Saturday, January 13, 2001

An assessment of the battle of Longewala
By Thakur K. S. Ludra

VIJAY DIVAS to commemorate the Indian victory over Pakistan has come and gone. There has been a lot of chest thumping and self-congratulatory notes exchanged as the old soldiers fought and won, all over again. The Battle of Maj K.S. Chandpuri briefing Britainís CIGS, Field Marshall Carver, on the Longewala Battle at Longewala in the Rajasthan sector. Longewala has been bruited about as a classic example of grit, determination and how this Indian version of the Battle of Thermopylae put paid to Pakistan ambitions of having breakfast in Longewala, lunch at Jaisalmer and dinner at Jodhpur. Colonel Hattarís piece on December 16, commemorates Brigadier (then Major) Kuldip Singh Chandpuriís gallant action whereby he, with an undersized company of just 84 men along with just two 106 mm recoilless guns, held the Pakistani attack on the night of December 4/5. He held on against one complete infantry brigade and one complete armoured regiment. His action permitted the Indian Air Force to go in for a partridge shoot the next morning, in which they bagged 36 of the pick of the Pakistani armour. A superb and an inspiring action if there was any. Major Chandpuri was deservedly awarded one of the highest gallantry award that the country could give him ó the Maha Vir Chakra. Though personally, I feel he should have been given a Param Vir Chakra, for but for him, Pakistan would have not lost a complete regiment worth of tanks. Tactically speaking, this was the sort of operation which makes traditions and history.


However, now we come to the crux of this article ó the impact of this operation on further developments in Pakistani and Indian operations, and who was, eventually, successful in achieving its aims. In the region, Rahim Yar Khan, a critical railway station on the Sind-Punjab railway line is well within 24 hours striking distance from the Indian border. If it was in Indian hands at that time, it would have cut off the rail as well as the road link between Sind (read Karachi) and Punjab, the main theatre of operations in the West. With the cutting off of the link, Punjab would have been starved of fuel and replenishment of weapons and munitions which was being off loaded at Karachi. In other words notwithstanding all the tall talk there was a complete lack of strategic understanding of what was required.

The Indian plan in this region envisaged a strike across the international border towards Islamgarh, through Sarkari Tala. After securing Islamgarh the plan was to advance through Baghla and secure Rahim Yar Khan. With the capture of Rahim Yar Khan the Pakistani position in Punjab and for that matter in Jammu and Kashmir would have become precarious indeed. In the next ten days or so the Indian strike through Shakargarh would have gained momentum even as the Pakistani forces devoid of any maintenance support and fuel would have been caught in a trap.

Under the circumstances the only way Pakistan, which was not very strong in the region and whose plans envisaged Punjab as the operational centre, could have reacted was to take a big risk and launch a pre-emptive attack. The aim being to ensure that the 12 Indian Division which had been tasked to secure Rahim Yar Khan did not cross the border. The Pakistani plan envisaged the advance through Kishangarh to the area behind of south of Ramgarh where 12 Infantry Division was concentrated. In this their intelligence was remarkably good. However they also failed to analyse the implication of the Longewala Post, originally held by the BSF. However their is still no denying the fact that Pakistani intelligence was particularly effective.

And it should have been, for they had, over a period of time, engineered infiltration by a number of Pakistanis who had settled down in small hamlets on the Indian side of the border. In this they had been helped by the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who had helped them get ration cards and got their names included in voters lists. On the Indian side as Colonel Hattar has, very rightly, stated that the intelligence was poor as always. That is, if it was available at all.

Operations started when Pakistan launched its pre-emptive air strikes on the evening of December 3, 1971. In a discussion I had with the Brigadier, Intelligence, Southern Command, some time in 1975 I learned that the General Officer commanding-in-chief, Southern Command, who was responsible for operations in Rajasthan, was petrified, and the launching of 12 Infantry Division which should have commenced on December 4 morning was stalled. The Pakistani spoiling attack on the night of December 4/5 in turn aggravated the situation and the General Officer Commanding, 12 Infantry Division, thereafter just did not move an inch. Under the circumstances while the General Officer Commanding, 12 Infantry Division, should have been sacked, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief should have taken over the operations and continued with the offensive after the stalling of Pakistani spoiling attack, for then Pakistan just did not have any armour in this region.

However, nothing of that kind happened and Pakistani forces in the region which had been more or less become hors de combat were allowed to withdraw to safety and no efforts were made to capitalise on the more or less complete elimination of Pakistani armour in that region. In other words, Pakistan had achieved her aim though she lost heavily. In war that is what the battles are all about. The achieving of the aim. Without achieving of the aim set out, all the battles and gallantry awards are meaningless.

Thus we see a complete contrast in the behaviour of the Junior Officers at the Battalion level who have time and again helped the Indian Armed Forces to keep their head high and the Indian Senior officers who have continuously let the country down. We saw it in the Jammu and Kashmir Operations where they just did not understand the importance of Skardu or Haji Pir Pass or for that matter the Pandu Feature and let them slip out of our hands. It was repeated in 1962 when the Generals let down the troops and the junior officers. It was repeated in 1965 when time and again successes of junior officers were not capitalised upon, and we see it again in Rajasthan, where the glorious opportunity provided by Major Chandpuri was allowed to slip out of our hands by the Generals.

There is an old dictum which states that an army of sheep led by a lion is more dangerous than an army of lions led by a sheep. The Indian political leadership has over a period of time ensured that the Indian officer cadre starts getting weeded out from the very first level of selection and only those who conform to their ideas are allowed to get promoted. Thereafter, any promotion beyond the rank of a brigadier has to be politically acceptable. In this they are very ably assisted by a Machiavellian bureaucracy and self-seeking senior officers. The eventual loser is the nation and the common man.