Military & Aerospace

Army’s most critical deficiency: Good Generals?
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Net Edition | Date : 27 Nov , 2012

At Chhamb the failure was only at senior levels. There were adequate troops in Jaurian Sector, across the Chenab, to recapture Chhamb, but no attempt was made. Why didn’t the Corps Commander, Army Commander or the Chief order recapture of Chhamb, instead of only launching counter attacks East of Munawwar Tawi? There was adequate time after 10 December. The Chief went to Akhnur after the War, and declared he did not want to talk to the troops; hardly a mature action, in my humble opinion. Did the troops fail to fight? In the Indian Army, Generals only take credit for success, never the blame for any adversity!

In J&K, the Generals in 25 Infantry Division and in 15 Corps had adequate resources to launch limited offensive operations, but failed to utilize the opportunity.

In the East, during 1971, by about 09 Dec,2 Corps had captured the Pakistani strong points at Jessore and Jhenida beyond which there was no Pakistani defence up to Dacca. 2 Corps had 50 Para Brigade less a battalion as reserve. It was the only Corps to have such a strong reserve. Yet they made no move towards Dacca.The Para Brigade less a battalion was later withdrawn from Eastern Command along with one or two armoured regiments though there was no major crisis in the West; where we were on the strategic defensive. The shifting of forces between 11and 13 December goes against the principle of concentration of force for achievement of the Aim of War. These troops were not used even in the west. In NW sector of Bangladesh Commander340 (Independent) Infantry Brigade at Bogra received orders to advance to Dacca and simultaneously received orders to send back armour supporting his advance! Reasons for shifting of troops are not recorded.

In J&K, the Generals in 25 Infantry Division and in 15 Corps had adequate resources to launch limited offensive operations, but failed to utilize the opportunity. 33 Brigade (ex 39 Division) was available as additional force in 25 Division. In the Kashmir Valley one infantry brigade was reserve and available. While 9 SIKH did a fantastic job in advancing across Tut Mari Gali into the Lipa Valley, a brigade remained unutilized even when there was no threat to the Valley. The attack towards Hajipir had made no progress, due to poor leadership. Despite the excellent action of 9 SIKH, the General Officer Commanding was sacked for inaccurate reporting of the situation across the Pass, and messing up a counter attack in that sector.

Since there were no plans to use 33 Infantry Brigade in 25 Division it could have been sent south to help in the battle of Chhamb or back to 39 Division for the battle in Shakargarh. But the Brigade was just wasted near Poonch, due to a cautiousgeneral, but one who put such pressure on his subordinates that one brigade commander committed suicide after the War. Such matters are not recorded in histories.

The Chief was primarily covering his rear when he announced “we will fight with what we have”. Wonder if he ever heard of the saying “when the bugle makes an uncertain call, imagine the outcome of battle” and why didn’t we have what the Army required?

The scuttling of a Division offensive due to the unforeseen action at Laungewala shows poor generalship in the Jaisalmer Sector.


Our misadventures in Srilanka were totally due to bungling by the top Generals. I have not heard any officer talk good of any General during OP PAWAN. Yet no introspection has taken place, nor is it likely in future.


Let us have a look at the Kargil Operations in 1999. I wonder if there is anyone who feels the Army Commander deserved a Sarvottam Yudh Seva Medal for the Kargil War. In fact the performance of senior generals needs critical study?

The Chief was primarily covering his rear when he announced “we will fight with what we have”. Wonder if he ever heard of the saying “when the bugle makes an uncertain call, imagine the outcome of battle” and why didn’t we have what the Army required? Are the formations expected to procure weapons and equipment directly, themselves? In 1959 Gen Thimayya had resigned since he could not ensure security of the borders due to the negative attitude of the Defence Minister. In May 1999 instead of doing something about our deficiencies our Chief went to Poland?

If the Chief didn’t know of the intrusions, as he claims, the question is why didn’t he know? Did he sack the people who failed to inform him? By 14 May even the PM knew, that too through the Defence Minister, who had been to Kargil. When did our Chief first visit Kargil?It is well known our casualties were high due to delayed action by the Air Force and Artillery failing to interfere with the enemy build up, in May. Even though the intrusions were first detected on 03 May 99, the first aircraft to attack the enemy flew on 26 May. While volumes may be written explaining why, the fact is it was failure of higher command.

Why was 6 Mountain Division not used? If General Officer Commanding was not found fit, why was he not removed and another one appointed as was done in 13 JAKRIF? Why was the General assessed incapable only when given an operational task? He must have been a high flyer during peacetime. Has the system been rectified since? When troops were moved from the Kashmir Valley to Dras, why were the Corps reserves not the first to move and counter attack? Why 56 Brigade which was employed for Counter Terrorist operations?  Was it not the task of the Corps Commander to ensure surveillance of the Line of Control throughout his Corps Zone and to keep reserves ready to counter intrusions? When 8 Mountain Division was moved out, the complete Intelligence Grid in the Valley was disrupted which Pakistan utilized well to raise the level of terrorism over the next few years. Many precious lives were lost in the Valley from 2000 to 2004,due to the directions of the Corps Commander.

No wonder, except for Mizoram all other disturbed areas remain disturbed over decades and new ones are added every now and then.

In Kargil, since all offensives were launched in Dras and Batalik Sectors only, what was the great hurry to remove the brigade commander from Kargil? Was he removed for professional reasons or since he was hell bent on exposing the seniors? Even the Commander who conducted operations in Batalik Sector so well, was sacked by the Corps Commander for reasons that remain ‘confidential’.

I am not supporting the actions of the Commander Kargil Brigade in any way and he was very much to blame for what happened, but so were many others who not only escaped punishment but were felicitated after the War; because they were seniors, or professionally dishonest, or both? On eexception who stood out was the division commander at Dras, who behaved like a General, throughout.

There are many grey areas, still. The inquisitive media which was highly appreciated in the early stages of the War was later shunned when they commenced asking uncomfortable questions.

Counter Insurgency Operations

Counter Insurgency Operations have exposed our senior leadership over many decades. Yet we refuse to learn and continue to re-invent the wheel as Generals change at Corps and Command HQ.

What is astonishing is that many mediocre generals, who believed in body and weapon counts, have prospered; each coming out with his own theory on how to conduct Counter Insurgency Operations. No wonder, except for Mizoram all other disturbed areas remain disturbed over decades and new ones are added every now and then.

The seniors must develop courage of conviction to stand for what is right, and learn to place Service before Self.


Our Generals blame the Government and bureaucrats for all shortcomings in the Army. Without disputing that, we need to first eradicate our own weaknesses. The seniors must develop courage of conviction to stand for what is right, and learn to place Service before Self.In fact they know what to do. All they have to do is to simply practice what they peach.

I do not favour resignations. I recommend firm conviction and determination to fight for what is our right without bothering about post retirement employment. Even if the Government does not employ the Chiefs, they would earn much more respect from the million plus Army, than they do now.

Having attended all the ‘career courses’ considered essential for higher command, it is clear to methe present system of education, selection, training for higher ranks throws up mediocre generals and the standard is declining rapidly. The complete system needs overhaul urgently in the interest of our great Army.

1 2
Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen KK Khanna, PVSM, AVSM** (Retd)

has been the BGS of a strike corps and commanded an infantry division (RAPID) in another strike corps. He was MGGS and COS of HQ Northern Command, Commandant of the Indian Military Academy and Colonel of the Jat Regt.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left

34 thoughts on “Army’s most critical deficiency: Good Generals?

  1. An excellent and forthright piece that brings out what ails our Army. Add ego , lack of self confidence and an inability to accept mistakes to the mix and we have a potent brew that can only bring disaster. All these years junior officers and the men have been our saviours but the present dispensation is bent on harming their prospects as well.

  2. Your article evokes sickening feelings at the senior generals grasp of changing dynamics of war situations, stereotype responses driven by lack of strategic comprehension, copetence, tactical acumen n drive based on knowledge acquired while climbing the ladder of hierarchy. Hope the present crop of Gen learn lessons from the past and work out , upgrade, wargame and evaluate the plans constantly.

  3. Well said sir. Same thing happened in 62 as well and we know it. Mediocrity at higher levels is getting worse by the day. It is not just that youngsters are excellent but they become mediocre as they rise – the impact is not so visible at junior levels. Unfortunately we don’t train for leadership or generalship. As we rise higher our focus shifts from down – which is our command, to Up – that is our next rank. Zero error syndrome and the penchant for next rank can only result in zero risk taking ability… the ability to look for, sense an opportunity and press on during battle is missing. The promotion policies are formulated and promulgated by the same generals who benefited from the policy. So how can anyone find faults with a system that made them Generals in the first place. And thus the myth, the fallacy is perpetuated. Well one can write books on this … but unfortunately they will only adorn the shelves.

    • The General is rightly asking us all to do introspection by trying to obtain honest answers to some of the uncomfortable sounding questions that are being raised.If we do that,the much needed corrective action has an opportunity to be identified and acted upon..

  4. General KK has given comments on generals who did fail in a particular opration under most stressful testing conditions w/o spelling out the incompetence of the offrs below who have invariably held back the int inputs so essential for correct dicision making at the top level of command.

    Profession of Arms is perhaps the only one where decisions r made on moment to moment basis w/o even second thought something akin to casting a dice & waiting g for the outcome. No other profession throws such challenges ., a nd also where life of all those involved in fight is in severe danger.That is the primary reason the SELECTION BOARDS FOR OFFRS CADRE R UNIQUE in their qualitative requirements. It’s only drawback is that selections at Generals boards do get influenced by many other considerations incl political , which can dilute the quality of the lot selected.

    And there is no way out. The ethos of the forces remain as strong as the history can make us recollect from examples of the past even of the horse riding sword wielding leaders.

  5. The first step to finding a solution is to recognise and accept the problem. Gen Khanna seems to have enunciated the first step.

    I am not an expert in military matters. However, I have picked up two thoughts which may be a pointer to the difficulties in the next step, ie, of improving the quality of generals.

    – 1 – Possibly, focus on good generalship can only come about in a long war. Perhaps that is why besides the Israeli Forces today and both sides in WW-II, good generalship has been deficient in all armies in the last century.

    – 2 – In peace time, when observing good generalship is next to impossible, Peter’s principle is at play, ie, everyone rises to his level of incompetence. And once someone reaches his level of incompetence at whatever level, be it bn, bde, div,corps, army, that person will cause damage to the organisation.

    Above sounds negative and I don’t have an answer. 🙁

    Perhaps Army think tanks can think of a solution.

  6. Whereas the points made by the General officer are valid and certainly require introspection at the higher echelons of our great Army , who is prepared to do it ? Probably the senior ranks are aware of the kind of mediocre calibre being thrown up by the present system but are unwilling to take a risk for want of courage of conviction and the fear of losing their ” so called hard earned ” position in the hierarchy !!
    The answer is not easy in this age of one upmanship !

  7. I fully endorse views of the General. Failures at the top levels is equally applicable for the other two services, as well.
    Optimum utilisation of resources and correct timely decisions are very crucial, both in war and peace.
    Very important to carry out indeapth detailed study of the various operations that have taken place and keep taking place even during undeclared war.
    I hope more Generals start participating meaningfully in this debate.

  8. An excellent article bringing out clarity from the fog of war events. it is true that most of our Generals are the Sand Model types. Think of the Comdr of an Indep Armd Bde (who later on became Chief on the strength of his brother’s PVC) teaching the CO of a Med Regt how to Deploy his 18 Guns . This gentleman has only deployed and used Tank Guns in a Direct Firing Role – trying to teach as how to use Arty Guns in a non- Direct role. This happened in 1976 .

  9. The author is my Batchmate from the NDA. I hv read his book which wonderfully covers the General & their handling of war in the past & incl the recent ones. There is no doubt that Generals should be selected more on the basis of their field experience rather their plaibility. I agree with him totally to say that operation capabilities must be the top criterion for their selection. A very bold book.

  10. Absolutely in agreement with gen khanna. I my self have felt amazed n discussed with May officers that why gen sd be indulging in malpractices , how were they not able to detect intrusion , is there failure in SSB OR we have to put senior officers under another advanced SSB INSTED OF NDC . Many gen have put us to shame , first Sikh gen started t he rot followed by gen vohra , n then rest . I wish gen JOSHI lived more . When we sacrifice gen baxi ! Gen nanavati gen bhardwaj gen halgali n promote tainted gen you will get this mess . I too was surprised when 15 corps CD-R was awarded , medals I think then chief n 15corps CD-R sd have been sacked with northen army CDR. . YES WE HAVE TO HAVE FD CDRS NO PAPER N PARTY TIGERS . ARMY IS FOR ON GROUND N NOT FOR ON PAPERS n parties

  11. Not commenting specifically on events mentioned here, but where is the doubt that Indian army generals have mostly been unprofessional. Hardly any commitment. The promotion policy ensures that gutsy officers don’t become generals. Read book ‘Tob Brass’ by Brig H Sodhi , on this. As expected, this outstanding officer retired as a Brig.

  12. I’m surprised to read the contents. Judy’s to Gen Khanna. As a young Capt I’ve personally seen what he describes as lack of leadership.
    But for my commitment & pride in having served as a soldier, I’d be happy to make military leadership understand how badly we are managed.
    Army is run by officers till
    Col level.
    An internal audit will be difficult as troops will laugh at our seniors.
    May God give us strength to change to a real professional Army.
    God bless our soldiers. Jai Hind

  13. Thanks for an extremely informative and educative article. Military History today Is neither being given the respect it deserves nor being documented properly. Such valuable writes give an insight to a new spectrum of information what was not available before.

  14. Reading this article was a whiff of fresh air. All armies tend to promote conformists….in peace time…as the operational commitments take a back seat. Wars expose the peacetime generals!! The British were prudent to sack some at the beginning of the world war. We need to be truthful in analysing our generals to become a great nation. Calling spade a spade. The system needs a review

  15. Dear General,

    The facts that you have brought out are very well known to most of us who have worn the uniform with pride. However,apart from that, I have seen a change in the IMA credo.

    one on top is superiors, then own welfare and comfort and in the last, well its country and the troops.

    it will not change till the young offrs are encouraged to stand up for what is wrong and if he does that, in 9 cases out of 10 he will be written off. The management of a superior officer is the main focus area and that is how every one is going up the ladder

    es pee

  16. If I could express, Gen. J. J. Singh seemed an unusual officer. He seemed a great soldier, not for any particular reason. The previous C. O. A. S., was supposed to be a star. This was according to people who didn’t know him. He was indeed, an inspiration, and still is. Why is this supposed to be otherwise? I mean, are people comparing the Indian Army to the French under Field Marshal Gamelin? He was a great soldier, undoubtedly. And, he was more of a theorist and tactician than the German generals, whom he lost to.I wouldn’t say, that feeling a bit uneasy is bad for any perception.

  17. Actually time has come for a total reappraisal and recast of selection of cadet, training at IMA and subsequent career development of Army officers. No doubt the Generals are found wanting both on professional and personal front but let us not forget that they cone from same stock which also includes their superseded colleagues, who are no better.

  18. Well written article with good conclusions. We as indians have the habit of putting every thing under the carpet esp the failures and lost opportunities . Having gone through most of the campaigns fromPart -B to staff college the high lights are not emphasiszed. Generals of toady certainly lacking in professional expertise and personnel behavoir.

  19. Sir,
    I have taken PMR and not superannuated from the Army. I was always found short of the right words whenever I was asked why I took PMR.
    Now I know Why?


    Thank you for a great article.


  20. Dear General,

    A lot of what you have said is known to most of us who have worn the uniform with pride. However what is needed are recommended solutions from senior offrs like you.

    Ours is a very subjective system of reporting and one wonders if it will ever change. If it does not the decline will continue.

    Delink the JAG branch from the administrative control is one such step to keep Cdrs on their toes.

    General, if a young offr has the courage of conviction to stand up and be counted I am afraid in 8 cases out of 10 he will not even command his unit. The art of senior offr management has been perfected today. You ignore it at your peril!

    I was an ADC in 1981, and my view is that one had to be blind not to see the decline even then.


  21. Authentic record of historical of events.Really speaks of deficiency of forethought in planning n logistics,at higher levels.Thought !!! What will happen to me if particular action failed.This should be dispelled.I read book on Gen Shrinagesh written by Brig SK Issar VSM.In one of the chapters he mentions that then Maj Gen Shrinagesh GOC suggested to then Brig Thimmya that we should bring armour to Zozila for attack.If we succeed plan was ours if failed then plan and responsibility is mine.May this convey some sense to higher command and great morale booster to at lower level of command.(Zozila 1948

  22. An indepth analysis of deficiency in Generalship of indian Army. We also have deficiency in risk taking profile in our Generals. In war games and other discussions the display is bold but in war there is deficiency.

  23. An excellent article which hits the nail right on the head, particularly where the post retirement cares of senior officers is concerned, in the second last paragraph.
    Also very rightly assessed is the mediocre standards of our courses.
    However there another aspect that counts that has been missed out by him, or has it been conveniently left out. There is a saying that goes:- “A donkey will remain a donkey no matter how much training you give it, nor how long you train it”. We have to see the material that is being “lifted” to these high levels.
    What happened to those high performing middle level officers ? How is it they suddenly fade out ? Who or what caused them to fade out ? There has to be a reason. It could be one of many; lack of sycophancy! having the courage to stand up for their convictions ! Having seen the conditions above, many choose to give up, having earned their pensions.
    We have to realise that the people above HAVE to be held accountable for their actions AND inactions, You can NOT hide behind a scapegoat; Whether a scapegoat is found or not the man above HAS to answer.
    This rot as pointed out by gen Khanna has to be stemmed right up the ladder, to the very top. A soldier would not mind bearing and taking it on his chest. He will always be morally correct.
    This is an excellent article, I would personally give four stars. He held back a wee bit in putting in the bite.

  24. Further to my comment of yesterday.

    The author has brought out very forcefully the fact that we suffer from poor generalship. Why? It cannot be that our generals are lacking in intelligence and knowledge. It has to do something with our character or motivations. What is it in the ‘system’ that favours non-professionalism? Also, this has to do something with our ethics, morality and sense of nationhood. Is this non-professionalism limited to the army or do we need to look at the malaise at a wider national level?

  25. Very good analysis except count yourself in the same quality of Generals, as you are one of them.

    If General Dunn had not driven towards Sialkote then Akhnoor and probably Jammu would be in Pakistani hands in 1965.

    Again it was General Harbaksh who made and error an got Sikh Battlion decimated in 1965 in Amritsar/Khemkaran sector. I do not believe he was ordering the recpture of Khemkaran. He was blocking the retreat of Pakistani tanks after being defeated at Khemkaran. The Sikh battlion got caught in the melee without adequate tank cover of their own.

    It was General Harbaksh who ignored the ceasfire request and sent troops to recapture Dograi & Burki. Hence no enemy position remained on this side of Icchogil Canal.

    What you have not factored into your criticism is the international pressure to stop fighting, which mostly favored Pakistan. Pakistanis had depleted their tank ammunition, petloeum, oil, lubricant and contrary to what the Pakistanis were saying their airforce was unable to mount any forward attacks beyond Combat Air Patrols. For these reason they needed ceasfire. Shastri in 1965 and Indira Gandhi in 1971 was well aware of the American & Russian pressure, wished not to continue the fight any further. Ammunition depletion was also serious with the Indian Army in 1971. Hence Khemkaran, Hussainawala a other incrusions in the west stayed uncaptured.

    What you missed my dear General is that one tank regiment and one brigade of troops were defeated and shattered at Longewala in 1971 on the night & morning of the fight. But the next day they stayed unmolested and allowed to withdraw orderly, although a full division was waiting for the orders at Tanot. They could have captured every bit of the retreating Pakistani troops. That I believe is a failure of generalish. But again I withdraw my crticism because orders for the troops to grab retreating troops were to come from Delhi. I assume these orders did not come because more pressing business was reach Dhaka.

    • My dear friend,
      Thanks for your comments. I am happy you have taken the trouble to read the article and to respond. A few points are offered for consideration.
      I am intrigued by your comment that mine is a good analysis except that I am one of them. Of course I am, and I remain proud to be a General, and I am sure there are many others like me.
      General Harbaksh did not ignore any ceasefire to capture Dograi or Barki. Gen Harbaksh planned four offensives from Ranian in the North to area opposite Ferozepur in the south to capture the area upto the Ichhogil Canal to force Pakistan’s 7 Division to recoil from Chhamb. These included offensives along the GT Road and on the Khalra Axis. The Army Commander wanted 1 Armoured Division reserve in Punjab. See Page 338 of the Generals’s autobiography. He wanted to launch the Armoured division in the Sialkot Sector in the next phase of the offensive.
      The 1 Corps offensive was ordered directly by the Chief, unknown to the Army Commander. (imagine the higher direction of war!)
      The attacks towards the Ichhogil Canal were launched on 06 September. 1 JAT went into Ranian but was beaten back. It was 3 JAT’s bold advance to Batapur, under Lt Col DE Hayde, MVC, on the outskirts of Lahore which alarmed the Pakistanis the most. 4 SIKH captured Barki. These made Pakistanis recoil at Chhamb.
      4 Indian Division’s advance west of Khemkaran on 06 September made little progress. The Division was withdrawn and redeployed east of Khemkaran. Pakistan 1 Armoured Division came through, but was beaten back at Asal Uttar by 10/11 September.
      Meanwhile our 1 Corps had been launched two days earlier on 08 September. An armoured brigade of the armoured division which withdrew from Khemkaran on 10/11 September was deployed in the Sialkot Sector.
      The ceasefire was at midnight on 22/23 September 1965 well after the capture of Dograi and Barki.
      (to be continued)

    • (contd)
      About 4 SIKH’s second operation west of Khemkaran, I recommend reading Page 355 of the General’s book. 4 Division with 4 SIKH attached to them was to clear up the Pakistanis west of Khemkaran.
      About the operations in the Laungewala Sector, you are right the offensive by a division was halted on the news of the Pakistani thrust towards Laungewala. The Pakistanis were destroyed by their own lack of Air and proper Support which enabled our Air to destroy them, as best as they could. The Division at Tanot was too far away to prevent withdrawal, but the IAF did that magnificently. The Division needed no orders from anyone. They had already been ordered to launch an offensive and no one countered that order. That is the lesson present generation must learn.
      About international pressures and lack of war material, both Nations were similarly placed. There was enough fuel and ammunition available to recapture any place they wanted.
      Husainiwala was captured by the Pakistanis in 1971 on the Night 03/04 December. There was more than enough time and resources to recapture whatever they wanted. North of Sutlej R, 29 Infantry Brigade did nothing during the 71 War. Sehjra had been captured by 48 Brigade and their troops were sitting on the northern edge of Husainiwala. South of Ferozepur was our complete 14 Division which captured some small areas. I am aware they had a different task. Husainiwala could have been captured both from north and south annihilating all enemy in the enclave using 29 brigade in the North and a brigade of 14 Division from Ferozepur. That is what the future generals should learn. A look at the map will be useful.

  26. An excellent write up. This article deserves to be discussed amongst the DS and the students at Wellington and at NDC as those are the future budding Generals.
    I personally have come across in excess of a dozen of serving and ex Generals with the following traits:
    1. You do not enjoy a long conversation with them as IQ/ knowledge professional/otherwise is extremely poor.
    2. Cheating at Golf… the integrity is doubtful
    3. Self serving attitude, self & family before any thing and every thing
    4. total Hypocrite
    I agree that majority of them is made of excellent grit but our endeavour shall be, not even to have one such leave aside a dozen

  27. “The seniors must develop courage of conviction to stand for what is right, and learn to place Service before Self.”

    General VK Singh and Admiral Ramdas did. What did the other people in the Army/Navy do when these honest men were sacked ( general VK Singh was removed Extra-constitutionally by someone fudging his DoB).
    What did RAW, IB et al do???

    This is the legacy of MK Gandhi – Defeatists in the Military/intelligence top brass.

    Very soon you can add erstwhile Bombay to the disturbed areas list. Then there will be foreign intervention to bring matters in this (So-called) country under control….
    Because the intelligence agencies were fence-sitters while the nation went to the Dogs.

More Comments Loader Loading Comments