Monday, 28 July 2014


The Army continues to surprise you in your transfers by providing you new challenges, as I found out again in March 1991, when I was posted out to HQ 15 Corps as the Chief of Staff (COS) to succeed Major General Surendra Nath, who was promoted as the Corps Commander. The surprise was not because of the appointment, as the COS of an operational Corps is a most coveted post, but because of the timing. I had just finished 18 months of my Divisional Command, which is somewhat briefer than the normal tenure of such Command.

HQ 15 Corps was stationed in Srinagar. This was a turbulent time in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The Pakistan sponsored insurgency was at its height, with the active support of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the militant cadres of Hizbul Mujahedeen (HM), and the Jamait-El-Islami (JEI). Initially this was an insurgent movement[1], but by 1991 it became an entirely terrorist organization, carrying out sabotage, subversion and ethnic cleansing of the ‘Pandit’ community.

The Indian Army was deployed not only to prevent infiltration through the LOC and guard the borders of India at this crucial position, but also to conduct ‘cordon and search’ activity in the urban areas of the state, to dominate its rural hinterland, secure important installations dispersed in different areas within it, conduct operational drills for securing its highways and escort convoys travelling on them. The army had to learn some of these tasks by ‘on the job’ training. Gradually, the Para-Military forces were also incorporated in the counter-insurgency grid, especially in the measures of protecting static installations and assisting in the road-opening operations. Protective measures against grenade attacks and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) were evolved with time, and a few vehicles were specially modified to clear the suspected IEDs. These improvisations took time and after some trial and error, we achieved a degree of success, though not without the loss of casualties.

There were many demands on the Army beyond its traditional responsibilities. In some cases it had to take on roles that were actually supposed to be undertaken by other organisations, such as the Police and the State administration. The State Police generally proved ineffective due to poor training, lack of leadership, and subversion of some of the personnel. In fact a battalion of the J&K Armed Police Battalion had to be disarmed as there were instances of serious disobedience within it. I recall the incident when the State Home Secretary (Mr Habib Rehman) and the DGP (Mr Bedi) were held hostage in the Police Control Room, requiring the Army to intervene firmly. We had to even move the Infantry Combat Vehicles to surround the area as a show of force, and we succeeded in breaking the siege and rescuing the two senior officials—without firing a single shot.  

While we could achieve these results because of our detailed planning, firm leadership and the commitment of our soldiers, such operations naturally drew on our already stretched resources. The Corps did not have adequate troops to plug the infiltration in the Uri, Kupwara, and Guraij Sectors as there were large areas being held by the units on the Line of Control. The COAS thus released 28 Inf Div ex Ladakh for deployment in the Valley sector. This involved denuding the Ladakh sector of dedicated reserves, the need for which was to be seriously felt during the Kargil War in May 1999, when we had to rush forces from elsewhere, which took time to move, acclimatise and deploy. 

However, during the time of the active insurgency in 1990 when the danger was more immediate and wide-spread in the Valley, the deployment appeared to be a sound move. Nonetheless, the reserves for the Ladakh sector should have been restored in a phased manner. This underscores the need for active vigilance and changing tactics at all times, as well as the risks of spreading a formation too thin in the mountain terrain. The Armed Forces, who are essentially trained to defend the nation from external threats, are being increasingly called in to manage internal matters for extended periods of time; it is bound to have an effect on their core tasks. This is something that the political leadership needs to be aware of and act upon, so that the Armed Forces are allowed to concentrate on the training and execution of their basic work. 

Fortunately, despite all this, we were able to bring the situation under reasonable control and apprehend a number of foreign militants—Pakistani, Afghan and a few Arabs as well. We had excellent support from the Security Advisor, Lt. General MA Zaki, the Governor, Shri G.C. Saxena (and later General K.V. Krishna Rao), and the civil administration. Additional battalions of BSF, CRPF and TA were inducted to guard installations and dominate urban areas. However these troops were not trained, equipped or prepared to fight an insurgency. The leadership of the Para–Military Forces did not understand the intricacies of operations, which often led to excessive casualties or damage on the ground to property and habitat. This in no way was due to the lack of calibre or the commitment of these forces, but due to their different orientation and ethos.

The J&K insurgency, unlike other insurgencies, has very active support from Pakistan—diplomatic, financial, political and military. Article 370, granting special status to J&K, though well intentioned, has been misused to heighten differences, and prevent its main-streaming with the rest of the country. Civil society and local media do not appear to be helping, and are visibly pro-separatists, which makes things more difficult. The vernacular media has been infiltrated by the anti-national elements and often support the militant cause. Military operations and economic development by themselves, in the absence of political initiatives to positively engage civil society, are inadequate to resolve the Kashmir issue.

As the COS of HQ 15 Corps, besides working with the civil administration and the Central Police Units, it was also essential to have active coordination with the Intelligence Agencies—IB, RAW, State CID, and Military and BSF Intelligence. The intelligence inputs were mostly out of date and inaccurate, besides being repetitive. I set myself the challenge of changing this unsatisfactory status, by introducing in the scheduled system an initiative of regular meetings at Corps HQ, with the representatives of all the key Intelligence organisations. This helped to communicate to them the focus and priority of information required by the Armed Forces, as well as increased the accountability of various organisations and speeded up both their and our responses to emergencies, since the face-to-face discussions reduced the possibility of misinterpretations that are inevitable when there are extended channels of communication.

The Sub-Area HQ at Badami Bagh Cantonment had a very important role in the Counter Insurgency operations, not only for the security of the Transit Camp, but also for the security of the Corps HQ, and that of the Detention Camp of the captured militants before they were handed over to the Civil Police. The Sub-Area HQ was also tasked with periodic search and cordon operations in the Srinagar town. During this period, we had very competent successive Sub-Area Commanders in Brigadiers NS Katoch and SPS Kanwar, who were both very successful in handling delicate missions, besides ensuring the security of the road up to the airfield.

The Commander of the JAKLI centre located adjacent to the Airfield was earmarked as the Garrison Commander for units housed around the Airfield. The accommodation for many additional units which were inducted in the Valley and 28 Inf Div was a major task. Before they could be actually deployed forward, they needed to be housed and given orientation training. This was done by getting on ground a mix of tented and pre-fabricated huts. Some were housed in schools or available government buildings. The Corps also established battle-schools to impart the Counter Insurgency (CI) training for all the incoming units. All this was possible due to commitment, teamwork, and the personal example of the leaders. It also is proof, if such proof is required, of the administrative and management capabilities of the Armed Forces, where through innovation and intelligence, resources are made maximum use of, to almost generate facilities out of ‘thin air’.

I found that my tenure as the COS was professionally very satisfying and educative. It also enabled me to interact periodically with the Governor, the Chief Secretary, DGP and other Formation Commanders. The Corps HQ received a large number of visitors, civil dignitaries, media personalities and military officers for briefings and fact-finding. An important lesson of the anti-insurgency operation was the need for clear-cut responsibilities, and the division of specific boundaries between various agencies and formations. Equally important was the principle of accountability for all the elements operating. In extended areas of responsibility, where the formations are operating in widely dispersed terrain, the timely response of anticipatory actions and delegation of authority to the subordinate commanders is of paramount importance. This needs to be bolstered by the principle of use of minimum force, and simultaneous goodwill missions for the benefit of the local populace.

We regularly undertook to translate these principles into action, later termed as ‘Sadbhavna’ operations. In this regard, the opening of schools and hospitals by the Armed Forces is an important initiative. All the formations undertook tasks like road-repairs, making culverts, apart from organizing health camps and distributing essential supplies, as the civil administration was practically non-existent. This had to proceed along with the basic tasks of guarding the borders, preventing infiltration attempts from across the LOC and training for the combat tasks—in fact, the commanders and the troops were very heavily committed in all these tasks all the time. This was also in addition to the responsibilities of winter stocking of stores, supplies, fuel and the relief of troops after their specified tenures. Provisioning for the Siachin glacier, and the winter isolated posts was another important responsibility.

 I recall an incident in the Siachin sector of 3 Inf Div when I was officiating as the Corps Commander. The Divisional Commander, Major General JS Dhillon, reported that a Pak Helicopter had violated our air-space in the central Glacier in the ‘Bahadur Complex’ and recommended that we should engage the helicopter should it repeat the intrusion. I approved the action and asked him to redeploy the ‘Igla’ missile and informed the HQ Northern Command of our plans, as it appeared a deliberate violation. The GOC reinforced the post with an ‘Igla’ missile and undertook suitable measures. The enemy helicopter came again and flew over the post and was engaged. It was shot down, and besides the pilot, we found it also had on board the opposing Brigade Commander and an SO, all of whose bodies were recovered. There was the obvious protest from Pakistan through the DGMO, and the obvious inquiries from the MoD. Since I had already informed the higher HQ of our proposed action, we were on a sound wicket within our agreement of the AGPL.

The helicopter intrusion by Pakistan had been preceded by heavy artillery fire, followed by assaulting infantry. The alertness of the post-commander and the quick retaliation by our artillery and mortar fire not only repulsed the attack, but left many of the enemy dead on the slopes. We allowed the enemy to retrieve their dead, including their Brigade Commander, once such instructions were received from HQ Northern Command and the DGMO. The Indian Army while remaining committed to the defence of the country to the last breath and to the welfare of its fighting force, is also committed to values of honour towards the foe, and this quality is something we should recognise and be proud of.

I have always maintained that a timely and firm response at all levels is a must for a fighting Force, along with proper contingency planning. Information must always be assessed, acted upon and disseminated, to everyone in the chain of command. For this, the communication equipment must be given priority; in the conditions that the Armed Forces operate at present, it is often inadequate in quality as well as quantity, and this must be an area of concern and rectification.

The units operating in the counter-insurgency operations and those guarding the LOC/AGPL in the J&K are doing an excellent job, and need to be given due appreciation and consideration. Isolated incidents of indiscipline need to be handled with maturity. The media often forgets the trying conditions the troops face and the few incidents of inadvertent damage to the civilian populace and the property are more often than not, blown out of proportion. Conversely, there is inadequate concern or empathy for the troops. There are many instances of apathy in civil society and the political leadership towards the Armed Forces, including regulations that are surprising, if not downright unreasonable. The grudging acceptance of field allowances, which we had to fight for, is another instance of such a lack of concern for the Armed Forces. 

Officials and citizens, who have never needed to live and work for sustained periods in the hazardous and trying conditions of field-areas, must make the effort to appreciate what this involves. I recall the time when we had to evacuate injured soldiers from forward areas to the airfield or to the hospitals periodically; this had to be done in the Air Force or the Army Aviation helicopters. One day I was informed that a soldier who had died in an inaccessible area was not being air-lifted, as the rules did not allow this. Despite repeated requests the pilot refused to comply. It took us considerable days to get the MOD to rewrite the rules for this sort of an eventuality. When this is how little a nation honours the sacrifices of its soldiers, it must be prepared for a situation in the near future when it may not have such brave-hearts to cherish anymore.

[1] An insurgent movement or insurgency is defined as a rebellion or insurrection, from Latin Insurgere, ‘rise up’; it is often a political movement with a specific aim; it need not employ tactics of terror and is not synonymous with terrorism. Wikipedia notes that there is neither an academic nor an international legal consensus for the definition of terrorism, (; however, the Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary defines terrorism, as ‘an organized system of intimidation’; and a ‘terrorist’ is defined in the Oxford Dictionary, as ‘a person who uses violence and intimidation in an attempt to achieve political aims’.