Military & Aerospace

Siachen: Baisakhi & Meghdoot
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 05 Apr , 2024

COAS Gen AS Vaidya congratulating Maj Gen Amarjit Singh and others at the Northern Command bunker after the successful conduct of Operation Meghdoot. Behind the COAS we can see Lt Gen ML Chibber and Lt Gen Cheema.

It was only fortuitous that India launched Operation Meghdoot on 13th April 1984 thereby successfully pre-empting Pakistan from occupying the Saltoro Heights on 1st May 1984 as per its plan.

After the Indian Long Range Patrol – Polar Bear II – and the Pakistani Special Service Group (SSG) came face to face on Bilafond La in the winter of 1983 both sides knew that the other would make a dash for the Glacier as soon as the weather permitted. Despite the easier access to the passes from the Pakistani side, India beat Pakistan in the race to Siachen by moving first on April 13, 1984. But how was this date decided? And why the name Meghdoot? Stories about this are part of Siachen folklore in India. Here is a version worth visiting as we complete 40 years of what has been one of the longest and costliest ongoing military Operation in India and probably the world.

In December 1983 a meeting was chaired in Pakistan by General Zia-ul-Haq in the General Headquarter (GHQ) Operations Room to finalize the 10 Corps Plan prepared by Lt. Gen. Jahan Dad Khan to occupy Siachen. While the Military Operations Directorate suggested occupation of all the key passes by early March, the Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) Commander Major General Pir Dad Khan proposed  1st May as he felt that the harshness of the terrain, the inability to induct the choppers due to the weather conditions and extremely low temperatures would not allow the troops to reach their positions by March. Thereafter preparatory work was started on the procurement of high altitude equipment and clothing, improvement of roads and tracks, recruitment of porters, etc. and all these tasks were directed to be completed by April 1984.

On the Indian side alarm bells started ringing when intelligence reports trickled in about leave cancellations at FCNA, troop movement towards Khapalu, laying of new exchange/communication lines beyond Skardu and procurement of high altitude and extreme cold weather equipment and clothing from European manufacturers by Pakistan.

All this, coupled with the Pakistani protest notes laying formal claim to the entire region to the west of the imaginary joining NJ 9842 with the Karakoram Pass made it evident that Pakistan was planning to take some action across the Saltoro Ridge.

The Indian planners reckoned that if the Pakistanis successfully occupied the strategic heights then it would be impossible to dislodge them and they would dominate the entire region. Therefore, to prevent them from altering the status quo to their advantage some kind of pre-emptive action was necessary. The preparations for this action commenced in right earnest from Jan/Feb 1984 and all plans were tactically evaluated on 26th March 1984 in a two-sided war gaming exercise codenamed Walnut Cracker held at the Corps Headquarters in Srinagar where the crucial decision of heli-dropping troops to their objective was taken.

The entire Operation was being very closely monitored at the Northern Command of the Indian Army, Udhampur by Lt Gen ML Chibber, Army Commander, Lt Gen NS Cheema, his Chief of Staff and Major General Amarjit Singh, his Major General General Staff (MGGS). 15 Corps at Srinagar with General Officer Commanding (GOC) Lt Gen PN Hoon and 3 Infantry Division at Leh with GOC Major General Shiv Sharma were responsible for the overall conduct of the Operation on the ground by Brigadier VN Channa, Commander 26 Sector.

One of the key officers involved in planning, execution and monitoring all aspects of the Operation was Major General Amarjit Singh. During his interaction with this Author, even at the ripe old age of 89, he vividly recalled his tenure as MGGS at the Northern Command.

‘I had a very good working relationship with Lt Gen ML Chibber having engaged with him on a number of occasions including various operational and staff appointments- first as a young Major at the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington in 1964/65, then as a Lieutenant Colonel at the Military Operations Directorate, Army Headquarters (AHQ) in 1972/73 and later when I commanded the 54 Infantry Brigade in Punjab in 1974/76 and he was the GOC commanding the Division at Amritsar. In fact I was GOC Commanding the 16 Infantry Division in Punjab under Lt.Gen. SK Sinha when Lt. Gen. Chibber specially requested AHQ to move me as his MGGS at the Northern Command when he took over. One of the first things which I did after coming to Udhampur was start the construction of the Command Bunker. This is where all the meetings regarding this top secret Operation eventually took place with operational details being known only to a few people at the Command and being communicated to others on a need to know basis. Once the final approval for the Operation outlining the tasks was given by the Army Headquarters on March 31, 1984 there was a sense of urgency at the Command. We knew that speed is important and the sooner the troops are in their positions the better would be their chances of consolidating and holding onto the strategic heights. While the Air Force choppers commenced their reconnaissance activities in the first week of April itself and the stocking and troop movement at Sasoma and the Base Camp was also well underway as per plan, the imported clothing and equipment for the ground troops, for which Hoon had been sent abroad earlier, had not yet come in. We expected everything to be in position by the second week of April. Therefore when it came to fixing a date for commencement of the ground assault and heli-drop around that time, we instinctively decided on 13th April as it is also the day on which the festival of Baisakhi is celebrated by the Sikhs. Coincidentally, besides being the Sikh New Year and the day on which the Khalsa was established by Guru Gobind Singh, 13th April 1873 also happens to be the raising day of 1 JAK Rifles, which I had commanded in Jammu in 1968’.

According to Brigadier Channa, a god fearing Kashmiri Pandit, he also opted for 13th April upon being asked as not only was it an auspicious day for Hindus especially in North India but being a festival with both religious and harvest significance which was celebrated with enthusiasm on both sides of the border, he felt that people would have least expected any military adventurism on that day.

From research thus far, it appears that apart from tactical and ground conditions, the wait for all loose ends to tie up, religious and festive fervor, regimental spirit and the auspicious nature of the date itself- all had some part to play in April 13 being chosen as the D day.

Since the Operation involved mobilization of ground troops and choppers at altitudes of 15000 feet and above with soldiers literally walking through the clouds to reach their final posts to deliver a strong message to the adversary there could  not have been a name more apt than Meghdoot  which literally translates as the Cloud Messenger. Incidentally the Pakistani name for their proposed Operation to occupy the same heights was Ababeel, perhaps a reference to the miraculous birds as per Islamic religious belief.

Thankfully for India, the Cloud Messengers delivered their message before the Birds could reach their destination! 


The Author interviewed Late Brigadier Vijay Channa as well as Late Major General Amarjit Singh in 2020.

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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

Amit K Paul

is an independent researcher and Author of ’Meghdoot: The Beginning of the Coldest War’ which tells the story of how and why India occupied the Saltoro Heights on 13th April 1984.

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2 thoughts on “Siachen: Baisakhi & Meghdoot

  1. An exceptional read! First hand interactions such as those quoted by the author are valuable treasure troves of information. Especially with legends of the kind involved. Very well written and informative.

  2. Already so much has been written about Siachen and its capture but the author has highlighted the main points without going in to repetitive nitty gritty. I personally feel that, no article about Siachen is complete without mention of Col Nar Inder Kumar, Bull.

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