Why we did not win those wars
Vijay Mohan

Unlearned Lessons: An Appraisal of India’s Military Mishaps
by Lt Col Gautam Das (retd). Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi. Pages 352. Rs 595.

The Indian subcontinent has been a vast battlefield since time immemorial. It has faced more invasions and has seen more wars and battles than any other region on the earth. Yet the dominating country in this region has paid little heed to the art and science of war and its application to achieve and sustain objectives of national interest.

This becomes more apparent when the military history of India is analysed. Looking back over centuries, more often than not, native forces have been defeated by foreign invaders. Recent military campaigns are replete with examples of lack of effective higher direction in wars and military gains being squandered away, with no permanent solution in sight to the very disputes which had resulted in conflict.

The author Gautam Das, a former instructor at the School of Military Intelligence, attempts, what he calls, to fill the gap between "instant history" popularised by the media and the dry scholarly works of military historians. Beginning with Alexander’s conquest of the Punjab in 326 BC, he analyses where the Indians have faltered or failed to achieve their larger strategic or political objective right up to the Operation Parakram in 2002.

The book is divided into two parts—the first dealing with era from Alexander to the end of World War II and the other dealing with post-Independence military operations. The foreword to the book is written by former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, G. Parthasarthy.

Alexander’s victory over Porus, Kanishka’ defeat in Central Asia, the Turki conquest of North India and the Deccan, European victories, East India Company’s battles, Sepoy Mutiny and battles for Indian independence, the author observes, all have a common factor of lack of unity and dichotomy in society, poor tactics, failure or inability to learn from the past and take note of developments in the military science elsewhere.

Summaries of various wars and battles are given separately from which the author draws his conclusions and lists out weaknesses and lessons learnt or ought to have learnt. The Sino-Indian rivalry over Tibet from 1950-62 and the ongoing border dispute are discussed in great detail, as is the Sri-Lankan misadventure in 1987-90.

The 1965 Indo-Pak war is termed as India’s politico-military failure even though the forces gave a good account of themselves. Even in 1971, the failure of part of the top leadership was that the advantage of victory was not grasped and adequate leverage of holding 93,000 Pakistani prisoners was not applied subsequently on the negotiating table.

Exercise Brasstacks in 1987, Operation Vijay in 1999, Operations Pyrdiwah and Boroibari in 2001 and Operation Parakram in 2001-02 are other facets on the author’s list from which the top leadership can glean significant lessons on strategic foresight, intelligence, professionalism, training and troop morale.

The author throws up an argument that putting together historical evidences—the first of recurring patterns of military decadence, complacence and eventual ineffectiveness giving Indian militaries a "mean time between failures" of 60-80 years, and the second of an innate placid and non-martial, non-adventurous nature, poor military organisational skills and weaponry, poor tactical development and poor generalship abilities—it is possible to see the emergence of recurring "cycles of military competence".

These cycles, he contends, are recurrent patterns that have been and undoubtedly continue to be quietly at work almost like natural forces of nature, upon all Indian militaries past and present. As such in spite of any protestations to the contrary that may arise, he is of the view that they are at work on the present armed forces of India as well.

Given that the author’s aim was to appraise military mishaps and the fact that the armed forces have been and are expected to be deployed in counter-insurgent operations and low intensity conflict, the book could well have analysed some major anti-terrorist operations. An insight into Operation Meghdoot in Siachen and Operation Trident would too have been useful.