Military & Aerospace

India's Losses and Gains in Post-Independence Wars - I
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Taking note of geography, and the superior Chinese military power, Nehru carved his Tibetan policy.

These efforts appeared to buy peace for India while making certain concessions, at least till our military capability could assert itself. In any event, Nehru hoped China would be too preoccupied with its internal problems to undertake aggression, at least for some time. But the ink had scarcely dried on the agreement when Chinese incursions started with road building activity in the Aksai Chin region of Ladakh, unknown to Nehru and his policymaking machinery. Nehru got to know of this only when the portion of the Sinkiang-Lhasa highway which ran through Aksai Chin was almost completed and he was presented with a fait accompli. Unable to restore the position by military force, he withheld the information from the nation deliberately, hoping to seek redress through diplomacy.

Sensing Nehru’s weakness, the Chinese further consolidated their hold on Aksai Chin by extending their presence towards Daulat Beg Oldi, south of the Karakoram Pass, and Chushul by the end of 1960. In response, Nehru was prevailed upon to adopt what came to be known as a “forward policy.” This was aimed at challenging Chinese expansion by establishing small and generally isolated posts in the disputed areas to block the potential lines of Chinese advance, and where opportunity permitted threatening the maintenance routes of the Chinese post This was based on the promise that the Chinese had been expanding their influence only in a vacuum and would not challenge India’s presence with arms.

Book_India_wars_sinceNehru and his policy adviser Menon firmly believed that a modest display of an Indian military presence would lead Peking to some sort of negotiated settlement. Encouraged by the initial success and the absence of a favorable diplomatic response from China, India continued to extend its forward policy with more posts in the disputed region of Ladakh, much against the Army commander’s advice. The Chinese press soon after echoed Peking’s warning that unless India withdraw its “aggressive posts” and discontinued its provocations their frontier guards would be “compelled to defend themselves.”In July 1962,1 the Chinese surrounded an Indian post in the Galwan river valley with 400 odd troops in a show of force against Indian expansion and an exchange of fire resulted. The siege was however lifted after some tense days, but with significant military and political forebodings. The incident indicated to Peking that New Delhi was prepared to risk armed clashes if required to assert its rights, and at the same time confirmed that Peking would not risk an open clash but would respect India’s demonstrated determination to assert its territorial integrity even by force of arms. An official Chinese note however warned that its frontier guards would not acquiesce in continuing Indian provocations, but the warning was not heeded in the proper quarters.

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The NEFA debacle and India’s resultant humiliation stands out as Nehru’s Himalayan blunder. Because of our inherent weakness in preparing for this contingency before taking on the Chinese in open armed conflict the outcome was foregone. India suffered a humiliating military defeat and, shedding its holy neutrality, Nehru asked for US air support to meet the Chinese invasion. Perhaps apprehensive of big-power intervention, or weighed down by their own logistic problems in view of the impending closure of the Himalayan passes, the Chinese announced a unilateral ceasefire.

The border dispute remains still unresolved, and the territory considered essential for Chinas national interests continues to be in their possession.

They declared they would withdraw their forces 20 kilometres north of the MacMahon Line and to a similar distance behind the “line of actual control” in Ladakh on 7 November 1959. It further asserted that China intended to proceed with its troop withdrawal regardless of the Indian reaction, but warned that it reserved the right to strike back if India tried to reoccupy any territory the Chinese had taken in their advance.

India officially declared that this was a purely unilateral Chinese action and did not bind New Delhi to the conditions imposed. It said a precondition to any meaningful discussions on the border dispute would be Chinese restoration of the status quo existing on 8 September 1962. China ignored these suggestions and rejected mediation by the Colombo powers on terms acceptable to India. Through military might, China created a Himalayan border of its own choosing, thereby legalizing its illegal occupation of Indian territory. India has not been able to alter the situation so far, and out of sheer military weakness has accepted and learnt to live with the problem.

The salient points of the Indochina conflict were that the ceasefire was unilateral and not brought about by direct outside pressures. The gains in territory as a result of aggression were vacated. Prisoner of war and war material and equipment the Chinese captured in the conflict were returned without any political bargaining. The border dispute remains still unresolved, and the territory considered essential for China’s national interests continues to be in their possession. This confirms the age-old saying that might is right. In this instance, Nehru’s political stance had out-stepped India’s military capability.

It is noteworthy that Pakistan did not capitalize on India’s difficulties at the time. India’s pressing need for troops to meet the Chinese invasion had denuded the entire western border with Pakistan. American and British pressures on Nehru to arrive at a settlement on Kashmir with Pakistan led to bilateral negotiations, but since New Delhi was only playing for time India’s negotiator Swaran Singh kept Pakistani Foreign Minister Bhutto talking till the opportunity for a settlement had gone. Bhutto never forgave Ayub Khan for that.

The territory ceded to Pakistan comprised elevated ground of tactical significance against the low-lying area left with India which got submerged with the rise of the Rann.

Pakistani incursions into the Rann of Kutch had been noticed by Gujarat police patrols from 25 January 1965, when a freshly laid heavy vehicle track was noticed one and half miles inside Indian territory. On 3 March, it was admitted that about 13,000 acres of Indian territory had been occupied. By that time, Pakistan had occupied one or two square miles around Kanjarkot2 and 20 to 30 square miles in the Siarbet area. The Pakistani aim seemed to be to establish an “existing dispute.” India asked Pakistan to restore the status quo ante. Instead, Pakistan advanced inside Indian territory in strength, leading to the fall of the Indian forward posts hastily positioned there. Militarily, Pakistan had the upper hand.

Tikka Khan, in command of the division operating in the .area, had painstakingly prepared for the operations and succeeded in achieving his objectives. Pakistani newspapers described them as “a proper advance towards liberating territories which have been under occupation since partition.” India chose not to give a fight on the issue and accepted a ceasefire on British intervention. The Kutch dispute was referred to a tribunal consisting of three members, one nominated by India, another by Pakistan, and with a chairman chosen by the UN Secretary General.3 After long deliberations, the tribunal awarded Pakistan 317 square miles out of the 3,500 it claimed.

The territory ceded to Pakistan comprised elevated ground of tactical significance against the low-lying area left with India which got submerged with the rise of the Rann. Although Prime Minister Shastri consoled his countrymen by saying that India had conceded only 9.43 percent of what Pakistan had claimed, the fact remained that Pakistan, having achieved local military success, benefited from the incursion to the extent of 317 square miles and improved its defensibility by the gain of tactical ground into the bargain. Luckily, India had captured some Pakistani posts in the Kargil area of Ladakh, and this helped as a bargaining counter against the Pakistani successes in Kutch. Otherwise Pakistan might have got away with much greater gains.

The very day Pakistan’s representative was signing the Kutch agreement in Delhi, infiltration had started in Jammu and Kashmir to wage what Bhutto called a “war of liberation.” The Indian press reported the infiltration on 5 August,4 as detected by two graziers independently in the areas of Mendhar and Qulmarg in Kashmir Valley from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

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The Indian Army captured Haji Pir Pass in the Uri sector to secure the approaches to Gulmarg and thence to the valley. Similar action was taken in the Tithwal sector. At the same time infiltrators were hunted out in the hinterland. The expected help from pro-Pakistani elements among the local population was not forthcoming and the so-called war of liberation appeared to be fizzling out.

Pakistani Army shed its military posture after the ceasefire and swarmed towards the vacant areas in land grab operations. They achieved most of their territorial gains in the Fazilka and Rajasthan sectors after the ceasefire.

Not to be outdone, Ayub Khan backed the infiltration with a full-fledged attack in the Chhamb sector with a infantry division, supported by a brigade, under his protege Yahya Khan. The unsuspecting Indian brigade operationally responsible for the area was caught unawares, and the Pakistani thrust made good progress to reach Jaurian and was soon threatening Akhnur. Once Akhnur fell into Pakistani hands,. the entire force holding Naushera, Rajauri and Poonch would have been cut off. Finding it futile to localize the war where Pakistan was at an advantage, Shastri retaliated by ordering the invasion of West Pakistan across the international border. In the early hours of 6 September, the Indian forces developed a four-pronged thrust into West Pakistan.

Ayub Khan was taken by surprise as he never thought India would dare to cross the border. He had not taken Shastri seriously when Shastri declared that an attack on Kashmir would mean war with India. The two armies thereafter engaged in a series of sharp and intense actions all along the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir and the international border in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Fighting a dingdong battle with comparatively new weaponry but outmoded tactics, both armies tired themselves to the point of exhaustion, both in battle fatigue and expenditure of stockpiled war material. The ceasefire the UN enforced was accepted by both countries on 23 September and was welcomed by the tired forces.5 Although both sides claimed victory, fighting had ended in a stalemate.

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