Military & Aerospace

Lessons from India’s Wars - Post Independence
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Nov , 2016

Indo-Pak War of 1965

After the humiliating defeat in 1962, Indian Army was being expanded substantially. Formations on ground were being readjusted and re-orbatted. Pakistan’s relations with China were on the upswing. With Nehru’s passing away in 1964 Lal Bahadur Shastri a humble man came to helm. Pakistan had been looking for another opportunity to wrest control of J&K and saw this as an opportunity thinking the diminutive PM to be a weak person. Expecting India to be weak and vulnerable after the 1962 debacle Pakistani leaders wanted to exploit the opportunity before India strengthened and modernised its forces. It tested the waters by initiating skirmishes and shallow penetrations in the Rann of Kutch in April 1965. The loss of some forward posts in the Rann led to increased pressure on the Indian Government and the Army to redress the situation elsewhere.

On the other hand, the assumed sense of victory in the limited operations in Kutch emboldened Pakistani leadership. Pakistan had learnt its lessons well from the 1947-48 war and incorporated the employment of irregulars to augment its efforts in J&K. It launched a bold adventurous plan to stage an insurrection in J&K through massive infiltration, sabotage and subversion. The gamble failed and India turned the tide by its deep penetration directed at Lahore. This forced the Pak formations between Chenab and Ravi to recoil and prevent the situation from worsening. At the end of it India successfully defended J&K and overall was a gainer of territory. Pakistan’s designs were defeated in detail and it did not achieve any of its objectives, ipso facto, they were politically and militarily vanquished. There was a limited threat posed by China to show solidarity with its new found friend.

Indian Army was found wanting on some counts. The Corps at Udhampur misjudged the main offensive by Pak as being directed at Punch and not through Chhamb despite reports of major concentration opposite Chhamb. As a result no defensive measures were undertaken nor the area reinforced. The failure to exploit the initial resounding success in the battle of Dograi and Barki opposite Lahore was a dismal failure of higher leadership. Similar inexperience, lack of initiative and caution prevented substantial gains in the Jammu-Sialkot sector. Infantry units fought well with artillery, armour and air support. Armoured units performed equally well against superior opposition because of excellent training. Mountain Divisions were neither experienced nor appropriately equipped to fight in the plains. Air Defence was inadequate to protect the cities and air bases and other vital areas and vital points.

Indian strategy to attack the enemy at multiple points along the border did not prove sound leading to stalemate on all fronts. Set-piece frontal attacks were the order of the day. At a number of places powerful attacks were not launched because commanders lacked initiative and could not get over the defensive mentality. At places leadership was not inspiring and commanders did not lead by example, lack of such aggressive spirit allowed some great opportunities to be wasted. Seeking information of the enemy even when in contact was a weakness. Aerial photography was controlled centrally by Army and Air HQ, making it difficult to get timely information. To achieve surprise many troops were pushed into battle in a hurry without proper briefing or reconnaissance.

Commanders at the lower levels were not conversant with the terrain they were to fight in. Attacking troops did not carry digging tools so were forced to withdraw in the face of strong counter attacks. Seventy five percent of Indian casualties were caused due to enemy shelling. Some troops got exhausted within two to three days of fighting. Soldiers must be trained to vigorously for at least a week. Junior Commissioned Officers, once a backbone of the Army did not fare well.

The then Army Chief advised the PM to announce a cease fire as he had mistakenly believed that the army was running out of ammunition and had suffered considerable tank casualties. Though the PM had wanted to prolong the war so that India could achieve a spectacular victory, he took the advice of the Army Chief and called for a cease fire. India had captured 1170 sq km of territory in J&K including the strategically vital Haji Pir Pass and 750 sq km in Punjab and Kutch sectors (total 1920 sq km). On the other hand Pakistan had captured 490 sq km in J&K and 50 sq km in Punjab sector (total 540 sq km). PM Shastri was opposed to return of Haji Pir but succumbed to pressure from the Soviets.  The political decision to return all captured territory has been much debated.

Indo-Pak War of 1971

Victory of the scale and dimension of the 1971 war would naturally tend to overlook any weaknesses or shortcomings and gloss over failures. However, as military men it is essential that the events are critically analysed and correct lessons drawn.

The Parliamentary elections in Pakistan in December 1970 gave East Pakistan a majority in the Parliament. Political ramifications led to a massive crack down on the East Pakistanis which led to brutal suppression by the Pak Army. The Army was taken on board and given the time required to regroup, train and prepare for a war. The Army Chief had wanted to go to war after the monsoon and after the passes along the northern borders closed on account of heavy snows.

In August 1971, the Indian Eastern Command issued operation instructions to its Corps Commanders to liberate territory between the Jamuna and Meghna rivers north of Dacca. It is said that the plan was deliberately leaked out which compelled Pakistani Army to change its strategy and redeploy its forces away from Dacca towards the borders. Pakistan also planned an offensive on India’s Western Front to capture maximum territory that could be bartered for territory captured by India in East Pakistan. To prevent this Indian Army deployed its forces so as to prevent any loss of territory on the Western Front thereby giving up a projected offensive planned in the Chhamb sector. Neither country, however, planned any major strategic deception. Interestingly, Pakistan’s 7 Infantry Division and was reported at different localities at the same time, as a result it came to be referred to as the “Ghost Division”.  Even 1 Armoured Division of Pakistan could not be correctly located till the second week of December. The threat of collusive support by China had been one of the reasons for planning the campaign in December.

There is much debate on why Dacca was not named as the military or political objective before the start of the campaign. The orders to liberate Bangladesh were issued to Eastern Command on 30 November 1971. Events unfolded fast thereafter. Dacca was encircled and its defenders surrendered. The remaining Pak Army forces capitulated and surrendered to Indian and Mukti Bahini troops all over Bangladesh.

It is a moot point as to how and why 101 Comn Zone Area, (a static formation with its primary role to coordinate logistic support of fighting formations and rear area security) entered Dacca before any of the three operational Corps. The thrust line of 101 Area could not be strengthened due to the logistic difficulty of concentrating troops and stocking up ammunition, warlike stores and supplies in Meghalaya. If in the interim period the line of communication had been improved minimum two additional divisions could have been inducted on this axis.

Military intelligence in the Eastern Theatre was more accurate, probably also due to the human intelligence sources of Mukti Bahini.  At the tactical level, the intelligence proved far from satisfactory. Terrain intelligence was not up to date. Evidently adequate resources were not catered for along each thrust line due to overall paucity of aerial photography resources and helicopters for reconnaissance missions. Intelligence agencies tended to play safe by passing all reports received to the user. At the unit level there is no staff to evaluate this information which in turn caused more confusion. In a future scenario, the Battlefield Management System being fielded for the Army will need astute handling to prevent paralysis of ground operations due to information overload. Identifying and countering deception that can be streamed into the system by the enemy will need data banks and trained staff to clearly discern such enemy actions. Information blackout due to enemy’s intense Cyber Network Operations could again paralyse all operations.

The success of 1971 War was due to joint operations planned and executed effectively. There were instances of delay and lack of proper coordination in close air support missions. The attack on Karachi Harbour by the Navy and Air Force was planned in isolation with neither knowing of the other Service’s plan. The amphibious landing of a Brigade off Cox Bazaar was done off a map and was unsuccessful. Also the “blockade” of Karachi Port was lifted without assessing the overall impact at the national level. The Air Forces reluctance to allow the growth of the Army Aviation was acutely experienced during this war. This anomaly persists to this day. The Air Force wanting to control air space from nap-of-earth to the ionosphere is not a sound strategy. With the induction of UAV’s this stricture becomes irrational. It is worth considering that all helicopter resources less those for SAR and for assisting Civil Authority should be with the Army Aviation Corps.

In this war India exploited the full potential of all the elements of national power. The diplomatic offensive mobilised global public opinion in India’s favour. “The political and military aims were carefully determined, dove-tailed and pursued single-mindedly. The extremely cohesive team of political leaders, service chiefs and bureaucrats planned everything comprehensively and well in time”. Consequently the balance of power in South Asia readjusted itself in accordance to the changed profile of India.

IPKF – OP PAWAN 1987-‘89

The Army’s ‘invitation’ to intervene in Sri Lanka at the behest of its then President turned sour soon after. The various interpretations of the compulsion to intervene are outside the preview of this article but are necessary to study basis on which the politico-military strategy was formulated to back the ongoing diplomatic thrust. No institutional process of decision making was nurtured and followed at the Government level; choices were made purely on personal predilections.

In a recurring manner intelligence again seems to be a failure in 1987 when Indian Army landed in Sri Lanka. R&AW, though dealing with LTTE did not give any worthwhile intelligence of the LTTE, its intentions, its innovative tactical methods, resourcefulness, mass support and ingenious intelligence network and method of passing on information. Military Intelligence had not begun operations till after the troops landed. The troops were inducted without any military maps. Lack of expertise in the local language was another handicap. The forces were given no freedom of action; even the weapon to be employed was dictated by the higher echelons of command. Such restrictions enabled the LTTE to catch the Army on the flat-foot by their innate flexibility in readjusting to the situation as it presented itself.

The Army remained very conventional in dealing with this rapidly changing threat. The rifle and radio communications were the fundamentals for this type of operations. The 7.62 mm Self Loading Rifle (SLR) was not suited for counter insurgency operations in the jungles. The radio sets were unreliable and heavy on power consumption. Combat support in terms of Artillery and Engineers was inducted later. Tanks and Infantry Combat Vehicles too were inducted. Troops were inducted most haphazardly; full first line scale of ammunition too was not carried; no maps of the area were issued, a particular battalion operated continuously for one month with only their Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) available to them till their kit-bags fetched up. Inter-services coordination was unsatisfactory, to put it mildly.

The Army had not anticipated the need for consolidating the areas cleared of the LTTE with concomitant Civil Affairs responsibilities. Army introduced ambiguous terminology into its operational lexicon – “create conditions for”; “marginalise”; “break the back of insurgency”; “loosening and tightening the noose around the LTTE”. Operational terms must clearly state what should be the military action taken and not leave any scope of personal or preferential interpretation.

OP PAWAN was the first serious blooding of the army after the 1971 war. It shook up the Army and gave them a jolt after a long period of lull. Counter Insurgency (CI) operations are the test of infantry tactical operations in small teams and its junior leadership. Units successful in CI operations will perform well in future 4GW/Hybrid Wars where infantry skills and junior leadership will count most.

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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 (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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4 thoughts on “Lessons from India’s Wars – Post Independence

  1. Hari Sud,
    Quite agree – no new lessons from old wars.
    Aim is to encourage the younger generation to take up and studies these .
    With over 1,50,000 hits per month we have a large readership even beyond our borders we can initiate their interest too.

  2. No need to cry over spilt milk. Going forward to the present day scenario, there has to be proper formation of Defence plans and two front wars. The army, navy and air force should be modernised and battle ready and infrastructure put in place for prompt deployment, resources permitting, no ifs and buts. People and the country should be ready to tighten belts!

  3. Please write articles to encourage indian policy makers and arm forces to bring about FREE BALOCHISTAN where Baloch freedom fighters are engaged in a battle against india no.1 enemy Pakistan.
    Pak gives military training and assistance toi terrorists to destabilize India, Afghanistan and US so these countries must unit to help secular baloch freedom fighters and lets repeat 1971 and break Pakistan and bring peace to the world and region.

    We know peace comes after a war. after 1965 & 1971and break Pakistan and bring peace to the world and region. We know peace comes after a war. after 1965 & 1971 wars there was peace but now pak has been using proxy war since 1987 after soviet invasion. I hope you better understand then me that ultimate peace will come after disintegration of evil Pakistan

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