Inspiration from India’s wars, on Swarnim Vijay Diwas

Gadra Road, Assal Uttar, Dograi and Haji Pir are among the important places from 1965. These should form a prominent part of the syllabus for defence and civil services exams

Published: 16th December 2021 12:08 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th December 2021 12:08 AM   |  A+A-

Swarnim Vijay Diwas

December 16 is a special day this year, the 50th anniversary of an event that never fails to inspire: Vijay Diwas or Victory Day. I come from a generation that saw India’s major wars from childhood to adolescence culminating in the attainment of this day. It starts with the J&K War of 1947–48 (I did not see this one) where the Indian Army fought for the first time for the nation and delivered an ‘Indian victory’. Pakistan’s attempts at strategic surprise through the use of Frontier tribesmen to capture J&K were defeated but our victory proved insufficient to wrest the entire territory before a ceasefire was brought in place. Yet heroics were not limited. Famous battles at Badgam, Pattan, Mohra, Uri, Naushahra, Poonch, Tithwal and Zojila should be of great interest in the current run of patriotism and contribute towards India’s inspiration.

In 1962, my age was not even into double figures but I was in deep fascination with the Sino-Indian border conflict. That is because the 4th Battalion of the Garhwal Rifles was in the thick of action between Tawang and the Sela Pass, providing what is called ‘covering troops’ to the new defences coming up in Sela, to which the Indian Army fell back. The battalion, which was raised by my father, took the brunt of the second offensive of the Chinese, beating back five attacks at Nuranang (now colloquially called Jaswantgarh, named after the hero of the battle). This same unit, which I later joined and commanded, stood like a rock in 1962, but that was small compensation for the ignominy of overall defeat due to a failed understanding of geopolitics and the basics of national security into which we were reluctant to invest. The sacrifice and steadfastness of the Indian soldier was marked by valorous actions in areas such as Bumla, Thagla, Nuranang, Lagyala Gompa, Walong and Rezang La. Most may sound Greek to the average Indian but if well informed, inspiration is guaranteed.

In the Indo-Pak conflict, Pakistan attempted to exploit the situation created by the 1962 debacle. It felt that India, with a new political leadership in place, psychologically spent by the trauma of 1962 and militarily struggling to expand and re-equip, could be cannon fodder for its presumably better trained, equipped and led armed forces. Our forces disproved all such perceptions through some heroic actions, although we came precariously close to losing large tracts of territory after we had captured the Haji Pir pass in PoK. In a surprising riposte, Pakistan almost cut the road from Akhnoor to Rajouri until additional Indian forces stalled the advance just four kilometres short of the famous Iron Bridge. The Indian counter-offensive was quick under the redoubtable Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, VrC. Lahore came under threat, but the battle swung the other way as Pakistan’s well-camouflaged armour resources moved into Southern Punjab in an attempt to turn our flank. It was a bold decision of Harbaksh that he decided to stay on and fight a battle of attrition in the Valtoha-Khem Karan sector on our side of the international border rather than withdraw east of the Beas River as had been ordered by General Choudhry, the Army Chief. It was Harbaksh’s personal intervention in the battlefield and some stout-hearted fighting by some great tank units such as 3 Cavalry, 8 Cavalry and Deccan Horse that forced the Pakistan Army to a grinding halt. Subsequently, Indian forces took on the Pakistan armour reserves in the Sialkot sector and captured large tracts there. Gadra Road, Assal Uttar, Dograi, Butur Dograndi, Chawinda, Phillora, Chhamb and Haji Pir are among the prominent names stuck to the mind. These should form part of the syllabus for defence and civil services competitive exams every year.

That brings us to 1971 and the first issue for the common citizen is that we fought this war on our terms due to wise advice and sound decisions. Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw’s advice to India’s top leadership to postpone any ad hoc offensive in April-May 1971 was well taken and his reasons fully accepted. East Pakistan’s plight under genocidal conditions could not be tolerated by a secular, democratic republic. Left to its destiny, the problem would continue to fester and be a thorn in India’s side. With our due deliberation and a well-considered strategy, it was Pakistan that fell into the trap and initiated operations on 3 December 1971. On the politico-diplomatic front, India did well by securing the full support of the Soviet Union through the 20-year Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. That balanced the then American distaste for India and support for Pakistan despite the latter’s involvement in a virtual genocide and eviction of more than 10 million of its people into India. Our military strategy was simple. First, the timing (December 1971) obviated Chinese intervention due to the challenging winter conditions on the northern borders. Second, the East-West communication arteries and railway lines would be free from floods and such threats. Third, the focus of the war was in the East to capture maximum territory using ‘bypassing’ and not attrition. This territory was to be sufficient to cater for the return of the Bangladesh government to its own soil to declare victory and the creation of the new nation, besides the return of the refugees. Fourth, the capture of Dhaka would only be incidental if the conditions were so created and conducive enough. Fifth, on the Western front, only an offensive defence was adopted all along the international border and LoC to hold and fix the Pakistani forces and prevent any territorial losses while launching some risk-free offensives to capture territory. The

Indian Air Force created air superiority in the East to allow unimpeded advance for the ground elements and a favourable situation wherever else warranted for undertaking offensive operations. The Indian Navy’s contribution both in the East and West was marked by its action against Chittagong, all economic facilities and in the isolation of East Pakistan from the Bay of Bengal. In the West, the famous blockade of Karachi had a deep psychological effect on Pakistan’s war sustenance and morale.

The greatest moment of 1971 before the surrender of 93,000 prisoners of war to Lt Gen J S Aurora was the heliborne crossing of the Meghna River by Lt Gen Sagat Singh’s 4 Corps. That paved the way towards Dhaka, the drop of 2 Parachute Regiment at Tangail and the surrender ceremony, which created history. Doff our hats to those who created that moment.

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

Former Commander, Srinagar-based 15 Corps. Now Chancellor, Central University of Kashmir



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