Date: 06 Mar 2010


"ARE WE HEADING FOR A REPEAT OF 1962?”////////////// by MAJOR GENERAL (RETD) E. D'SOUZA////////////// (General D'Souza wrote this piece after a visit to the forward areas in Arunachal Pradesh and after meeting the Governor of the State and the local commanders. This is his first hand assessment of the ground realities over there. One hopes Government of India will pay attention to his suggestions. (FUTILE HOPE!) /////////////////// Numerous reports have been emerging in the print and electronic media of a possible repeat of 1962 by the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) in Arunachal Pradesh (AP/NEFA). //////////////// Bharat Verma, Editor of “Defence Today” in an article in his Journal states that it may be as early as October 2009 (before the onset of the winter). Linked with the ambivalent Chinese posture it appears a possibility. Yet another China watcher confirms in his letter “The inflation noose”, this possibility is to divert the attention of the Chinese from the rising inflation in that country. So China may well head for Tawang. And to add credence to this deadline, a well known Sinologist of a reputed Think Tank quotes a Chinese writer from Beijing that the Chinese plan is to fragment India and hence the “String of Pearls” strategy. This assessment has not yet been refuted by the Beijing Mandarins! So what better take off point than the occupation of NEFA? These views have been prominently discussed in the Indian media; to which the three Service Chiefs have emphatically stated that the modernisation of the Armed Forces lags far behind that of China in every field including the Defence budget. The Naval Chief has bluntly stated that the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) is well ahead of the Indian Navy as was demonstrated at an imposing naval review showcasing the Chinese Blue Water Fleet, be it aircraft carriers, submarines or other surface warships. ///////////////// This writer has been advocating that we need a far stronger blue water Navy to handle and counter the “String of Pearls” strategy with the growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal littorals. The PLAN has already established its presence in Gwadar, Pakistan, Myanmar, the Coco Islands, and is making its presence felt in East Africa and Sri Lanka under the guise of economic aid. It has also shown increasing interest in Bangladesh and Nepal and its hand in assisting insurgents like the ULFA in the sensitive North East and even the Naxals, is known. ////////////////// The aim of this article is to examine the possible threat to NEFA in the light if these developments. The views expressed are the author’s own, based on a recent unofficial visit to NEFA, and his assessment of the possibility of a 1962 type strike on Tawang to establish the Chinese claim on NEFA. ///////////////// First it is essential to examine briefly, what happened in 1962. It must be recalled that the Henderson Brooks report has not yet been disclosed. The writer of this article belongs to the same Regiment, the Maratha Light Infantry and in fact took over as Colonel of the Regiment from him in 1969. The General was assisted by the late Lt.Gen. P. S. Bhagat, VC, another distinguished soldier, alas both of them are no more. One fails to understand the rationale behind the government’s reluctance to release the report when every other country does so in such cases. Do we not realise that by doing so we shall learn from earlier mistakes? Be that as it may we were lulled into complacency by the “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” syndrome so assiduously advocated by Chou En Lai the then Chinese Premier. The sad part of it is that both Pandit Nehru and Krishna Menon were lulled into complacency. The late Lt.Gen. S. P. P. Thorat, then our Eastern Army Commander in Lucknow, warned Panditji (“ji” for the traitor who despised and degraded the Indian army?) of the very realistic Chinese threat in NEFA but his advice was ignored. We were totally unprepared under the mistaken illusion that the Chinese would not attack. Thanks to the advice of the late Lt Gen Bijji Kaul who politicised the Army, the troops were hopelessly ill equipped and armed to fight in high altitudes, given outrageous orders to hold indefensible positions dominated by the PLA under the mistaken notion that not a single inch of Indian territory would be allowed to fall, totally impractical tactically as brought out by the late Brig. John Dalvi the forwardmost Brigade Commander, in his book ‘Himalayan Blunder’, resulting in his capture, opening up the advance of the Chinese into NEFA, and perhaps the biggest omission of all was not to invoke the IAF to attack the advancing Chinese columns along the jungle hill tracts. The rest is history. It is a well known fact that the Chinese won over the locals to act as guides and porters on monetary inducements, as this part of the country was never developed. ///////////////// Have we now learnt our lesson?///////////// The writer last visited NEFA in the early 70s while still in service. He recalls the long tortuous drive from Tezpur to Tenga on an apology of a strategic road, the main Line of Communications with Tawang and beyond via Bomdila and Se La. There is a sea change today with a tarmac road well maintained by the Border Roads with emergency facilities like earthmovers and bridging to clear landslides and road blocks during inclement weather. What is equally encouraging is the fact that along the four hours drive over two passes to Tenga, Rest Rooms have been set up. Good accommodation has been provided for troops and even their families with all facilities including shopping malls for daily requirements and even Army Schools. This indicates the quiet confidence the Army has of permitting families of all ranks to such locations. It also sends a strong visible message to the civil populace, of quiet confidence. What is equally remarkable that this writer observed was indicative of the strong secular values in the Army – along a stretch of road in the Tenga Valley stands a Masjid, Gurudwara, Mandir and a Chapel, all maintained by the Formation. At no stage during this visit did the writer even get a hint of lack of confidence or preparedness to meet the oft-repeated Chinese claims on NEFA. /////////////// What is of importance are the steps taken to improve our preparedness posture. The wisest step taken by the government was to appoint an ex-Army Chief as the Governor. Not many know that he had earlier served in this sector as a Lt.Col. He happens to belong to the same Regiment as this writer. In my conversations with him he mentioned the steps being taken to improve the infrastructure in this neglected State – internal communications, power generation using the high hydel potential, exploitation of the vast forest resources, and most importantly education. Not many readers may know that from far off Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh, he undertook a trip to Pune to recruit teachers for the schools proposed to be opened. This was evident in the number of schools seen in Bomdila, including a public school. By focussing on the improvement of the lot of the State’s populace, the chances of doing a repeat should the Chinese attempt to occupy Tawang with local help as in 1962 will be diminished. ////////////// On the deployment side one has read in the media that an additional division has been inducted to plug a possible approach which means we have three divisions in front, and one in depth with the dual role of counter insurgency. One has also read that a Sukhoi Squadron has been induced into Tezpur and forward helipads developed for quick reaction.///////////// Interestingly there is a regular helicopter service from Guwahati/Tezpur to Tawang for civilians visiting the famous monastery there. Arrangements for road movement on these mountain roads for commuting and carriage of stores are also now in place and readily manifest in bustling Bomdila. That feeling of neglect as in the past is now being eliminated.///////////// The forces deployed in this sector, north of the Brahmaputra including Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are controlled from a well established HQ in Tezpur where this writer noticed a spirit of quiet confidence and efficiency when he called on the Corps Commander. Noticeably, there was no sign of tension. The writer, enroute from Tenga to Tezpur happened to meet two of the forward brigade commanders, both from his Regiment, at a road block under clearance and in the few minutes he interacted with them there was absolutely no signs of tension, just quiet confidence, though both were in eyeball to eyeball confrontation with PLA troops. If only our Babudom accelerated the acquisition, issue and induction of more modern equipment, the doubts on preparedness expressed by the Naval Chief in his press interview, the situation would be vastly better. Be that as it may let there be no doubts that our men showed no indication of low morale; in fact this was one aspect that struck this old soldier – high morale and top physical fitness. What then do we need to do to ensure stability in this wild, mountainous and sparsely populated country? There are a number of steps. /////////////////// Firstly the improvement of infrastructural facilities should be on-going, especially road communications, helipads, opening up the interior, education, et al. Thanks to foresight, the appointment of an ex-COAS as the Governor will ensure better civil/military relations, and this is evident. A reassessment needs to be made of the handling of insurgency especially along the north bank of the Brahmaputra. The Army should be relieved of this commitment and a Rashtriya Rifles Counter Insurgency force as in J & K be raised. This threat cannot be wished away as the main lines of communication run through these areas. Forward stocking consonant with the operational requirements should be ensured at all times because of the delays imposed by the nature of the terrain and the weather. This should apply to the civil as well. //////////////////// The intelligence apparatus should be stepped up to give early warning of any possible Chinese intrusions and for this both the locals and the Tibetan diaspora should be involved. There should no question in invoking our Air Force for interdiction on the axis from Tibet into NEFA. Likewise, our external intelligence agencies should be alerted in Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. ////////////// A Chief of Defence Staff should be appointed without any further delay. An integrated Defence HQ is already in place, Bureaucratic “izzat” notwithstanding, and a greater involvement of the Armed Forces in defence planning at the highest level, should begin NOW. Based on all available inputs we need to act now and not be caught offguard as we were in 1962. ////////////////// We have lead time to get our act right. With winter approaching will China launch an assault from Tibet to take Tawang given the lie of the terrain, the approaching winter, restricted road communications and India’s defence posture, to do so in two to three months? We need to improve our defence posture and make it difficult for China to venture on such a move in the foreseeable future which means that it will have to wait for the next campaigning season in 2010. We need to utilize this time to improve our defences, communications, intelligence acquisition and updating our equipment with high tech weapons suitable for mountain and high altitude warfare. /////////////// We now learn of a major counter terrorism exercise with troops involving 300 US Special Forces and India’s Armoured Division to be held in Jhansi. This is a move in the right direction to improve and signal our growing relations with the USA and the possibility of arms purchases of high tech equipment under the new protocol. ///////////////// Finally, we should not hesitate to invoke air power to impede any such move. ///////////////// One can end on a slightly optimistic note in stating that so far as our manpower is concerned and the quiet confidence of our Officers and men, given the tools, our response will be good. //////////////// MAJOR GENERAL (RETD) E. D’SOUZA, PVSM, Polish Army Gold Medal, is a frequent contributor to Freedom First. ////////////////// =================================== 000000000