate homeland for ethnic tribes in the region. It goes by a rather unwieldy name-United Liberation Front of West South East Asia. Helped by friendly Chinese ex-soldiers and Intelligence operatives and a safe haven in the Sagiang division of Western Myanmar these groups are led by Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, a Hemi Naga from Myanmar as its chairman.
In his mid-70s, Khaplang has been heading a faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) named after him since 1988 when he split from his erstwhile comrades Thuingaleng Muivah and Issac Chisi Swu, leaders of the I-M (Issac-Muivah) faction of NSCN.
Currently being treated for an unspecified ailment in a Yangon hospital, Khaplang has always played second fiddle to the I-M faction after their break up in 1988. All three were followers of the original Naga rebel Angami Zaphu Phizo, the man who launched the Naga insurgency in the 1950s only to fade away into oblivion in the 1970s. Khaplang and Muivah were among the few top insurgent leaders who had travelled to China in the mid-1960s to seek the Communist leadership’s support for their objectives. From the 1970s, China, busy with its own economic development, has been rather lukewarm to the Northeast insurgents. Of late — for the past six-seven years at least — the Chinese have however started showing greater interest in keeping the pot boiling in the Northeast.
In 2008, a Northeast militant who chose to surrender to authorities had revealed how groups of insurgents from the region were travelling to the Yunnan province to receive training and then return with arms. In April 2009, it was the turn of Isak Chisi Swu, the NSCN (IM) president involved in talks with New Delhi, to visit China. Paresh Baruah of ULFA, too, visited China in 2010 after he was forced to flee from Bangladesh in the wake of a major crackdown against the Northeast militants by the Sheikh Hasina government in Dhaka. Now Baruah, younger than Khaplang, is the key unifier in the new arrangement. In 2011 and 2012 the renewed Chinese interest in insurgencies in the north-eastern states became more pronounced. Two major conclaves of Northeastern insurgent leaders were organised by the Chinese at Taga in Western Myanmar.
Thin on the ground in western Myanmar and busy battling major insurgencies in the east and north of the country, the Myanmarese army has very little control in the areas bordering India’s Northeast. The Indian insurgents groups therefore find it convenient to operate from these areas.
Last Tuesday’s strike on the camps will however force the grouping to re-evaluate its policy and move further inward into Myanmar. The key question is: Will Nay Pyi Taw cooperate and crack down after a minor wrinkle that has appeared in its dealings with New Delhi?
Some ill-considered statements by junior Indian ministers not directly involved in planning or decision-making in the Special Operation and the breathless media narrative which started extrapolating and speculating about the possibility of a similar action on the Pakistan border, forced the Myanmarese to back off and deny that the raid took place inside their country after Zaw Htay, director of the office of Myanmar President Thein Sein, confirmed to The Wall Street Journal a day after the raid that Indian troops had entered his country.
He was quoted by WSJ saying that there was “coordination and cooperation” between the Indian troops and Myanmar’s armed forces based in the area of the raids, but added that no Myanmar soldiers were directly involved. “We will never allow or support insurgents, whether (they are) against Myanmar or against our neighbouring countries,” Mr. Zaw Htay had said.
India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval is likely to be in Myanmar on Monday and Tuesday to re-tweak the Indo-Myanmar security cooperation. The outcome of his visit will largely determine the trajectory of future operations in the border areas.
– The writer is a national security analyst and specialises on the Northeast, having lived and reported from the region between 1983 and 2006
It is not in the nature of the Parachute Regiment to be in public glare too often. Worldwide, the Para regiments, also known as Special Forces in some countries, operate below the radar. But when they carry out operations, Special Forces leave behind stories that turn into legends. In recent times the most memorable operation that grabbed the headlines globally was the United States SEAL 6 team which entered Pakistan undetected, killed Osama bin Laden and whisked his body away.
Closer home, the 9 June cross-border raid inside Myanmar by India’s 21 Para (Special Forces) aimed at neutralising north-east insurgents taking shelter in two camps has brought the limelight right back on these elite troops although it is nowhere as big aor risky operation that India's Special Forces have carried out in the past.
Converted into Special Forces from a regular infantry unit (21 Maratha Light Infantry), the 21 Para (Special Forces) is based in Assam’s Jorhat and directly reports to the Eastern Command. Nicknamed Waghnakh (Tiger’s Claw) after Chattrapati Shivaji’s famous act of killing Afzal Khan by using the waghnakh, the 21 Para (SF) were tasked to hit the two camps located not very far from the border because it specialises in such missions. In any case, all Parachute regiment units are mandated to train and carry out covert and direct action in counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency campaigns, subversion and sabotage deep inside enemy territory during war, surgical strikes behind enemy lines, hostage rescue and unconventional warfare. India at the moment has 10 such battalions raised over time.
While many of their missions are of tactical nature, the impact that the action of Para units carry out have a strategic impact. Two main examples come to mind immediately.
In the 1971 war, the 2 Para Battalion Group hastened the surrender of Pakistani forces in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) after a spectacular airborne assault –was executed on December 11, 197. It is by far one of the best examples of Army-Air Force coordination and the ability of the Indian military leadership to seize the initiative through unusual means. One thousand paratroopers from the 50 Independent Parachute Brigade, under the 2 Para battalion group were airdropped by 50 transport aircraft assembled by the Indian Air Force. The assault in broad day light took the Pakistanis by complete surprise and hastened the end of the war as a retreating Pakistani brigade was decimated at Tangail between 11 and 13 December.
Again, it was a combination of a bold Indian para-commando Capt TK Ghosh and young, fiery guerrilla leader of the Mukti Bahini, Kader ‘Tiger’ Siddiqui who prepared the DZ (dropping zone) for the commandos. Ghosh, who retired as a brigadier, spent over 10 days behind enemy lines to prepare the ground with Mukti Bahini for what was to become the biggest airborne assault post-WW II!
The other stunning operation (Operation Cactus) with international ramifications was carried out by the 6 Para Battalion in November 1988 in Maldives. Abdul Gayoom, then President of Maldives was facing a coup engineered by one of rivals Abdul Lutufi, with the help of mercenaries belonging to Tamil secessionist group from Sri Lanka –PLOTE or Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam. The coup plotters had taken over most of the government buildings, the airport, and the harbour but failed to catch hold of President Gayoom who fled from house to house even as he appealed to India for help. Within nine hours of his appeal elements of India’s 50 Parachute Brigade, spearheaded by 6 Para battalion and 17 Para Field Regiment landed in Male, the capital onboard the IAF’s IL-76 after flying 2000 km from Agra. They secured the airport, commandeered boats and rescued President Gayoom even as the mercenaries fled towards Sri Lanka. They were intercepted by Indian Naval ships. All the three services had displayed quick coordination and swift action that saved President Gayoom’s government. Some of the young officer paratroopers who participated in that operation are now in senior ranks, still serving in the Army. The Indian action earned praised worldwide but also created disquiet in the region, especially in Pakistan just as the latest action inside Myanmar has done.
The usefulness of the Special Forces was also proved in the 1999 Kargil skirmish when 9 of the 10 Para battalions were deployed in different sectors to carry out specialised operations. As for 21 Para (SF), its most celebrated and publicly-known success in recent times was Operation Summer Storm in April 2009 when it neutralised a group of Meitei insurgents using the Loktak Lake near Imphal as a hideout.
Given their spectacular achievements over the years, the Indian government needs to pay more attention to strengthening and equipping the Special Forces so that they can continue to strike fear in the hearts of the country’s adversaries.