The Western Command
The territorial jurisdiction of Western Military Command embraced the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, the Union territories of Chandigarh and Delhi, and a few districts of Rajasthan. It covered a vast area from the Western Himalayas to the plains of Punjab and the sandy tracts of the Rajasthan Desert. Geopolitically, it faced two hostile neighbours—Pakistan and China. These countries were inimical to India but friendly to each other. Their mutual cooperation in politics and military affairs were indicative of their likely coalition in the event of a military confrontation on the sub continent.
Lieut Gen K P Candeth, PVSM, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Command, was operationally responsible for defending the region against external aggression and generally aiding the state governments in maintaining law and order, if required. Candeth’s task, both in peace and war, was onerous. He had not only to contend with political turbulence in the controversial state of Jammu and Kashmir but also to ensure the security of an undemarcated line of control on the Indo-Tibetan border against the Chinese in Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, to hold the uneasy ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir, and police the well-demarcated international border in Jammu, Punjab and Rajasthan against Pakistan.
It divided the old princely state of Jammu and Kashmir in two, with Pakistan illegally occupying about one-third of the territory.
Candeth was a grandson of the late Sir Shankaran Nair and a product of RIMC and the Indian Military Academy. Kept in the background under British rule, he suddenly flowered after independence. Seniority found him Artillery Adviser to Gen Thimayya at the time of Pakistani aggression in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, when he came to notice. His subsequent rise in the Army may be attributed to his being noncontroversial and perhaps more pliable than more deserving contemporaries who fell by the wayside, unfortunate victims of our promotion system. What paid him most however was his friendship with Gen PP Kumaramangalam. As Kumaramangalam rose, he took Candeth up with him in preference to those with greater merit but not of his coterie.
In the Kaul-Menon era, Candeth was lucky to command the invasion force in the unopposed march to annex the Portuguese colonies of Goa, Daman and Diu in 1961. On completion of this operation, he was appointed Military Governor of the territories and became a national figure in that capacity. Apart from that operation, he had very little war experience and displayed a slow, deliberate and rather cautious approach to military problems. He had served mostly in North India and knew the terrain as well as the day-to-day problems of the no peace-no war military posture of the time. But he did not appear to be made for the role history was soon to bestow on him as the commander of the largest army to be launched in battle under the Indian flag since times immemorial.
For offensive and counteroffensive operations, Pakistan had two armoured divisions, three infantry divisions and an independent infantry brigade group in reserve apart from what could be mustered from the holding force at the point of thrust.
The demarcated international border, policed by the paramilitary forces of both countries, divided India and Pakistan in Rajasthan and Punjab, and up to the river Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir. From there, the ceasefire line ran north and northeast to Keran, near the Kishenganga, and then at right angles through Minimarg in Gurais Valley and ended in the snows of the Karakoram ranges. It divided the old princely state of Jammu and Kashmir in two, with Pakistan illegally occupying about one-third of the territory. The Chinese occupied the northeastern area of the state roughly east of the line joining Chushul with the Karakoram Pass. The old Indo-Tibetan boundary from opposite Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh to Chushul in Ladakh prevailed.
The Chinese had about a division holding the Indo-Tibetan border against Candeth. In the event of active coalition with Pakistan they could wield about two divisions to develop a worthwhile thrust towards Leh in Ladakh and no more. The long and tenuous lines of communication from their bases in Sinkiang and the inhospitable high altitudes and rugged terrain of operations, with the attendant difficulties of sustenance, forbade a bigger buildup in the region.
Matters were however different with Pakistan. Pakistan had about two armoured divisions, ten infantry divisions, two independent armoured and two independent infantry brigades, and a collection of paramilitary forces numbering about 90,000. Out of this impressive order of battle, seven infantry divisions and one independent infantry brigade were locked in a holding role along the ceasefire line and the international border, two divisions were in Jammu and Kashmir up to the River Chenab, two more held the Shakargarh bulge, and still two others the Punjab border from Ranian to the infantry brigade group was statitioned in the general area of Bahawalnagar-Mandi Sadiq Gunj, and one infantry division in the Rajasthan Desert and the Rann of Kutch.
The entire force was committed to static defence along the ceasefire line and to covering the routes of ingress to sensitive areas, particularly in the Jammu sector.
For offensive and counteroffensive operations, Pakistan had two armoured divisions, three infantry divisions and an independent infantry brigade group in reserve apart from what could be mustered from the holding force at the point of thrust. To build up its army in East Pakistan for the impending battle, Pakistan had considerably denuded its western wing to the extent that two old formations, 9 and 16 Infantry Divisions, had been transferred to the east wing.
To compensate for the imbalance thus created Pakistan had raised two new infantry divisions, 17 and 33, but these were in the early stages of training and were known to consist of only two brigades each. Their war potential was therefore doubtful. There was however a third division, 7 Infantry, an old formation which had trained for operations in the mountains but could be allotted to the. strike force to bolster the offensive thrust line wherever required.