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The Worst Military Disasters - India Post Independence

Discussion in 'Military History' started by NS52, Oct 26, 2018.

  1. NS52


    Jan 7, 2017
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    The Worst Military Disasters - India Post Independence


    Col Dr Narendar Singh

    The best military decisions rightly go down in history as great events and the people who made them are immortalised for all of time.
    But what about the worst decisions? They also changed the course of history, but not for the right reasons.

    India has fought many conventional wars since independence; it has also been involved in fighting insurgency and proxy wars during this period. Many heroes that these wars produced have become household names. However, these wars also produced heroes who remain unsung; whose stories of bravery and gallantry are not so well known.

    Fall of Gilgit and Sakrdu 1947

    Gilgit Baltistan, a region is legally part of former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. Britain had leased Gilgit, which was strategic, as also the corridor to Muzaffarabad.from the Maharaja in 1935 in a lease agreement effective for 60 years and integrated Gilgit Agency with the North West Frontier Province.


    When Gilgit was returned in August 1947, Brigadier Ghansara Singh, General Staff Officer of J&K State Forces, was appointed Governor New Delhi ignore a direct warning by Major Onkar Singh Kalkat about the impending attack planned by General Frank Messervy, British chief of the Pakistan Army, within days of the creation of Pakistan? Kalkat had accidentally stumbled on the conspiracy and was placed under house arrest, but made a daring escape and reached Delhi on 18 October 1947. Pakistan had already imposed an economic blockade on J&K.

    Governor, Ghansara Singh realised the gravity of the situation on Gilgit given the attitude of the Scouts, 6th Kashmir Infantry, civilian local employees, and the local notables. Shockingly however, he never got a response to any of his appeals from either Ram Chandra Kak, his successor General Janak Singh, and RL Batra, the then Deputy Prime Minister, a grave dereliction of duty on the part of each gentleman.

    Yet, instead of rushing arms in anticipation of trouble, Nehru and the geo-strategically savvy Mountbatten sat unmoved even after Kalkat’s warning, and enforced further delay by insisting that Hari Singh first sign the Instrument of Accession before sending the Army. This led to an erratic Indian position, in 3 communiqués, one omits any reference to Gilgit; this lease also proves the strategic importance of this land to the West, as subsequent history has proven. India's only fault: not taking a firm position on the Gilgit lease, and that erratic wavering communiqués, which did nothing to ease the problem?

    India Not whole of Kashmir of Pakistani Invaders in 1947

    By the late 1930s, British India consisted of ten provinces administered in large part by Indian politicians, elected on a small percentage of the adult franchise, and working under a British constituted centre. Princely India consisted of over 600 states of varying sizes, making up almost two-fifths of the Empire. The Princely States were the remains of the various regional kingdoms conquered by the British in the expansive phases of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Essentially feudal, these states were associated directly with the Crown through the principle of `paramountcy', a vague concept under which the British granted the princes considerable autonomy of action in exchange for their political loyalty and the surrendering of foreign policy and defence to the supremacy of British imperial interests.

    Constitutionally, British and Princely India did not co-exist well with each other. The conflict between representative government (however limited) and monarchy was fudged during the long period of constitutional reform that set in at the turn of the century. From the 1890s until the adoption of the 1935 Government of India Act, the doctrine of Paramountcy shielded the princes from the need to reform their governments along representative lines, although some chose to do so through expedience. By the late 1930s, Jammu and Kashmir had an indirectly elected assembly (the Praja Sabha) and an embryonic party-based system made up of the National Conference and the Muslim Conference. In this regard, the Dogra Kingdom was an exception, but even so, the Maharaja appointed his Wazir (or Prime Minister) without regard to party representation within the assembly, or to wider popular sentiment.

    As the British moved towards the inevitability of Indian independence they attempted to persuade the princes to federate with a new independent Indian republic, and then, after Mountbatten's declaration on June 3rd, 1947, to decide between joining either Pakistan or India.

    the Dogra kingdom of Kashmir was one of the few large Princely States that, due to its geographical location, could join either India or Pakistan. Moreover, as the British were increasingly aware throughout the summer of 1947, the Maharaja Hari Singh was thinking of joining neither state, but of becoming an independent country in his own right. Jammu and Kashmir had signed stand-still agreements with India and with Pakistan, but had delayed on signing the Instrument of Accession. Hari Singh was to hold out for an independent state until October 1947, when tribal incursions coming from the vicinity of Poonch, a district close to the new Pakistani border, forced him to join India in exchange for Indian military help. In his letter to the Governor-General of India (Mountbatten) of October 26th the Maharaja blamed Pakistan for the invasion, alleging that it had failed to honour the stand-still agreement as part of a concerted effort to coerce Hari Singh into joining Pakistan. The Maharaja also wrote that he intended to appoint Sheikh Abdullah, leader of the National Conference and a man closely associated with Nehru, to the post of prime minister in a new interim government.

    From the perspective of the Indian government, several key events established the legitimacy of Indian sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir. Foremost is the actual signing of the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja Hari Singh, on or about October 26th, 1947. This, along with the stand-still agreement, fulfilled the established procedures whereby Princely India opted to join either India or Pakistan. In a formal sense, the legality of the document is not in serious doubt, although some have suggested that either the signature has been forged, the date changed, or the whole document fabricated.

    Signing of the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja Hari Singh in October 1947 legitimises India's `occupation' of the area. Now it was for Indian Government to establish control over the territories, But Nehru failed to do so and went to United Nations.


    The failure of Indian Government in 1948 led to loss of territory and a permanent impasse, Iy led to a permanent loss of parts of Kashmir.

    India’s Withdrawal from Tibet

    Tibet is bordered by Chinese Turkestan and Mongolia in the north; by China in the east; by Burma, India, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal in the South; and by India (Punjab and Kashmir) in the west. Bhutan and Sikkim were formerly part of Tibet but are now separate states under Indian suzerainty. Both Tibet and Nepal were under Chinese suzerainty, but whereas the Nepalese threw off Chinese domination, Tibetan efforts to terminate dependence were never completely successful. However, the term Chinese domination calls for explanation. Chinese suzerainty meant at first the overlord-ship of the Manchu Emperors. With their downfall, Chinese Republican influence in Tibet decreased rapidly and Chinese Communist influence was considered a menace in Lhasa long before the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek.


    When British rule established itself in India in the nineteenth century, a number of treaties ensured the settlement of all controversial relations on the northeastern frontier. In a treaty between Great Britain and China, concluded in 1890, the former secured recognition of her protectorate over Sikkim. In 1904, Great Britain concluded a treaty with Tibet securing an open trade route frome Kalimpong in India, to Lhasa. Though direct relations were established between the two countries, Great Britain recognized Chinese suzerainty over Tibet in 1906. In 1910 a British Protectorate over Bhutan was established. Thus India, under British rule, had produced a system of security by which her northeastern frontier could be considered more or less immune against the turmoil of Chinese politics. As shown above, the main elements of this security system were British India's suzerainty over Bhutan and Sikkim, the free trade route between Kalimpong and Lhasa opened after Colonel Francis Younghusband's expedition to Lhasa in 1904, and friendly relations with Nepal which ceased to be a vassal state in relation to China.

    In view of the constant Chinese infiltration into Tibet, British India had to consider how to maintain a balance of power there. The Shimla Conference in 1914

    1. Tibet was to be divided into two parts: Outer Tibet, adjoining India and including Lhasa, Shigatse and Chamdo; and Inner Tibet, including the provinces near China and part of Eastern Tibet.

    2. The principle of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet was recognized, but China was to observe strictly her limited position as a suzerain. Suzerainty implies that internal sovereignty is vested in the vassal state; in other words China could not, according to the Convention, infringe upon the internal jurisdiction of the Dalai Lama's Government.

    3. The division of Tibet into Outer Tibet and Inner Tibet implied the predominant interest of British India in the former and of China in the latter.

    4. Finally, the Chinese were to maintain a representative, called Amban, in Lhasa. The Amban was later matched by the presence of the British Indian Mission to the Dalai Lama.

    Tibet was obviously to serve as a buffer state without giving up its autonomy in its own internal affairs. It was also obvious that British India's action was dictated not only by British Commonwealth interests but by the natural requirements of any future Indian policy.

    Sir Charles Bell, one of the greatest experts on Tibet, made clear in his work, "Tibet, Past and Present,"[ii] that if the Chinese should disturb the Tibetan balance of power as laid down in the Simla Convention, both Nepal and India would be threatened

    Indo-China War 1962 Ill Prepared War and Non Use of Air Force

    A disputed Himalayan border was the main pretext for war, but other issues played a role. There had been a series of violent border incidents after the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, when India had granted asylum to the Dalai Lama. India initiated a Forward Policy in which it placed outposts along the border, including several north of the MacMohan Line, the eastern portion of a Line of Actual Control proclaimed by Chinese Premier Zhou En Lai in 1959.

    As far as the McMahon Line was concerned India inherited the dispute with China, which the British had created in the mid-1930s by seizing the Tibetan territory they re-named NEFA (Present day Arunachal Pradesh). The PRC government was prepared to accept that border alignment but insisted that it be re-negotiated, that it be put through the usual diplomatic process, to wipe out its imperialist origins. Nehru refused, using London's claim that the Simla Conference had already legitimised the McMahon Line.

    To back up that refusal — that was his Himalayan blunder. Then in 1954 he compounded that mistake by laying cartographic claim to a swathe of territory in the north-west, the Aksai Chin, a claim which was beyond anything the British had ever claimed and on an area which Chinese governments had treated as their own for at least a hundred years. To make matters worse, he ruled that there should be no negotiation over that claim either! So Indian policy had created a border dispute and also ruled out the only way it could peacefully be settled, through diplomatic negotiation.

    By September 1962 the Indian "forward policy" of trying to force the Chinese out of territory India claimed had built up great tension in the Western (Ladakh) sector of the border, with the Chinese army just blocking it. Then the Nehru government applied the forward policy to the McMahon Line eastern sector and when the Chinese blocked that too India in effect declared war with Nehru's announcement on October 11 that the Army had been ordered to "free our territory", which meant to attack the Chinese and drive them back. As General Niranjan Prasad, commander of 4 Infantry Division, wrote later: "We at the front knew that since Nehru had said he was going to attack, the Chinese were certainly not going to wait to be attacked" — and of course they didn't. That's how the war began. The Chinese attack was both reactive, in that General Kaul had begun the Indian assault on October 10, and pre-emptive because after that failure the Indian drive had been suspended to build up strength for a resumed attack.

    The Chinese launched simultaneous offensives in Ladakh and across the McMahon Line on 20 October 1962. Chinese troops advanced over Indian forces in both theatres, capturing Rezang la in Chushul in the Western Theatre (Ladakh), as well as Tawang in the Eastern Theatre (Arunachal Prdesh). The war ended when the Chinese declared a ceasefire on 20 November 1962, and simultaneously announced its withdrawal from the disputed area.

    The Sino-Indian War is notable for the harsh mountain conditions under which much of the fighting took place, entailing large-scale combat at altitudes of over 4,000 metres (14,000 feet). The Sino-Indian War was also noted for the non-deployment of the navy or air force by either the Chinese or Indian side.

    Indo Pak War 1965 Vacating Haji Pir

    Following the cease-fire after the Indo-Pak War of 1965, a Russian sponsored agreement was signed between India and Pakistan in Tashkent on 10 January 1966. Under the agreement, India agreed to return the strategic Haji Pir pass to Pakistan which it had captured in August 1965 against heavy odds and at a huge human cost. The pass connects Poonch and Uri sectors in Jammu and Kashmir and reduces the distance between the two sectors to 15 km whereas the alternate route entails a travel of over 200 km. India got nothing in return except an undertaking by Pakistan to abjure war, an undertaking which meant little as Pakistan never had any intention of honouring it.


    Return of the vital Haji Pir pass was a mistake of monumental proportions for which India is suffering to date. In addition to denying a direct link between Poonch and Uri sectors, the pass is being effectively used by Pakistan to sponsor infiltration of terrorists into India. Inability to resist Russian pressure was a manifestation of the boneless Indian foreign policy and shortsighted leadership.

    Return of Prisoners to Pakistan without any Resolution of Kashmir Issue at Shimla

    Pakistani Prime Minister Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sign an agreement in the Indian town of Simla, in which both countries agree to "put an end to the conflict and confrontation that have hitherto marred their relations and work for the promotion of a friendly and harmonious relationship and the establishment of a durable peace in the subcontinent". Both sides agree to settle any disputes "by peaceful means".

    The Simla Agreement designates the ceasefire line of December 17, 1971, as being the new "Line-of-Control (LoC)" between the two countries, which neither side is to seek to alter unilaterally, nor which "shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side".

    It is this that has given legitimacy to Pakistan.

    Entry in to Sri Lanka

    From a military perspective also the IPKF operation were a failure because it failed to separate the LTTE from the Sinhala forces, much less disarm them. In fact, the IPKF’s efforts to establish Tamil governments in northern (Jaffna) and eastern (Trincomalee) Sri Lanka failed spectacularly—they fell within a few days of the IPKF’s withdrawal in early 1990. Besides, the IPKF suffered major confusions in discerning its role in Sri Lanka, with that role changing radically from peace-keeping to peace-enforcing. Thereafter, an armed force designed to maintain the peace and disarm the LTTE was called upon to maintain law and order, suppress the LTTE, and collaborate with the Sinhala forces against the Tamils.

    The implications of this radical change in the IPKF’s basic charter can well be imagine with peace-keepers turning into an expeditionary force. Little wonder the IPKF got no cooperation from the local population; in fact, they turned hostile and became the eyes and ears of the LTTE. Compounding its constraints was the fact that the IPKF forces were not equipped or trained for a counter-militancy operation in another country. They lacked the arms, training, orientation, even maps or knowledge of the local language, customs and cultural norms. No wonder again that the IPKF took heavy casualties in the initial few weeks of their transformed role (August-October 1987) before the situation crystallized.

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