The Siachen Glacier

C I Op in J&K

BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR - Volume 3(2) September - October 2000



Between 1983 and 1987 the Pakistani Government and its intelligence arm Inter Service Intelligence watched the beginning of a turmoil caused by the inept politicians of the National Conference in the state and the Congress I in New Delhi. Buoyed by the experience of running the Afghan guerilla war the ISI and the Pakistani establishment seized the opportunity to increase the problems in the Valley from a minor disturbance caused by disenchanted populace to a major low intensity conflict involving a huge influx of arms and foreign mercenaries fired up by the concept of jihad.

The ISI started out by co-opting the JKLF and helping Amanullah Khan to win control of the JKLF. The Pakistani Government started raising money for the Azad Kashmir movement in 1985 while claiming only moral support. While initially leaving the training to Liberation Cell 202, the success of the operations led the ISI to take direct control of the operations. The fig leaf of moral support was blown away, when in 1990 the ISI discarded the JKLF to back only the pro-Pakistan groups like the Hizbul-Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Ansar. As per Jane's Intelligence Review, the 1990s saw the first AK-47 copies, RPG-7s and Chinese grenades enter the Valley to be followed by RPD, RPK and PK machine guns. Along with this, training was also imparted in the use of sophisticated wireless equipment with encryption and burst transmission. By this time there were up to 5 Brigadiers and 11 Colonels in charge of the ISI operations and over two dozen field operatives based out of Muzaffarabad. The aim was to gradually paralyze the Government, ethnically cleanse the state of the Pandits and render the state ineffective to be followed by massive uprising. The Pakistan Government and the ISI was waiting for the fruits of their labor to ripen and fall in their lap. The moment they had dreamed of since 1947 seemed nearer than ever.

The Initial Fights

When the trouble first began the only force in the valley was the Central Reserve Police Force. Raised in 1909 this was more of a police force than a paramilitary force the only difference being that this was a Central unit and consisted of men from all parts of the country. In 1990 – 91 this force was stretched with 103 companies deployed in the Punjab, North East, Ayodhya and Andhra Pradesh. Its men could handle the odd riot but not the stuff the Pakistanis were throwing up. The CRPF has been involved on and off in Jammu and Kashmir since 1950. Three J&K Battalions under CRPF exclusively for duties in J&K were raised in 1956 which were merged in to CRPF to be known as 4,5 and 6 CRPF Battalions. By the late 80s there were 15,000 CRPF men deployed in Kashmir initially, mostly for election duty.

The CRPF is staffed by mostly officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS) with a sprinkling of retired Army officers. They did not have the experience of carrying out long range patrols, high altitude assaults etc. However as police officers they had a good understanding of policing which is essential for countering urban insurgency. For the untrained CRPF (and later the BSF) it was learnt the hard way, in the unforgiving environments of real life. Compounding the problem was the deployment of these forces in typical orthodox police naka fashion. The pattern of deployment is routine. The basic urban area in India is a mohalla linked to other mohallas by narrow lanes that can be traversed only by foot or roads where a single vehicle, rickshaw or bicycle can barely move. Moreover it is possible for people to jump from roof to roof and disappear in the back lanes. The nakas were set up at entry and exit points as well as key crossroads and bridges. Where space permitted a naka was set up inside the mohalla.

The infamous bunker was a 10 feet by 6 feet structure surrounded by sandbags, draped in tarpaulin and covered in corrugated sheets. It was covered by camouflage netting to prevent grenades from getting into the bunker. There was no lighting, cooking facilities, no place to take a break and under cold and damp conditions became infested with vermin. The other ranks (OR) who occupied this were under constant tension and alert to sniper fire and grenade assaults. Meals and relief had to be provided from camps and this occupied half the strength of the unit.

The other method was to seek the militants out. With total lack of information as the J&K Armed Police was either completely ineffectual or untrustworthy the method employed was the infamous cordon and search operations. These operations were the opportunity the militants waited for to a launch a quick attack. It would come in the form of a hurled grenade or a burst of AK-47 fire. The offenders would then dump the rifle in an alleyway and merge with the civilians. The CRPF response was to barge in the general direction of the fire and force the people in the house to clean the graffiti or to a let few rounds in the direction. The problem with this method was that all the people were considered enemies and served to alienate the population and made it harder to generate hard intelligence. While the officers understood it the OR's did not.

At this stage comes the Indian States inability to learn lessons from similar situations in the past. This has repeatedly caused problems to fester and the cost of finally doing the right thing has been paid in blood. With the lessons of Punjab this was the time to rebuild the J&K police force. While the reliability is questionable the beginnings could have been made by first targeting non-Kashmiri Muslims, weeding out the undesirables, instituting cash awards and accepting the risks. Instead the CRPF was replaced by the BSF. The CRPF fell back to guard vital installations.

Enter the BSF

The Border Security Force was raised in 1965 after the Pakistanis overwhelmed the Chad Bet post manned by the Gujarat police. The idea was that this force would take over all posts on the International border during peacetime and would fallback to guard vital installations during wartime. The BSF too essentially followed the bunker system and made its presence felt even more in the interiors. From a border police force it had to learn to be a counter insurgency force. Luckily, it was led in Kashmir by a tough and competent Inspector General Ashok Patel.

Under IG Patel, the force learnt to carry out coordinated drills like road opening parties, lay ambushes, etc. These tactics learnt in the harsh environment extracted a heavy price from BSF personnel who died as well as incidents of PTDS. The BSF had to start from scratch in its operations. There was no file on any known militants. The JK Police was full of sympathizers who could not be relied. An example of what they were against is illustrated with the following case. In April 1990 the police/BSF carried out cordon and search operations to locate Mushir-ul-Haq and H Khera. Raiding the house of a businessman Hafizullah Bhat they trapped four men one of whom tried to escape by jumping from the window to an adjacent building. He was injured and on capture was taken to SMHS hospital. The other three turned out to be Iqbal Gandroo, Javed Ahmad Zargar and an unknown JKLF activist. What the BSF did not know was that the injured man was Yasin Malik. Both the police and doctors at SMHS kept quiet and in fact helped spirit him away claiming he was rescued by his supporters. A Kashmiri Pandit nurse who overheard a doctor helping the terrorist was raped and murdered.

So IG Patel started from scratch. The BSF's intelligence wing, the 'G' branch, would generate information based on interrogation and worked on a strategy of letting the minor figures go in order to trap the important figures. Along with it the BSF signal's intercept capability was improved. Putting the 2 together the G branch identified precise locations of militants. Special teams would then move around in jeeps without the benefit of larger units to cordon off. They would sneak in to the hostile neighborhoods, grab the suspects and dash out. This dangerous game started paying off as more and more precise info started coming in. In addition the BSF boosted its signal intercept capability. The BSF also started equipping with Carl Gustaf 84 mm RCLs and automatic grenade launchers although the numbers are still spread thin.

On 22 June 1990, the BSF came to know a top insurgent hiding in Rambagh. A BSF team led by SI K.D. Thakur surrounded the house. As they charged in they were met by a volley of fire wounding Thakar and a Head Constable. The return fire killed the militant who turned out to be Mohammed Abdullah Bangroo the former deputy chief of Hizbul Mujahideen. A similar raid led to the capture of Yasin Malik and his deputy Hamid Sheikh. As time progressed both the militants and BSF learned from their experience. However as Pakistan started pumping up the tempo of infiltration, the BSF casualties started increasing. Undaunted the BSF started plans for moving across to the towns and major localities now considered militant strongholds. It started with Srinagar with the 69th battalion moving into the Rainawari locality. The militants had driven out the Pandits and taken over their houses. They had established interrogation centers, ammo centers and firing ranges. By December 1991, the BSF moved into Sopore, Anantnag, Bijibehara, Bandipur and Baramulla. The entry and exit points to the Dal Lake were also sealed. The BSF strength had now reached 30000 and although the militancy was still alive it had achieved an important task – establishing the presence of the state. The militants could no longer boast that the Indians were out. However tenuous the hold of the state still remained. The BSF much maligned by the Human Rights group to its credit continued to perform its task. However the situation has now escalated to the point where it a full fledged low intensity conflict being waged by Pakistan. There was no other option but to call in the Indian Army.

Operation Rakshak: The Indian Army joins in

The borders of Jammu & Kashmir have been the focus of all the border wars. This has meant that the Indian Army has been heavily deployed in the state. The normal deployment consists of the 19 Division located in Baramula in charge of the Northern front, the 25 Division in charge of the Western front, the 28 Mountain Division towards Siachen and the 3 Division towards the Chinese border. These were located under 15 Corps in Srinagar and 16 Corps in Adampur under the Northern Command. The troops are deployed in very hostile conditions which necessitate a major resupply program. The Ladakh area is cut off by snow from November to May. Therefore supplies for the whole period from food, clothing to ammunition has to be stocked in the preceding months. This takes a five day journey. Trucks with unheated cabins start off from Jammu, pass through the Banihal tunnel, descend towards the Valley, skirt around Srinagar to Leh. This is a harrowing task. Needless to say there is a high proportion of logistics personnel in the army deployment. Securing this supply line has always been a concern. The Army has an exceptional task to perform in guarding the Line of Control (LOC). Its deployment here consists of battalions of 1000 men over a 15 to 30 km front. The battalion and company Headquarters are about a kilometer behind. The front consists of a series of interconnected bunkers many heated, barbed wires, minefields etc. However formidable as this seems, nature remains a step ahead. Floods and mudslides wash away barbed wire and minefields. It was a nightmare to effectively police this terrain.

The key to infiltration and exfiltration were the Gujjars the nomadic shepherds who inhabited these borders. Both Muslims and Hindus they were willing to guide the insurgents and terrorists in for a price. In summer their huts situated high in the mountains would provide temporary shelters for the infiltrators. So when the Army in 1989 was asked to help it reluctantly agreed. Under Lt. Gen. Zaki the Army first made sure that its lines of communication were secured. The withdrawal of the IPKF made additional troops available. In mid 1990 as the first snows melted marking the start of infiltration the Army stepped in. The Army installed a simple three tiered system which it uses to this day. A potential terrorist or insurgent has to cross the tough forests and terrain. He then needs a place to recover before moving on to the Valley where he could melt in. The best position to stop him was at the border itself. The first tier consisted of patrols on the border itself. Constant patrols and ambushes were mounted to gun down any insurgents trying to sneak in. The second tier consisted of establishing a 5 km belt from the border. There was night curfew in this belt with shoot to kill orders. The third tier was to cordon and search villages behind the 5 km belt. Depending on the area the size of these tiers varied. For example in the Kupwara sector the second tier could be 15 km or more.

Using this strategy the Army scored its first success in Poonch. It killed 42 infiltrators in a single operation. A subsequent engagement saw over 70 infiltrators killed for the loss of 2 personnel. Stung the Pakistanis now started shelling and provide covering fire. They even made a couple of incursions only to be driven back. With the lowlands no longer a easy route the infiltration shifted to higher reaches of the mountains. Furthermore the infiltrators were now provided with battlefield inoculation. Once across the mountains the infiltrators could use NH1 to move to the Valley. Once this route was discovered the army started sending long range patrols into the mountains. Over the next 2 years even while the Army killed upwards of 400 insurgents, large groups of militants still made it through with relative ease. The terrain also made encounters prolonged. One such encounter took place on November 93. A Gorkha scout spotted a group of militants. The Colonel of the battalion and the small detachment immediately tracked them. The trail led to a cave. As they neared it, automatic fire erupted from the cave. The militants were trapped but there were only eight Gorkhas and night was approaching. Still while reinforcements were sought the men ringed the caves. First the Gorkhas tried the direct approach but lost two men in the process. They then fired rocket launchers but to no avail. Even an AGS-17 had no effect. Finally the Gorkhas used smoke grenades and flame throwers. This worked and as the blinded militants rushed out they were wiped out. 26 militants were killed in that encounter.

By 1994 the whole operation was being run by professionals. Pakistani Army and ISI men using sophisticated communication equipment were guiding the movement of these militants. These militants were also as well trained as soldiers, had received mountain warfare and commando course and specialized equipment. Moreover there were a number of Pakistanis both serving and non serving including SSG personnel. In response the Army now headed by General B.C. Joshi started laying ambushes across the LOC. Small units of men moved a few km inside the Pakistani side where they lay in ambush for the unsuspecting militants. After their ambush they would slip back over the LOC. Many of these were laid after careful analysis of signal intelligence.

In contrast with the LOC the valley presented a different set of challenges. The Valley spanned 150 km by 80 km. It was not all flat with some raised outcrops with deep wooded gullies. These allowed the militants and terrorists suitable terrain to operate from. So while the BSF and CRPF used their police tactics to fight the terrorists in the urban centers of Sopore, Srinagar etc the Army launched operations to hunt them in the rural environment. Due to lack of intelligence the initial operations consisted of brute force cordon and search operations. Entire brigades would be utilized for this operation. Villages were cordoned, people frisked, homes checked, ponds and wells checked for weapon caches, and the surrounding marshlands were vigorously probed. The results were minimal. Although weapons were recovered most militants preferred to lie low. Another operation was the sending of ROPs or Road Opening parties. These would sanitize a road of mines and IEDs. These were extremely dangerous operations as they were set piece operations and as such an invitation to attack. Every morning truck mounted patrols would start off from both ends scanning for mines or IEDs up to 50 meters on either side of the road. They were coordinated with Quick Reaction Teams (QRT) which were vehicle mounted and ready to move at a moment's notice. Once the road was opened guards would be posted for the day before withdrawing for the night. More recently these road opening parties have been provided with Caspir mine proof vehicles. The QRTs now have better access to helicopters for quicker reaction.

By now the insurgency was a full scale low level conflict and its primary flag bearer was not the local insurgent but the battle hardened veterans of the Afghan jihad. With the winding down of the Afghan conflict a large number of Afghan mujahids were freed up. With no other occupation but the thought of jihad they now turned their attention to Kashmir. Known as the Mehmaan (Guest) militants they were eager to take on the Indian Army. Where as the Kashmiri insurgents would open up from more than 100 meters away the Afghan would come in as close as 30 meters. Along with their battle skills they brought in another legacy of the Afghan War the gruesome torture of civilian and military prisoners. A unit guarding the outskirts of an airbase was overpowered and all its members shot in cold blood. A BSF unit was likewise ambushed. Head constable Bikash Nazary was captured. He was put in chains and taken from village to village. His eyes were gauged out, skin ripped off before being executed. A Rashtriya Rifle (RR) unit was betrayed by their informer and captured. The men were castrated, skinned alive, eyes gouged out and beheaded. Many other prisoners had their throats slit especially in front of villagers. But the Afghan tough as they were soon realized that this was not Soviet conscripts but the tough and motivated men of the Indian Army. Furthermore unlike the Soviets the Indian Army was fighting on its own land. In the battles even though the Indian Army and other forces had higher losses than before the Afghans more often then not were eliminated.

The ISI now looked around to expand the operations found the Doda district ideal. Mountainous with deep gorges and nullahs the district was sparsely policed. The ISI infiltrated Lashker groups here. The aim was that a few well trained groups could tie down large number of Indian Army troops in combing operations. The Lashkers let lose a reign of terror killing Hindus and hoping to ethnically cleanse the area. Slowly but surely more forces were sucked in. A combined force was set up in Doda with an integrated command for the Rashtriya Rifles, BSF, CRPF and State Police. Despite intense bickering between the various forces a large number of mujahids were eliminated.

While the security forces were not able to prevent the hit and run tactics of the militants and their ability to cause high casualties they were able to stem the boast of "sending the Indian Government packing from the Valley". It was a reminder to the local populace that the Indian Army was still very much around and that meant the Indian State was going to be there. An important symbolic example of this was the retaking of Sopore. Sopore was initially held by the BSF. A spate of attacks by militants walking up to BSF personnel in a crowd and suddenly pulling out a AK-47 from their pherwans or cloaks and opening fire. The untrained and helpless BSF men would fire back causing civilian casualties causing riots and arson. This forced the security forces to the edge of the town. The Hizbul Mujahideen was also ambushing security force personnel on the outskirts of the town. Matters came to head when an Army column was ambushed in the crowded marketplace. Using civilians for cover the HM opened fire killing Captain Sayi and injuring four others. The Army column under orders not to fire back in the crowd retreated leaving behind a jeep and some equipment. The HM retrieved this and displayed it around the town. By now the state was governed by General K.V. Krishna Rao and he brought in as his advisor, Lt. General Zaki who was in charge of the area in 1990. The emphasis was on more precise strikes. The Army decided to use "psych ops" to flush the militants out of the town. Called Operation Sahayak its aim was to avoid a confrontation with the militants in the town. Two Army brigades supported by BMP infantry combat vehicles and Mi-25 helicopters were used in this operation. The operation started with the BSF moving in to dominate the high positions surrounding the approaches to the town. The Army then bombarded the town with loudspeaker messages warning the residents of the rapacious militants and possibility of getting AIDS from them. Then after a lull giving them the opportunity to slip out the Army turned the squeeze a bit more. In the pre-dawn darkness BMPs roared up to Iqbal Chowk the center of the town while other units moved in from the north and south. Careful cordon & search operations were conducted leading to small firefights. 11 militants were killed. Over the next 2 months similar pre-dawn moves brought the whole town under control with not a shot being fired. The Hizbul Mujahideen had vanished. The BSF took over and built up a network of bunkers and posts to dominate the town. Likewise the Hazrat Bal operations also involved the use "pysch ops" although the results were mixed. However the militants hit back by causing the destruction of the Charar-e-Sharif shrine in 1995 and once again creating the specter of the Valley in flames. Along with the blast at the Republic Day function the militancy was once again on the rise.

Until 1995, the Indian State and its security arms was essentially reacting to the ISI moves. The Army from its experiences in the North East and Sri Lanka did not want to blindly reuse the same tactics. Also the aforementioned lack of learning from its past was equally responsible. But by 1993 a doctrine was emerging . The core of this doctrine was the grid system. Used in Nagaland and Sri Lanka this involved the plotting the terrain on a grid. In Jammu and Kashmir the grid consisted of 49 sectors. Then units were placed in each grid and expected to dominate it. Each grid had a Quick Reaction Team generally consisting of a platoon which was mounted and ready to move quickly to an ambush or a large confrontation. The grid concept had some problems in the Valley where the terrain was both a urban and rural insurgency at the same time. This meant there were limitations on firepower which could be brought in.

The second part of the doctrine was the establishment of a force which would have its roots in the area and hence would be effective in a long drawn out insurgency. This led to the formation of the Rashtriya Rifles and established permanent forces in the Valley (Victor) and Doda (Delta). Further details on this force can be found in the accompanying article on the Rashtriya Rifles. The 8 Mountain Division was also moved in from Nagaland.

Lack of intelligence due to the wiping out of IB and State Police Intel network it initially had to take the sledgehammer cordon and search method to locate the militants. Then as it built up a Intel network and with the increase used of signal Intelligence it was able to use precise information to target high profile militants. By 1995 the Hizbul was reduced to using IEDs and mines. After 1995 operations moved into a higher gear. The Special Forces were now established and their skills gave the Army the tools it needed. Using specific information the Special Forces could move in and eliminate whole mujahid units. Special Forces men dressed as locals mingled in and started hitting back. They could even move in the 10000 ft passes carrying out ambushes. They also moved across the LOC much deeper then the 1- 5 km penetration by the regular Army units. Their presence had the effect of forcing the ISI and Pakistani military of moving most of the training camps towards the sanctuary of the Afghan border. These operations also extracted a price.

In September 95, intelligence had placed a team of Lashkar-e-Toiba group in a mountain cave. A team led Captain Ashok Jasrotia of 9th SF moved up the 7000 feet mountain. By dawn they had moved into position when they were spotted. Captain Jasrotia threw a grenade and charged the militant and shot him in the process taking a bullet in the shoulder. Another militant tried to bludgeon him but Captain Jasrotia managed to kill him with his commando knife. As he moved towards the cave a hidden militant shot him in the chest and stomach. The rest of the commandos finished off the group. The tough captain hung on for 10 days dying en-route to New Delhi for medical attention. He was awarded the Ashok Chakra.

In addition to the Special Forces, units from the National Security Guards and the Marine Commandos also got involved. The Marine Commandos took positions in and around the Wullar lake cutting off infiltration routes and taking away the safe havens for militants. On occasion if the situation allowed heavier firepower was used. Trapped mujahid units have been pummeled by BMP cannons and machine gun fire from Mi-25 and Lancer helicopters. Mi-17 helicopters have been used to move QRTs as well as provide suppressive fire especially in the Doda region. The army, however, has been reluctant to use this on a everyday basis in order not to hand the propaganda victory to the mujahid. The Army also turned around some militant units. While the results they definitely created confusion turmoil amongst the militants. In addition in minority villages Village Defence Committees (VDC) were raised consisting of ex servicemen and other able bodied. With primitive weapons these have occasionally managed to inflict casualties on the militants. These VDCs are being further enhanced with the supply of more SLRs and radio sets.

By 1997 the doctrine was so effective that the militants were being picked off at will. The frustration in Pakistan was obvious and it showed in the large scale artillery attacks in the Kargil area to create diversion for more militants to sneak in. This sequence of events culminated in the Kargil war of 1999. The war came at a time when the Valley was subdued and was needing only a political solution. The war effort pulled in a number of battalions from the CI operations. The Grid was severely disturbed with the replacement CRPF and BSF units not being as effective. Consequently the months after the war saw the number of terrorist attacks go up. With the troops of the crack 8 Mountain Division now assigned north of the Zoji La, it took some time for the replacement troops to build up the knowledge. But again as the grid settled in place things the tempo swung back.

In conclusion the solution to the Valley's problem will not be available till a political solution is found. Even then till Pakistan's ability to forment and stoke the flames is curtailed there will not be long term peace. For the Indian Army the CI operations, has been a double edged sword. While it has been an excellent ground for battle hardening its troops it also has taken away time and energy from training for a conventional war. However this conflict is here for the foreseeable future and the army is adjusting accordingly. The Indian Military Academy's curriculum now has expanded its courses dealing with LIC and CI operations. The other paramilitary forces have done a commendable job at great sacrifice. While it has been fashionable for the human rights people in India to malign them the fact is that these untrained and heavily stressed units have ensured that the Indian flag flies in Kashmir. Whatever the future the Indian Army and the other forces are geared for the long haul where they need to establish the presence of the state and ensure its line of communications are safe.

Select Bibliography

  1. Manoj Joshi. The Lost Rebellion. Penguin India, New Delhi 1997.
  2. Major General Arjun Ray. Kashmir Diary. Manas, New Delhi 1996.
  3. Col Ahrnam Singh. Doda: Insurgency in the Wilderness. Lancer, New Delhi 1999.
  4. 'Counter-Insurgency Operations By Forces Breathe Life Into Valley', Free Press Journal, 13 March 2000.
  5. Ashok Krishna. Examples of Learning in Counter-Insurgency. IDSA 2000.
  6. P.K. Vasudeve. 'Some loose ends in Kashmir'. The Hindu. 15 February 2000.
  7. Arun Sharma. 'Army gets wings to tackle terrorists'. Indian Express. 27 March 2000.
  8. Atul Aneja. 'Pakistan exploiting holes in CI grid' The Hindu. 10 August 1999.
  9. Pritam Bhullar. 'Counter Insurgency drive: The Roadblock'. Tribune. 25 November 1998.
  10. Kanwar Sandhu. 'Security Forces skate on J&K's thin ice'. Tribune. 7 December 1999.

Operation Cactus

The central location of the island nation of the Maldives in the western Indian Ocean, appeared to provide an ideal staging post for illicit arms shipments to the PLOTE (People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) in Sri Lanka. It was a difficult period for them, as the LTTE (Liberation Tamil Tigers Eelam) was beginning to dominate the local scene in Eelam and were militarily much stronger. PLOTE's plan was to capture the islands and conduct their campaign from there. Taking a cue from previous mercenary-led coups in the Indian Ocean, two trawlers landed about 150 PLOTE mercenaries on the island at 0415 hours on 3 November 1988. Using rockets and grenades, the mercenaries quickly overpowered the Maldivian Militia and attacked the President’s residence. A 'panicked' Maldivian Government sent out calls asking for assistance. The Government of India were the first to respond.

The Indian Cabinet approved the dispatch of forces at 1530 hrs on November 3rd. Within 6 hours of cabinet approval, 50 Ind. Para Bde. launched the Maldives operation, codenamed Operation Cactus. The first pair of Indian Air Force IL-76MDs taking off from Agra embarked elements of 6 Para Bn. and 17 Para Field Regiment (the regiment's heavy weapons unit). The lead aircraft carried the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, who then was in New Delhi and Brigadier F.F.C. Bulsara, the Bde. Cdr. The first troops touched down at the airport in Hulule, an island 3 kms from Male - the capital, after a non-stop 4 hour flight. The paratroopers made an uncontested landing and the island was secured within 30 minutes.

Two platoons from 6 Para then commandeered local boats to cross into Male. By 0230 hours on November 4th, President Gayoom had been located and escorted to safety. November 4th also saw the arrival of more Indian forces. A fleet of An-12s, An-32s and IL-76s brought in the remainder of 10 Para Cdo. and 6 Para Bn. A pair of IAF Mirage 2000s, were also deployed to the island in a show of force. Later that day Mi-8s flew 10 Para Cdo. to the outlying island to search for any mercenaries. Shortly thereafter a vessel was seen fleeing Male and it was discovered that mercenaries were on board with hostages, including the Maldivian Minister of Education. Cdr. of the 17 Para Fd. Regt. rushed its heavy machine guns and rocket launchers to the southern tip of the island and fired on the ship. Though the 17 Para Fd. Regt. scored hits, the ship escaped only to be boarded by the Indian Navy the following day.

The ship was detected by an IL-38 May maritime recon aircraft, from the Indian Navy, and was then tracked by an Tu-142M Bear-F, another maritime recon aircraft of the Indian Navy, until 2 Indian Naval vessels, the INS Tir and INS Godavari were able to capture the absconding ship. Two Sea King Mk.42 choppers, from the one of the naval vessels, dropped depth charges to deter evasion. On the morning of 6 November 1988, the Indian Marine Strike Force (now known as the Marine Commando Force - MARCOS) commandos boarded the vessel and took control without any resistance from the mercenaries. Operation Cactus was concluded without any casualties to India, except for an Indian soldier who shot himself in the foot. The 6 Para Bn. was to remain in Maldives for exactly one year after the coup attempt.

Life in the Bunker

© The Week - 23 August 1999

The 12 Infantry Brigade headquarters in Uri is a three-hour drive from Srinagar. At the check post here we are flagged down by soldiers and asked to step out of the vintage Ambassador we had hired in Srinagar. It is 4:15 p.m. on August 12th in this last town in the Uri sector and we are heading for the forward-most and highly sensitive Army post, Lotus, in this sector on the Line of Control. A soldier with a no-nonsense look asks us sternly, "Kahan se aaye hai? (Where are you from?)" The moment I start off a well-rehearsed soliloquy, a smile spreads across his face. "Ah! THE WEEK, I am Naib Subedar Somaiah," he says nodding his head, and then quickly adds, "follow us." He comes from the 6th Maratha Light Infantry and had been expecting us. Somaiah turns around to walk away but stops to give us instructions.

"We will head to Gal Pool (Gal Bridge) from where you will have to walk 1.5 km to Fat Bridge. This stretch is visible to Pakistani posts because afternoon the sunlight is on our side and they fire on any vehicle movement on this stretch," he cautions us. "Please note that you will be exposed and within their firing range, so keep at least five metres gap when you are walking on this stretch. Any further clarifications will be given at Gal Pool." We get into our car even as five soldiers saddling LMGs and SLRs jump into a Shaktiman truck; Naib Subedar Somaiah gets into the front seat. The drive through the cantonment presents a duality of sights, Army Officers playing golf and soldiers manning gun positions, soldiers bathing near mountain streams. In retrospect, this prepared us to comprehend the reality of the lives of the soldiers and officers in a forward post.


The frontier male: The bunker is his home (left, soldier reading a letter from home) and the trench (right) his workplace as he secures India's border on the Line of Control.

We take in the breathtaking scenery; the mountain road drops sharply on one side into the Jhelum which has been our constant companion. We have been on the road for more than an hour and are high up in the mountains. The only sounds we hear are of rushing white water over boulders and rocks. Suddenly there is a deafening bang. We jerk out of our reverie and the photographer is out of the car in a flash, ready to capture real-life action on reel. We had expected the soldiers to get into position and let go a fusillade of LMG fire. Instead, some of them had a huge grin on their faces and one pointed to the rear tyre of the truck with his SLR. It was a puncture! While the Jawans got down to replacing the wheel, we walked up to a stream flowing down the mountain to freshen up. Though the evenings are long in the mountains at this time of the year, we wanted to be at the Lotus post before dusk to be able to take photographs.

We have a word with Somaiah. "Let's move on in the Amby," he tells his men, and all of us pile into the car and resume the drive. There are myriad questions I want to ask, but hesitate. Finally, I ask haltingly, "If the Pakistanis don't allow movement from Gal Bridge, how are rations and supplies sent up?" Somaiah looks at me blankly and says, "At night." I probe no further and decide that it is better to fire our salvos at Gal Bridge. Fifteen minutes after having resumed the drive we reach Gal Bridge. Subedar Sampat Shinde breaks away from a posse of Army men waiting for us. "Welcome to Gal Bridge," he greets us. Before he can continue I ask him the same question I had asked Somaiah. "Trucks carrying ration and other supplies (ammunition) drive up to Gal Bridge. After 9:00 p.m. they cross the Gal Bridge and Fat Bridge which is the unloading point," Shinde elaborates. "The vehicles move with the lights switched off."

Shinde offers us tea and engages in small talk, but he soon realises that we expect a detailed briefing and abruptly changes the topic of discussion. "Right ahead diagonally across the bridge are two Pakistani posts, Upper Udham and Lower Udham," he informs us. "The sun is towards us, so you can be sure that they (the Pakistanis) are watching you." The bridge is on National Highway 1 Alpha (Jammu-Srinagar highway) which curves to the right after Fat Bridge, then turns left and runs for a few kilometres before going into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir up to Muzzafarabad. In fact, Muzzafarabad is only 40 km from Fat Bridge. In 1947-48 invaders from Pakistan had come by this road up to Srinagar. For the last 10 years it has not been used because any movement on it is blasted off by the Pakistani posts overlooking the road. To avoid the trigger-happy Pakistanis, the Indian Army has cut the mountain to make a passage for vehicle movement to the last village, Kharboza, on this sector. From Kharboza one has to climb up the mountain to reach the Lotus post.

Lotus and Bhayanak are strategically the most important Indian posts in the Uri sector. They are atop the shoulders of two mountains flanking the Jhelum and NH-1A runs high along the river. But the Pakistani posts are at a higher level than the Indian ones, so they are able to dominate movement on the road. However, what is important for India is control over the bridges and NH-1A. "Pakistan has been trying to blast off Gal Bridge for years," says Shinde. "It was shelled from 3 posts, Khanmuri, Upper and Lower Udham, and around 1000 shells have landed in this area." The bridge is under constant surveillance to foil any attempt to blast it with Improvised Explosive Devices or mines. "This bridge is the lifeline of our forward posts and strategically one of the most important," says Shinde. While we are talking to Shinde and the Jawans, the last bus from Baramullah via Uri stopped at the Gal Bridge checkpost. Kashmiris living in Kharboza have to trek for 2 hours from here to reach their homes. Those whose houses are in the upper reaches of the mountain have to trek about an hour longer. They line up at the post for identification and security check; those living in the border villages had to always carry identification cards. As they identify themselves a jawan ticks their names written in the register. A middle-aged woman, Bilquis, gets down wearily from the bus and looks up with surprise when we greet her. We tell her we are journalists and that we want to talk to her. She moves her tired head slowly and whispers dryly, "No."

Shinde walks up to us saying, "You are getting late and they are waiting for you at Fat Bridge." Bilquis smiles at us as we wave a goodbye to Shinde and the jawans. Three Army men accompany us as we walk across Gal Bridge and make our way to Fat Bridge. After walking a few hundred metres we bump into Mohammad Akram. "I am a teacher in the Kharboza middle school," he introduces himself. "Our difficulties are untold and miserable." He rattles off a litany of complaints. "We don't get ration regularly and have to buy provisions in the black market; we face firing every day and yet there is no ambulance or doctor stationed in the village; many women die during childbirth for want of medical attention; there is no water supply & electricity; the first telephone is 15 kilometres away, in Uri town." I tell him that THE WEEK will write about it. He thanks us and walks off to his house 8 km away.

Two young men from 12 Infantry Brigade Signals come abreast and we strike up a conversation. They are going to repair communication lines that were damaged in the shelling. "We will do the job at night to avoid the Pakistani firing," says Signalman Devi Dyal. Many a time they have to do the restoration work even while the shelling is going on. "If we don't, the forward posts will be cut off and we might put our forward forces in great danger," says Devi Dyal. Added Signalman Girish Barua, "I had just completed my training in Goa and was posted here when the seven-day war took place. Now it is quiet because we have given back to them (Pakistan) more than they (Pakistanis) had asked for." Slowly the conversation shifted to thoughts of home. "I have given an application to go home, but the Pakistanis won't let me go home. They will again shell on August 15. Perhaps after that my leave application will be accepted." As we approach a curve, Signalman Dyal suddenly changes tack and says, "This is where they (Pakistanis) fire from their posts most of the time." The curve straightens up and we see Fat Bridge in the backdrop of mountains littered with Pakistani posts. We walk across the bridge one at a time and are greeted by Naib Subedar Dilip K. Tawar.

Dusk is setting and my photographer is worried that he may lose a good photo opportunity. It's 6:45 p.m. and the Fat Bridge post receives a message on the field phone instructing Naib Subedar Tawar to send up the media team quickly. Before we begin our climb to Kharboza, we ask Naib Subedar Tawar the Fat Bridge post's main task. "We distribute supplies to eight forward posts during the night and in the morning we send road-opening parties to clear the road of IEDs and mines placed by militants," he says. Halfway up the climb we stop to take a breather when we hear two distinct series of LMG rounds. "The Pakistanis are saying hello to you," a jawan tells us.

There is a slight drop in temperature, but we are sweating profusely. There is still light on the upper reaches of the mountain, but dusk has set in in the valley. After a five-minute halt we resume the climb. We clamber over a huge rock and spy on Bilquis sitting on a rock, still and tranquil. We greet her and she smiles back. This time she talks without reservation. She says that she had gone to Baramullah to see her four children who are studying there. "I have been staying here for 20 years since we moved from Srinagar, but we have never faced the kind of shelling that Pakistan rained on us. I was having tea at 6 a.m. with my husband on July 30 when the shelling started," she says.


Hard beds, harder battles: Jawans in a 'living bunker' which can accommodate 8 persons.

We reach Kharboza at 7.15 p.m. and are asked to get into a waiting Shaktiman truck. After a nerve-racking 45-minute drive without lights on a rock-strewn road with a steep drop on one side we reach the unloading point of Lotus post. We immediately start the climb to Lotus led by Company Havildar Major Patil. At the post the company commander Major Santosh Kurup of 6th Maratha Light Infantry is at hand to receive us. After asking us to take rest he asks the nursing assistant Nityanand, who had come up with us from Fat Bridge, to dress the wound on his leg caused by a shell splinter.

The dressing done, we wave a goodbye to Nityanand before Kurup guides us to the bunkers through a ridge. "Walk in a file because the slopes on both sides of the ridge are packed with mines," he cautions, but quickly reassures us that "there is nothing to worry because there are wire railings on both sides". The railings are "an indication that both sides of slopes are embedded with mines." For some 20 minutes we stumble along the narrow track in pitch darkness, before entering through a gate into the Army's network of communication trenches and bunkers. We tell Kurup we want to take a look at PoK. He leads us to an Ops Bunk (operations bunker) overlooking the PoK town of Chakhoti. Chakhoti is completely blacked out. "When it's illuminated the town is a spectacular sight from here," says Major Kurup and adds that "the nearest Pakistan post is at a distance of 2 km as the crow flies". This post had faced the major brunt of shelling in the Uri sector. Kurup takes us to a bunker to brief us.

Fierce mountain dogs, trained by the Indian Army, trail us as we make our way to a bunker. "They will tear apart anyone who is in a civilian dress," says Major Kurup. We look behind our shoulders, but can only see brightly lit eyes riding on fierce growls following us. We walk past fighting bunkers containing different kinds of weapon systems. Soldiers move around confidently, while we gingerly pick our way in the darkness. The living bunkers are on the reverse slope of the mountain not visible to the Pakistani post. Here all the bunkers are lighted up by a generator. "You have to finish whatever work you have before 11:30 p.m. after which the generator will be turned off," Major Kurup informs us.

Every Jawan has to do three hours of duty in a day in a fighting bunker. Once the operational duty is over the jawan is busy performing other duties. He may be assigned to the kitchen or for repairing and maintenance of bunkers. The day time is also spent for personnel administration like washing clothes, reading newspapers (which reach 3 days late) or writing letters. They have been staying in the posts for months. "We stay here for six months and get two months of annual leave and 20 days of casual leave," says Sepoy Shapurkar. We reach the guest house (a living bunker for guests) and CHM Patil introduces us to two artillery officers, Major Sudhir Lamba and Captain Bhanwar Singh. A few minutes later Major Kurup gestures us to be quiet and we hear distinct thuds. "Artillery fire?" asks Major Kurup. Major Lamba shakes his head to say no and they conclude that some forward post in Bhayanak is under LMG fire. Lotus itself has four posts, one only 300 metres from the nearest Pakistani post.

Even as we are settling down with a hot cup of tea at around 10 p.m. we hear the trat trat of LMG fire too close for comfort. CHM Patil runs in to tell Major Kurup, "Sir Ops post pe fire aa raha hai. (Sir Ops post is under fire)" Major Kurup asks him "Kitna round mara? (How many rounds have been fired?)" "Teen. (Three)" replies CHM Patil. Major Kurup orders "Paanch round lagao. (Fire five rounds)"


Ready to retaliate: A jawan on duty at the forward Lotus post in the Uri Sector

Led by Major Kurup, we jump into a communication trench and run crouched into the fighting bunker where Sepoy Kailash Madige is firing away in retaliation. "This is peanuts to what normally happens," says Major S. Lamba. "After the shelling they have quietened because they have suffered crippling damage because of our retaliation." In fact, the Jawans on night sentry duty are expected to fire in retaliation without seeking any clearance if the Pakistani post opens small arms fire. To ensure that the Jawan knows what to do when the post is assaulted by indirect fire like shelling, a "stand-two" is held daily at 4:30 a.m. during winter and at 6 a.m. in summer. Every day a "last light" is also held at dusk which is similar to "stand-two." These are drills where all the men rehearse their roles. For instance, which bunker to go in and which weapon system to handle, if the post is threatened. That night the drill was put into practice.

The officers, Major Kurup, Major Lamba and Captain Singh, rush into the operations room to report the situation to their HQ in Uri. Meanwhile the Jawans set up the mortars in a flash & wait for instructions to open fire. Major Lamba concludes that no mortars are being fired and decides not to contact the fire direction centre in Uri. When the forward posts come under artillery fire they ask the FDC about retaliating. Depending on the volume of fire being faced by a post the FDC orders the Indian gun positions to open up at Pakistani targets. We rush through the trenches to take real action photographs. "Click and take cover," shouts Major Kurup as he runs towards a bunker which is being engaged by Pakistani LMG fire. An hour later the firing stops and Kurup comes to the bunker from where Madige was firing his LMG. "This is routine," he says. "On an average 350 shells landed on this post every day between July 30 and August 6." We ask Madige what goes through his mind when he is engaging his targets. "I have nothing else on my mind. My attention is always on the target," he says.

Do they think of home, wife and children? "When we are on duty there is no point of thinking of such things. Anyway what's the point of being emotional when we have taken a vow to fight for our country," he says. Miraculously, though Lotus was hit the most in the Uri sector on those 7 days there were no casualties. "Survival is a matter of luck in such situations," said Sepoy Shapurkar. We get out of the bunker and head for the guest house. It's 12:45 a.m. and there's a slight drizzle outside. The mountains surrounding the post are sombre and dark, and there is an eerie stillness in the air. It is around 2 a.m. when dinner is served. After dinner we go to the living bunkers of the Jawans.

Eight Jawans live in one bunker. We duck into one and find 3 Jawans around a radio listening to BBC. All India Radio, BBC and Pakistan radio are all monitored by the Jawans hungry for news from outside. One of the Jawans has a smile on his lips as he reads a letter from home. "Everything all right." we ask? He nods and says, "My wife wants me to write to her when I would be home." I head towards Sepoy Shapurkar, who is unrolling his sleeping bag, and sit on his wooden bed. He has been in the Army for 3 years. "There are no Sundays or holidays for us and we like it that way. There is so much to do that one doesn't miss home, but we look forward to going home on leave. We do everything from cooking to going out on night patrols and ambush duty," he says.

Madige and Patil join in the conversation. "Being in a post means 24 hours of duty. One has to be alert at all times," he says. The Jawans have a TV, a carrom board and play cards during leisure time. "These moments are rare because the Pakistanis do not sleep well, if they don't fire at us. We fire and make sure that they don't sleep at all," says Patil. I turn around and see the TV switched off. Madige nudges me and says, "The shelling destroyed the satellite dish, you see it tomorrow morning." We wanted to know whether they have written back home after the shelling. "We did not get time to write after the shelling stopped because we had many tasks to accomplish," was the refrain. And how many letters do you get in a month? "Each of us gets eight letters in a month, postage free, through the Army Postal Service," says Shapurkar. "The field post office sends up the letters in the supply truck that is sent to Fat Bridge every night."

We don't realise that we have talked throughout the night. We apologise because the Jawans have had no sleep and have to get ready for "stand-two." They reassure us and tell us that our visit was a welcome break from the daily routine. We step out of their bunker after telling them how much we enjoyed our stay with them. Daylight breaks suddenly in the mountains though the visibility is restricted by fog. At 4:30 a.m. we move to the observation post to look at Chakhoti. As the veil of fog lifts slowly we see a well spread out town stirring itself awake. "Don't thrust your head way out of the bunker because you will be a sitting duck," warns Kurup. We want to stay and take photographs of the town bathed in sunlight, but have to head down by 6:30 a.m. to start our return journey.

We get into a trench for a final tour around the post and see it in daylight. There are freshly-filled shell craters all around the post. "We went through hell," Kurup tells us. All the bunkers except one, the guest house bunker, was hit by the shelling. Trees bore splinter marks and scores of them were felled by shells and mortars. A bunker containing an anti-aircraft gun had collapsed. An armoured piercing device was fired on it to penetrate through the bunker. Subsequently it was targeted by artillery to ensure that shells passed through the hole made by the APD. But the most sobering thought was that we had inflicted a heavy damage on them. "Pakistan has stopped its artillery assault because we inflicted heavy damage on their forward gun positions," says Kurup. As we walk around the post I spot a collapsed bunker sporting a sign saying "AWS." We ask Major Kurup what it means. "That was our advance winter stocking (AWS) store where we stock up supplies like canned food for the six months of winter," he said.

It's 7 a.m. by the time we finish our guided tour and we are already half an hour late. A jawan runs up to tell Kurup that the truck is waiting for us in Kharboza. We take leave of the jawans, Kurup accompanies us. He stops near the Lotus post's green gate and gestures towards a line written in white paint on top of the gate, "Please visit us again." For a post that has hardly seen visitors it was a touching thought. We see Kurup carrying a register under his arms, but we don't ask him what it is for. We are guilty of having grilled him throughout the previous evening & night and in the morning as well. Kurup embraces us before we clamber up into the Shaktiman. He hands the register to us and tells us, "This is a guest register, please write something before you leave." My colleague and I look at each other not knowing how to express our feelings. Finally we write, "To the most courageous men that we have come across...the only words that come to our lips at this moment are Jai Hind!"

Operation Bluestar - 05 June 1984


As a result of the uniqueness of this operation, and the circumstances under which it occurred, the BHARAT RAKSHAK Team would like to clarify the purpose of this article. This article is not against Sikhs or Sikhism. It is purely meant to report the Indian Army's action at the Golden Temple against heavy odds. We do not intend to discuss the causes, the misrules, the politics, the scheming that led to this mess in the first place. This sad event hurt both the Indian Army which went in with a heavy heart and the patriotic community of Sikhs who have given so much to India. "We went inside with humility in our hearts and prayers on our lips." General K. Sundarji


For the last three years Punjab was gripped by terror. The Pakistan-backed terrorist movement had acquired monstrous proportions. Not a day went by without massacres of Hindus, Sikhs, migrant workers and those who opposed the terrorists diktats. From Golden Temple, the most sacred symbol of Sikhism and seat of its religious power, hit lists were drawn up and death squads were dispatched under the guidance of the malevolent figure Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. The chanting of the gurbani was now drowned by the staccato bursts of gunfire. Prominent Sikh figures were assassinated in the Golden Temple when they went to pray there. Pushed to the wall, the Indian Government under Mrs. Indira Gandhi, gave the signal for the most complex and largest anti-terrorist action in the world.

May 30 to June 2

As the death toll from extremist actions climbed, the Government started holding frequent consultations with the Army. On May 30th, units of the 9th Infantry Division based at Meerut, started moving in on to Amritsar and other important towns. Para-Military forces were placed around the temple. The extremists responded with heavy exchanges of fire lasting for hours. Meanwhile newly fortified positions were coming up all around. On June 1st, curfew was clamped and troops and para-militaries fanned along the 12,168 villages of Punjab. The Akalis were threatening a food movement agitation, designed to stop the movement of food grains to other states.

Last minute attempts to get the moderate Akalis to reach an agreement came to a naught. The state was then put under siege. Lt. Gen. Ranjit Singh Dayal, Chief of Staff Western Command was brought in as security advisor to the Punjab Governor. Men of the 12th Bihar Regiment fanned to take positions across the roof tops. Soon they realised that they were vulnerable to grenade attacks from the top of the 18th century towers and water tank. The Biharis were moved to sandbagged windows in vacated houses. Similarly, men from the Garhwal Regiment and The Brigade of The Guards were moved on the other side of the temple. Tanks fanned out to guard sensitive villages to prevent communal killings.

June 3

By now the whole state has been secured. The Biharis watched the area of the clock tower, the main entrance and Brahm Buta Market, the Garhwalis, the Guardsmen and Punjabis overlooked the Chowk Parag Dass, Chhati Khui, Atta Mandi, Baba Atal and Buddhi Lutt Bazaar. The aim was to apply psychological pressure to break the extremists resolve. Officers used loud-hailers to ask them to surrender peacefully. The reply was automatic gun fire. The jawans replied with bursts of automatic fire of their own. The extremists responded with grenade and heavy machine gun fire from the top of water towers.

June 4

It was now evident that this was no rabble army, but a determined insurgent army fired up with religious fervour. It was decided to deal with them effectively. 106mm jeep-mounted RCLs were brought in to fire at the pillboxes. But the concrete pillboxes proved hard to crack and it was decided that stronger firepower was needed. A 3.7" howitzer was brought in. This was a risky move, as the artillery had to be elevated almost vertically and a miss would mean it would land on the top of houses. Thus the two elevated 18th century Bungas on either side of the langar, and the elevated water tank to the rear of the Teja Singh Samunsari Hall were targeted. The firing lasted five minutes, at the end of which the pillboxes were blown to pieces with sandbags and the sniper's bodies flying apart.

Maj. Gen. Brar, Lt. Gen. Sundarji and Gen. Vaidya: Tough Act

By now the senior commanders, Maj. Gen. Brar and Lt. Gen. Sundarji, had realised there was no way to avoid bloodshed. Brar went in and spoke to all the troops. Spending 30 minutes ate each location he explained the difficult and terrible mission at hand. It was not against Sikhs but against terrorists. This was to be a volunteer mission. Not one of the many Sikh officers, JCOs and ORs, opted out. The die was cast for Operation Bluestar. The operation was to be launched in the following phases:

I - Initial Operations:

a) BSF to secure Hotel Temple View by 9 pm, June 5th.
b) CRPF to secure Brahm Boota Akhara by 10 pm, June 5th.

II - Phase 1

a) 10 Guards to secure Northern Wing of the Temple Complex by 1 am, June 6th.
b) 1 Para-Commandos:

1) Secure a foothold in the Akhal Takht at the earliest and not later than 1 am, June 6th.
2) Secure a foothold in Harmandir Sahib with divers and neutralise demolitions, if any, by 11:30 pm, June 5th.

c) Special Frontier Force (SFF) to isolate Akhal Takht and secure western flank by 1 am, June 5th.
d) 26 Madras to secure southern and eastern wings by 1:00 a.m., June 5th.
e) 9 Kumaon to secure Guru Ram Das Serai and SGPC building by 1:00 a.m., June 5th.

III - Phase 2

a) Mopping up all areas secured in Phase 1

IV - Phase 3

a) 9 Kumaon - extend operations to secure the rest of hostel complex.
b) Units of 10 Guards, SFF and 1 Para Cdo to secure rest of Temple Complex and check prisoners.

Others: 12 Bihar was to continue to cordon of the Temple with CRPF units under its command and provide fire support to any target within its span of observation.


Armour: 16 Cavalry

a) Three tanks to enter through the main temple entrance, initially for close protection for 10th Guards but thereafter for support to infantry, paras and SFF with machine gun fire.

b)Three tanks to enter the langar area and provide machine gun fire for the 26 Madras.

Mechanised Infantry: 8 Mech Btn

a) Four BMPs to carry para-commando/divers.

b) Four BMPs and three Skot APCs to support the 26 Madras and Paras.

Reserves: 15 Kumaon - 2 companies as backup for 9th Kumaon and 2 companies for any contingency tasks.

Central Rendezvous and Logistics Control - City Kotwali.

Divisional Tactical HQ - Roof Top outside Temple complex.

H-Hour for operation launch 10 pm, June 5th

One last minute attempt was made to avoid bloodshed. A senior civil administration member and a senior army officer through a public address system asked militants and devotees to come outside. From 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm the attempts continued. Only some 129 devotees many of them very sick were let go. The other hapless ones were held hostage inside, one used as a deterrent to the army.

An aerial drawing of the Golden Temple

  1. Akal Takht
  2. Darshani Deori
  3. Harmandir Sahib
  4. Sarowar
  5. Parikrama
  6. Main Entrance (Clock Tower)
  7. Hotel Temple View
  8. Brahm Buta Akhara
  9. Ramgaria Bungas (Towers)
  10. Ramgaria Bungas (Towers)
  11. Guru Ramdas Langar
  12. Guru Ramdas Serai / Akal Rest house
  13. Water Tank
  14. Seraiside Entrance
  15. Teja Singh Samundari Hall
  16. Manji Sahib Congregation Hall
  17. Guru Nanak Niwas
  18. Baba Atal Gurudwara
  19. Rear Entrance
  20. Sikh History Library

At 7:00 pm troops started moving up to take their appointed positions. From the surrounding balconies, people watched the rumble of trucks and tanks, as night fell and a darkness of gloom settled in the city. In order to prevent a violent backlash there was a total shutdown of he telecommunication and electric system. Punjab was virtually cut off from the rest of India. Initial operations went through as planned with the both the Hotel Temple View and Brahm Boota Akara secured with little resistance. It was however not surprising as they were isolated and only existed to provide early warning of the army's approach. However the battlements on the top of the clock tower were proving harder to knock out and thus H-hour was postponed by half an hour. At 10:30 pm the first phase of Operation Bluestar commenced.


Main Entrance - North Side

At H-hour, the men of 10 Guards, under Lt. Col. Mohammed Israr geared up to maintain their reputation as one of the world's finest troops. At 10:30 pm, the leading elements of the 10 Guards moved through the main gate. Immediately they came under heavy and accurate machine gun fire, cleverly sited through wired enclosures on either side of steps. While some troops broke through the trap and reached the ground floor, others cleared the machine gun nests. For those who made it across the steps, another nightmare awaited. For the couple of minutes they were caught in the open, before taking the cover of the Parikrama but then they were fired upon from the Parikrama itself. 20 soldiers were mowed down in the initial assault. Captain Jasbir Singh Raina, who had three days before done a recce of the temple was severely wounded in the leg by a burst of machine gun fire. This young Sikh officer in tremendous pain refused to evacuate but was eventually ordered to do so. Unfortunately he lost the use of the leg. The troops started inching their way towards the Akal Takht but were fired upon from the southern side.

Meanwhile each room had to be cleared along the Parikrama, many by hand-to-hand combat. Militants would come out and lob a few grenades and rush back in. As troops cleared a room and moved forward they found militants again appearing from the rooms. Unknown to the Army, was an elaborate structure of concealed manhole and underground passages. Meanwhile a machine gun site was fitted about 12 inches from the ground. This low sitting meant even crawling troops were hit. While this was going on, another group of men were preparing with cool and calm, that comes with being an elite unit. These men clad in black dungarees, with bullet proof vests made last minute checks on their specialised weapons. The Indian Army's youngest units - the Para Commandos - was about to be blooded. Their objective was to get a foothold in the Akal Takht and a foothold in Harmandir Sahib with the help of divers.

As they slipped in and made a dash across the Parikrama they met a similar fate to the Guardsmen. The Parikrama was exposed to fire from all four sides. Realising their predicament, the commandos dashed from pillar to pillar trying to cut off the suppressing fire. As they reached the Akhak Takht their misery was compounded by the devastating machine gun fire from the fortified Akal Takht, as well as the Harmandir Sahib and the area of Darshani Deori-Toshakana. Caught between the Sarovar on one side and the fortified concrete building on the other, the commandos had no option but to inch their way by fire and movement. The Guards were asked to bring fire down on the northern side from whatever portions of the northern side they had secured. Meanwhile the senior officers were barking orders to ensure that under no condition was any fire to be returned on Harimandir Sahib. It is incredible that the orders were obeyed. The commanders were to note later that they never expected the troops to obey such orders. The mission of the divers to slip across the Sarovar was aborted as they would have not survived the murderous fire.

By midnight the Guards had secured the eastern half of the North Wing but the Western side was only 75% secured. Due to the severe casualties suffered by the first two companies, the third company was pressed in. Rather than wait for the complete clearance of the ground floor they were asked to secure a foothold on the first and second floor. This was deemed necessary to provide some sort of fire to the bogged para commandos and the SFF. One platoon climbed to the first floor using aluminium ladders. They then moved methodically clearing the rooms one by one by lobbing grenades and spraying it with fire. Another platoon likewise moved from the first to the second floor and started clearing the rooms. Troops moving up from the ground floor were suddenly fired upon by militants through an opening in the wall next to the staircase. Some casualties resulted, but the troops quickly wiped them out. By now 145 militants lay dead along with 19 Guardsmen. By 1 am, the Guards had secured their objective and could now bring covering fire for the beleaguered commandos.

The Para Commandos were still inching their way to the Akal Takht. This five-storied building was heavily fortified with all windows, balconies and other openings closed with brick masonry and sandbags, with small loop holes through which machine guns were being fired and grenades being lobbed. Together with a double storied building, the Nishan Sahib building and the Darshani Deori, they transformed the quadrangle into an ideal killing field. The leading team of para commandos made a desperate dash for the Darshani Deori. The foothold was needed to launch the CS canisters. Of the 35 men, only 12 made it. The remainder, including team leader Major Prakash Chand Katoch, were cut down. The SFF started with 50 men, had already 17 casualties (three dead). With midnight approaching, casualties mounting and the objectives far from being achieved, the situation was desperate.

Serai Entrance - Eastern Side

On the eastern side, the 26 Madras was expected to enter and then sweep the southern side of any resistance. The entry from the southern side was ruled out because of the narrow passage not allowing for entry of any vehicle. But two companies of 9 Garhwal were stealthily brought in, as backup near the Southern entrance. But they had been delayed by a steel gate which was much more formidable then expected. It needed a tank to ram it down. At H-hour, 26 Madras started to move in but came under a withering fire from atop the Langar, Guru Ram Das Serai, SGPC building, Manji Sahib and Gurdwara Baba Atal Rai. In addition the steel gate was proving difficult to break. 30 metres from the gate they came under fire from medium machine guns from the Deori itself. A section went ahead to lob grenades and clear it, but could not succeed. At this moment a sniper's bullet hit Lt. R.P. Ropiera killing him.

As casualties mounted, the CO - Lt. Col. Panikker, changed his original plan quickly and moved some of his troops in an opening on the south west side. This gave some relief but progress was slow as they had to fight it room by room, like the Guardsmen on the other side. At 11 pm, with 26 Madras behind schedule, the Garhwalis were asked to move in from the south side and secure a foothold on either side of Atta Mandi. They could then assist 26 Madras by laying down suppressive fire and allow 15 Kumaon to launch an attack on the Akal Takht from the south west. The committing of the reserves was decided based on the fact that the Guards were now more or less in control of the northern side. Garhwalis moved with little difficulty and by 1:30 am had secured the ground and upper floors of the southern gate. The 15 Kumaon, under Lt. Col. N.C. Pant, was in the process of building to launch an attack on the Akal Takht.

At 2 am the overall picture was as follows:

1. The 10th Guards suffering heavy casualties, had more or less secured the northern wing. Sporadic militant activity from concealed chambers was still a problem.

2. 26 Madras had stalled, but was now gaining ground between the eastern and southern wings. However there was still heavy opposition.

3. 2 companies of 9 Garhwal had secured a foothold in the southern gate.

4. 1 Para Cdo and SFF had bogged down within reach of the Akal Takht.


At this point Brigadier A.K. Dewan, an armoured corps veteran and Dy GOC of 15 Division had come to see if his troops (9 Garhwal) had reached their location. Brar placed Dewan in charge of 26 Madras, 15 Kumaon and the two companies of 9 Garhwal, and created an ad hoc task force. By 2:30 am, Brigadier Dewan took charge of the Garhwalis and Kumaonis while 26 Madras had still to join up. Meanwhile Maj. Gen. (retd.) Shahbeg Singh realising that the only way to win was to hold of the Indian Army till dawn, poured in an even higher volume of fire. Brar now sought Sundarji's permission to use tank fire to neutralise the Akal Takht's concrete defenses. Lt. General Sundarji watching the proceeding from the Divisional Tactical HQ, agreed and relayed the request to New Delhi.

Meanwhile reports started trickling of volatile Sikh masses gathering on the outskirts of Amritsar. In the meantime, in order to help the SFF and Paras, a tank was brought in and asked to switched on its search light. It was hoped that this would temporarily blind the defenders as well as allow the SFF and Paras locate some of the defences. But unfortunately this move failed as the Xenon lamps filament burned out in a couple of minutes. When this happened, another tank was moved in followed by a third. Thus all 3 tanks were in the Parikrama. Meanwhile at 4 am, a Skot APC was brought in. Since it is a wheeled vehicle, the tank had to roll back and forth on the steps and crush the marble slabs. Only then could the APC be safely brought in. The APC was then supposed to take a squad right up to the Akal Takht.

The Guards were asked to fire a few 84mm Carl Gustaf rocket rounds at the Akhal Takht to precede the arrival of the APC. As the APC was approaching the Akal Takht, it was hit by an RPG-7 anti-tank launcher from the Akal Takht. This came as a complete shock as none had been expected. As the APC squad dismounted and retreated, the driver was shot by a sniper. By now dawn was approaching and soon the troops in the Parikrama would become sitting ducks. At 5:10 am the clearance to use tanks came from Delhi. The 3 tanks in the Parikrama, were asked to line up their machine guns on the Akhal Takht. Dewan had meanwhile readied for an assault, and the first Madrassis were trickling having cleared the southern wing.

The first assault was led by 'A' Company of 15 Kumaon. Led by Major B.K. Mishra, a group of men reached the footsteps of Akal Takht, the first group to make contact. As they climbed the stairs, a machine gun opened up from the inside and all seven men were mowed down. More machine gun fire rained from the base and the buildings on both side and the Kumaonis were thrown back with heavy casualties. It was clear that the tank machine gun fire was not enough. The Kumaonis fell back to reorganise, having suffered 7 killed and 23 wounded. 2 companies of 26 Madras were now asked to pick up where the Kumaonis left. In the darkness there was confusion as Kumaonis and Madrassis got mixed up. It was realised that the 2 machine guns at the entrance had to be eliminated for any chance to move in on the Akal Takht. A section of troops were asked to volunteer for this dangerous task. The group was led by Lt. Jyoti Kumar Dang and was formed into two sub groups.

One group led by Subedar K.P. Raman Ravi and 4 ORs was to destroy the bunker covering the staircase by hurling pole charges. Another led by the Lt and4 ORs was to rush the first floor and silence the MG there. As the groups reached the Akal Takht, 8-9 fortified machine guns opened up. Valiantly the two groups moved forward. Subedar Ravi and his men reached the bunker and were about to launch their charges when they were cut down by machine gun fire. Lt. Dang and his men also managed to reach the first floor only to be cut down by machine gun fire. Two of the wounded men managed to crawl back. Lt. Dang, although wounded, tried to pull the wounded Subedar Ravi with him but had to give up due to the heavy fire. The barbarism of the terrorists now came through. Subedar Ravi was dragged back, attached with sticks of dynamite and blown up in full view of the other troops. In spite of this, discipline still held. 26 Madras had suffered 14 dead and 49 wounded.

Progress of Operations in the Golden Temple

It was 7:30 am and daylight was well upon us. The temple complex marble was a sea of olive green and red as dead army personnel and terrorists lay sprawled all over. The Temple of God, was a full fledged fortress. With no other option the Generals authorised the tanks to use their 105mm main guns. The high explosive squash rounds smashed into the Akal Takht throwing up flames and masonry. This subdued the machine guns. Except for a few machine gun bursts it was now calm. All troops were asked to stay in the building they had secured and wait till dusk before launching an attack to clear the Akal Takht of any remaining militants.

In response to reports of angry mobs approaching Amritsar, 15 Infantry Division moved in and sealed of the routes leading to Amritsar. At 11 am a large number of militants rushed out of the Akal Takht on to the Parikrama and fled towards the gates. Most were cut down. Seeing that the troops were not firing on the Harmandir Sahib some of them jumped in the Sarovar and tried to swim towards it. They too were killed. This led to a group of militants emerging from the Akal Takht, waving white flags. Now the Akal Takht suddenly went silent. To the army commanders it indicated that either the top leadership of Bhindranwale, Maj. Gen. (retd.) Shabegh and Amrik Singh had either escaped or been killed.

The Hostel Complex

The main buildings of the Hostel Complex were the Guru Ram Das Langar, Guru Ram Das Serai, Teja Singh Samundari Hall, Guru Nanak Niwas, Manji Sahib and Baba Atal Gurdwara.

1) Guru Ram Das Langar: double storied heavily fortified building commanding a view of the side entrances and open area leading to Parikrama.

2) Guru Ram Das Serai (Akal Takht Rest House): 3 storied building, 228 rooms and seven halls.

3) Teja Singh Samundari: houses the offices of SGPC and occupied by Longowal, Tohra, Ramoowalia and others.

4) Guru Nanak Niwas: 4 storied building with fortified roof tops, 85 rooms and one hall.

As mentioned earlier the operations was in the hands of 9 Kumaon. The operation was to commence at 10 pm, with the simultaneous launch of the Paras and SFF. It had three Vijayantas, six BMPs and three Skot APCs to provide machine gun support. In addition they were to break open the gates to help 26 Madras to enter the eastern gate. On schedule, 9 Kumaon moved into the Guru Ram Das Serai. A company was deployed on each of the floors with the fourth held in reserve. The troops encountered opposition from each of the floors although it was lighter than the temple complex. Many a place hand to hand combat resulted. The troops secured all corners and stairwells, as the rooms were to be cleared later in mopping operations.

By 1:30 a.m. the building was isolated from the rest of the complex. Two companies were left behind to secure it while the rest led by Lt. Col. K. Bhaumik moved to clear the Teja Singh Samundari Hall. Now initial briefings had indicated a large number of devotees and Akali leaders in the building. In the dark Bhaumik realised that it would be impossible to separate the militants. He decided to block the exits and ask them to surrender. The building was isolated by 2:30 am and an emissary sent to establish contact with Tohra and Longowal. Both men had initially vowed to defend the Temple to their death but now agreed to surrender.

Major H.K. Palta with a few men went into meet the leaders which also included Ramoowalia, Akali Dal secretary Gurcharan Singh, SGPC member Bagga Singh and head of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Bibi Amarjit Kaur. The leaders were fearful that they might be targeted and needed protection. As the troops started leading them out a group of 350 devotees rushed out to join them. At this, the terrorists threw hand grenades in the crowd and sniped at them. Total chaos reigned as the Kumaonis tried to control the situations. While Major Palta managed to get Tohra, Longowal and Kaur in an APC, snipers got Gurcharan Singh and Bagga. It was 5 am, when things were under control. About 70 innocent devotees were killed or injured in the indiscriminate fire.

With 1 company left behind, the Kumaonis tackled the Guru Nanak Niwas. The clearing operations continued. Every now and then devotees would try to escape only to have the militants throw grenades at them and open fire. By morning, the Kumaonis had 600 hundred prisoners and controlling them absorbed manpower. By 10 am, the Hostel Complex was fairly secured by 9 Kumaon. There were terrorists holed up in manholes, tunnels and concealed basements. The only are of resistance continued to be the langar. The militants continued to pour machine gun fire and hurl grenades. The Kumaonis fired back with everything at their disposal. At one point the wheat and kerosene caught fire sending huge columns of smoke. Gas cylinder caught fire and exploded intermittently. This fighting however was a rearguard action allowing some 40 Babbar Khalsa activists to escape. By the early hours of the morning on June 7th, the fighting suddenly died down. Perhaps they had learnt the fate of their leaders in the Akal Takht.

Mopping Operations, 7th - 9th June

Now the job of clearing the many rooms, concealed tunnels and basements began. A number of them were captured and handed over to the Punjab Police and intelligence agencies. Meanwhile other units began cleaning the remains of the battle. The snipers continued to take pot shots. When President Zail Singh was visiting the complex a sniper's round hit his bodyguard Lt. Col. M.P. Choudhary of the SFF in the arm. The sniper was spotted on the terrace and was gunned down. After his departure two companies of 10 Dogra joined 9 Kumaon, in the flushing operations. At this point a burst of gunfire from the area around the bunga wounded four soldiers. While the rest fanned out to search for the militants, Captain Ramphal of the Medical Corps and his nursing assistants were attending to the casualties.

Suddenly a group of militants emerged from a concealed tunnel and grabbed Captain Ramphal and 2 soldiers of 10 Dogra. As the alarm was raised, the SFF and 10 Dogra got into position to clear the tunnel. The militants were asked to surrender. Their responses was to ask for the Head Priest Gianin Sahib Singh. When he was brought in the militants demanded that he come in. The scared Head Priest refused to go in and troops got ready to blast in. A demolition party crawled up and fixed explosives to the grill at the entrance. When it was blown up the SFF charged in and in the firefight, killed 7 militants inside only to find that the three soldiers had been executed in a inhumane manner. Their limbs had been chopped of. Search revealed cash, weapons and survival rations stashed away.

Behind the Akhal Takht, a lone militant jumped down and tried to make a getaway. He was caught and his turban fell away to reveal a wad of currency notes. Further interrogation revealed him to be one of many criminal elements which had taken refuge in the temple. He further indicated that many others were dumping valuables in the well behind during the course of the fighting. 12th Bihar and the Engineers lowered an anchor in the well. The first attempt pulled up 19 weapons and cash. As naval divers joined the search it revealed Rs.20 lakhs in cash sealed in trunks, gold and silver biscuits, transmitters and weapons and ammunition. A weapons manufacturing unit was discovered in a room at the top of the Deori with grenades, country pistols and rifles in various positions of manufacture. All this added to the ability to convert the holy Golden Temple into an armed fortress.

An assortment of weapons, ammunition and improvised country-made grenades which formed part of the militant's armoury.

The army suffered 83 dead and 248 wounded. A total of 492 terrorists and others were killed and 86 wounded. About 1500 people were captured, including a number of Pakistanis. Thus ended the Indian Army's toughest operation. However a number of terrorists had fled to the countryside and the army had to launch Operation Metal to move around Punjab. These operations were relatively minor. The operations indicated the need for a specialised unit for such operations and led to the formation of the National Security Guards. Thus the next time around it was the NSG which was involved in Operation Black Thunder I and II at the Golden Temple along with the Punjab Police. It would take a few more years before a reinvigorated Punjab Police led by K.P.S. Gill and backed by the army, would break the back of the terrorist movement.

Sources: Extremely grateful to the following sources;

1. Crackdown in Punjab - Operation Bluestar, India Today, 30 June 1984
2. Night Of Blood - Operation Bluestar, India Today, 15 August 1984
3. Operation Bluestar: The True Story by Maj. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar (retd.)

Battle of Guts and Wits

  © The Week - 02 November 1997


As the inky blackness of night spread over the Pir Panjal mountains in Western Kashmir, a large column of commandos moved stealthily over the forbidding terrain that in daylight would have daunted many a stout heart. The commandos belonged to a Special Forces battalion under the command of Colonel V.N. Prasad, an experienced paratrooper. Theirs was a daredevil mission to destroy a terrorist camp tucked away in the folds of the Pir Panjal mountains and presumably inhabited by 10 well-armed foreign mercenaries. These mercenaries were among those lured by the Pakistani intelligence apparatus from some of the war-ravaged Islamic countries for infiltrating Kashmir and unleashing terror on the local people. The odds were stacked against the commandos, and even the elements appeared to be in a foul mood on 18 July 1997, a blanket of fog hung thick despite chilling winds.

The commandos, most of whom had no natural aptitude for mountaineering, had a long trek ahead in the thick fog, lugging their weapons and equipment at an altitude of 13,000 feet. They had not undergone a second stage acclimatisation, which is essential for plainsmen climbing to the rarefied heights over 10,000 feet. Time spent on that would have meant loss of the surprise element and, ultimately, the failure of their operation; even a vague hint of the Army presence would have sent the mercenaries scurrying into the pine forest. The operation, code-named Kuvalaya after the mythical king Shatrujeet's winged steed, had been conceived by Major General Shantanou Choudhary, one of the frontline Generals leading the Army against the militants in Kashmir. Once he confirmed that the terrorists were hiding in a meadow near Mangnari, a hamlet situated midway down the mountain side, General Choudhary decided that surprise was the key to success.

And for accomplishing the unexpected he did not look beyond the Special Forces battalion commanded by Colonel Prasad. A few years ago it had played a key role in warding off a seaborne terrorist threat to the Republic of Maldives and capturing the masterminds of the operation. The secret nature of Operation Kuvalaya was its main challenge. It had to be visualised entirely on maps, right from choosing the routes, to identifying the terrorists' escape avenues, placing an outer cordon of the area, laying ambushes, organising searches and rushing the assault teams. It was risky since maps, though periodically updated, do not always mirror reality. Moving wraith-like over steep gradients, razor-edged ridges, narrow defiles and thick pine forests, the 250 commandos reached their assigned locations at 3 a.m. and set out to cordon the target area. The perimeter of the area, at whose centre lay the terrorist camp, was 25 km long. The cordon comprised six sectors, each under an Officer. Before dawn the next day three assault teams were to move in swiftly, probing the mountainside for the hideout.

Precision was imperative as they were operating in darkness. Meanwhile in the hideout, Ahmed Hassan, a Pakistani from Karachi, and his gang slept peacefully. Trained by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (IS), Hassan was an instructor in sabotage and expert in radio communications & demolitions. A deputy commander of Afghanistani Hizbul Mujahideen, his assignment was to smuggle in several young Afghan nationals who would unleash violence in Jammu & Kashmir during the Independence golden jubilee celebrations. But little did the communications expert know that all his transmissions were being intercepted by General Choudhary's units. The Signallers had even obtained a positive fix on the location of Hassan's transmitter. The transmissions were to his boss, the supreme commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, who responded to the code number 77 on the terrorist radio net. Along with Hassan were four Afghans, an ISI trainee called Mohammed Hassan and a local guide Zubaida Sultan. They were waiting for another batch of Afghans who were to bring in more explosives and weapons. Hassan had even been promised a portable missile launcher by his ISI controller with code No. 54.

Neither the Afghans nor the weapons arrived. The missile launcher was captured by a Rajput battalion, while the Afghans were ambushed by the Madras Regiment. By the time Ahmed Hassan had unzipped himself out of his US Army sleeping bag obtained from Rawalpindi, Colonel V.N. Prasad and his men had effectively sealed the camp. Except two litres of water and a packet of shakker para & namkeen para, the men carried nothing but weapons. With the cordon in place Colonel Prasad sent out his Company Commander Major Anil Gorshi for a final inspection, while assault team leaders discussed the finer details of their operation. For Major Chowgule, the senior-most of Colonel Prasad's team leaders, it was just another mission. For the other two, 2nd Lt. P.S. Bajwa and 2nd Lt. M.P. Singh, it was the first real action. What the youngsters lacked in experience they made up with courage and confidence.

Instead of blundering blindly through the opaque fog, Colonel V.N. Prasad decided to wait a while before letting the assault teams to move in. Each team had to take a separate route, choosing a stream bed or a mountain spur for maintaining direction, while converging on the terrorist camp. When the fog lifted momentarily at 7:30 a.m. the assault teams moved out, picking their way stealthily on the rocky stream beds. A clink of metal, a dislodged pebble rolling down or the crunch of a boot would have been enough to jeopardise the operation. There was one serious problem; the risk of undertaking multi-pronged assaults on unidentified targets when visibility is poor. Besides the enemy hiding behind the opaque mist, the teams risked getting caught in their own cross-fire. Zubaida was the first to wake up in the hideout, which was two caves measuring ~90 sq. ft. The small entrance was nicely concealed by a big boulder. Zubaida had known about that hideout from the time when he used to guide opium smugglers from Pakistan, long before terrorism became financially attractive.

He woke up one of the Afghans, and together they crawled out into the woods for their morning ablutions. They were looking for a place to squat when 2nd Lt. Singh's team spotted them. For a moment no one moved. If the terrorists were shocked to find their meadow swarming with soldiers, the commandos least expected to confront the enemies clutching their pyjamas at their knees. Reacting quickly, the commandos shouted to them to identify themselves, but the fog that descended on the scene came to the terrorists' rescue. Pulling the Afghan with him Zubaida darted towards the hideout and disappeared in the caves before the soldiers opened fire. The sound of the gunfire alerted Ahmed Hassan. Armed with AK-47s and a rocket launcher he and two others emerged from the cave and took up vantage position that Ahmed had selected on his first visit for just such an eventuality. By now 2nd Lt. Singh's team reached the open meadow below the hideout only to be greeted by a hail of bullets from the waiting terrorists. Even as they scurried for cover behind small rocks, Colonel Prasad called in the other two teams and moved ahead with Naik Ajith Kumar who was carrying a rocket launcher. In the gun battle that followed, one Afghan who tried to slip away was shot dead. The firing went on for over an hour, with neither side wresting an advantage.

It was then that 2nd Lt. Bajwa salvaged the situation. He crawled up towards the entrance of the hideout and shot one of the Afghans whose gunfire had kept the troops at bay. Ahmed Hassan's Jihad ended with a 9mm bullet from a soldier's gun. Almost at the same time Major Chowgule's team coming in from the northeast shot another Afghan hiding among the boulders. This left just Zubaida, Mohammed Hassan and two Afghans trapped inside the cave. 2nd Lt. Bajwa, returning to his earlier position, directed Naik Ajit Kumar to aim the rocket launcher at the entrance of the cave. With the cave opened up, 2nd Lt. Bajwa crawled up to the entrance again and shot another AK-47 wielding terrorist. He then waited as Havildar Kuldip Singh fired several rifle grenades from his automatic grenade launcher to finish off the rest. But that was not be; the terrorists had retreated to the safety of the inner cave. The quick-thinking 2nd Lt. Bajwa then, drawing on a seemingly endless reserve of raw courage, ducked into the cave, pulled out the pin of a hand-grenade and hurled it into the cave after holding it for three seconds, hand-grenades explode four seconds after the pin is pulled out. He made sure that the terrorists did not kick or hurl it back, and marked a rather neat finish to the operation

The Sumdorong Chu Incident


The Sino-Indian border has been a long and vexed issue and its role in the 1962 conflict needs no elaboration. Barring an armed clash at Nathu La in eastern Sikkim in 1967, the border between India and China (Tibet) – and specifically the ill-defined Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh/Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh - had remained free of any major incidents through the '70s and the early '80s. While relations between the countries remained frosty for the most part, official statements from Beijing and New Delhi professed a desire to solve the border tangle peacefully through mutual consultations. Beginning in 1981, officials from both countries held yearly talks on the border issue and these talks continued till 1989 [1]. The 7th round of border talks held in July 1986 was overshadowed by reports in the Indian media of Chinese incursions into the Sumdorong Chu valley in Arunachal Pradesh. This was followed by reports of large-scale troop movements on both sides of the border in early 1987, and grave concerns about a possible military clash over the border. While this incident raised the temperature in Delhi and Beijing for a while, it soon faded from the headlines, overtaken by other events in both sides of the border - Operation Brasstacks, Rajiv Gandhi's visit to China in 1988, and the Tianamen Square incident in 1989 among others.

This article is an attempt to piece together the events that occurred, beginning in the summer of 1986 at the Sumdorong Chu valley. A description of the initial incident is followed by the subsequent escalation in tension in early 1987 and the diplomatic steps taken to cool those tensions. In the concluding section, some speculations concerning the motives behind the actions of the two countries are examined.

The Incident: June - October 1986

Sumdorong Chu (S-C) - referred to as Sangduoluo He in the Chinese media - is a rivulet flowing north-south in the Thag La triangle, bounded by Bhutan in the west and the Thag La ridge to the north. On June 26, 1986, the Government of India (GoI) lodged a formal protest with Beijing against intrusions in this region by Chinese troops, that had occurred beginning on June 16. Beijing denied any such intrusions and maintained that its troops were in a location north of the McMahon Line (ML), while the official Indian stance was that the Chinese troops had intruded south of the ML. (The actual region of the incursion has been described as the Thandrong pasture on the banks of the S-C, and also as the Wangdung region - which comes under the Zimithang circle of Tawang district [2]). This region has been located to the north of the ML by outside sources [3,4], as also by independent Indian observers [5,6].

This region falls along a traditional route from Lhasa to Tawang - and from there to the Brahmaputra valley - and the nearby Thag La ridge had witnessed serious clashes in the '62 conflict. The area had been considered a neutral area by both sides since 1962/63 [5,6] and had not been monitored by India between 1977 and 1980 [4]. However with the improvement of logistics on the Indian side, the Indian Army sought to reinforce and strengthen forward areas in Arunachal Pradesh in the early '80s. Patrols resumed in 1981 and by the summer of 1984 India had established an observation post on the bank of S-C [5,6] – which apparently afforded a view of Chinese positions on the other side of Thag La [3]. This post was manned by personnel of the Special Security Bureau (SSB) through the summer and vacated in the winter. In June of 1986, when a patrol from the 12th Assam Regiment returned to the area, it found a sizable number of Chinese already present, engaged in constructing permanent structures [2,8].

Initial reports put the number of Chinese at 40 - some of them armed and in uniform - who were soon reinforced to a total strength of about 200 men. Statements by Indian ministers in the Parliament described the intrusion as being between 1-2 km deep as the crow flies, supplied by mules along a 7 km trail [2]. By August the Chinese had constructed a helipad and began supplying their troops by air. Regarding the Chinese presence as a fait accompli and to prevent further 'nibbling', the Indian Army began aggressive patrolling across Arunachal Pradesh at other vulnerable areas. In September ’86 – while under pressure from both the public and opposition MPs to adopt a strong posture - the GoI sought a way out of the crisis by suggesting that if the Chinese withdrew in the coming winter, India would not re-occupy the area in the following summer. This offer was rejected by China whose troops were by now prepared to stay through the winter. By September-October, an entire Indian Army brigade of the 5th Mtn. Division was airlifted to Zimithang, a helipad very close to the S-C valley. Referred to as Operation Falcon [7,9], this involved the occupation of ridges overlooking the S-C valley, including Langrola and the Hathung La ridge across the Namka Chu rivulet. (These ridges are to the south of Thag La.)

Escalation: October '86 - May '87

In October, the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping warned N.Delhi that if it continued nibbling across the border, China would have to "teach India a lesson" [10]. This threat – identical to that made to Vietnam in 1979 - was conveyed by the US Defense Secretary during a stopover in N.Delhi from Beijing. The rise in tensions was not helped, when in December 1986, Arunachal Pradesh was made a full state of the Indian Union. This drew a chorus of protests from across the border and Indian reactions that any change in Arunachal Pradesh’s administrative status was an internal matter. The spring and summer of 1987 saw media reports of heavy troop movements on both sides of the border and the very real possibility of a serious military clash [11,12,13]. Deng Xiaoping's earlier warning was conveyed again on March - this time by the US Secretary of State. By spring '87, Indian and Chinese camps were right next to each other in the S-C valley [3,10].

China – which has always had a large military presence in Tibet since its occupation – was said to have moved in 20,000 troops from the "53rd Army Corps in Chengdu and the 13th Army in Lanzhou" [23] by early 1987 along with heavy artillery and helicopters. By early April, it had moved 8 divisions to eastern Tibet as a prelude to possible belligerent action [6].

Troop reinforcements on the Indian side – which had begun with Operation Falcon in late 1986 – continued through early ’87 under a massive air-land exercise. Titled Exercise Chequerboard, it involved 10 divisions of the Army and several squadrons of the IAF and redeployment of troops at several places in the North-East. The Indian Army moved 3 divisions to positions around Wangdung [14], where they were supplied and maintained solely by air. These troop reinforcements were over and above the 50,000 troops already present across Arunachal Pradesh [11].

Denouement: May '87 - present

Rising tensions were lowered after a visit to China by the Indian External Affairs Minister in May 1987, where both sides reaffirmed their desire to continue talks on the border issue and to cool things down on the border. In August '87, Indian and Chinese troops moved their respective posts slightly apart in the S-C valley, after a meeting of the field commanders. During the 8th round of border talks on November '87, it was decided to upgrade the talks from the bureaucratic to the political level. Following Rajiv Gandhi's visit to China in 1988, a Joint Working Group (JWG) was set up to discuss, among other things, the alignment of the LAC [15]. In 1993, an agreement was inked between the foreign ministers of the two countries on the reduction of troops along the LAC. It was decided to pull back from respective forward check posts in the S-C valley from a situation of "close confrontation" and in 1994, the Indian MEA described the situation as one of "close proximity" where the respective posts were 50-100 yards apart [16]. Following the JWG meeting on April 1995, the two sides agreed to a simultaneous withdrawal of their troops from the four border posts - two Indian and two Chinese - in the S-C valley [3,15,17]. As of June 1999, the valley was unoccupied by either army, and their respective posts in the area were close to a kilometre apart [18].


The initial incident at S-C valley, viz. the establishment of a SSB post in the summer of 1985, can be considered to be a consequence of the uncertain and disputed nature of the LAC. The Indian side has been criticized by some [5] for being the first to intrude in a neutral area, and the subsequent events characterized as a Chinese reaction to India's 'forward policy' in the early '80s.

On the other hand, there is no unanimity as to the reason an isolated incident on the border should have led to such an increase in tension in early 1987. Prevailing international and domestic developments have been suggested as possible explanations. The troop reinforcements on the Indian side in the later months - during Operation Falcon, leading on to Exercise Chequerboard - have been thought by some to be an Indian reaction to growing Sino-Soviet rapprochement in 1986 [1,11]. The Indian reactions were apparently to test the extent of normalization in relations between China and the USSR and its effect on the Indo-Soviet relations. Reiterating his analysis of the 1962 conflict, Maxwell holds India solely responsible for the escalation [12], claiming the incident to be Rajiv Gandhi's method of provoking a confrontation with China in order to unite the nation and facilitate the imposition of an internal emergency. Regardless of the plausibility of some the explanations offered, many observers are agreed on the effect of the robust military moves on the Indian side. It is believed that the Indian Army used the events through 1986/87 both as an effective palliative for the bitter events of 1962, and to demonstrate the difference in the ground situation since that time, to the Chinese military [6,19,20,21].

On Chinese motivations behind the escalation, the consensus view seems to be that it was part of a strategy of indicating that the border issue in the Eastern sector was far from settled. While the early border talks had focussed mainly on the Aksai Chin region and not on the Eastern sector, the mid-'80s saw a change in Chinese attitude. The Chinese strategy changed to linking the border issues in the Eastern and Western sector, and demanding matching concessions in the Eastern sector for any Chinese withdrawals in Aksai Chin/Ladakh, in contrast to the Indian position that the two sectors be considered separately. In this view, a Chinese reluctance to react to a strong Indian military presence near or over the ML would weaken their negotiating position.

While an exchange of maps of the LAC would be an essential step towards the avoidance of such incidents, and eventually to a resolution of the boundary dispute, there has been a marked Chinese reluctance to comply with this, even after several years into the multi-level border talks [22]. There have been some reports following President Narayanan’s recent visit to China, of the increasing likelihood of such an exchange, particularly in the "middle sector" (Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh) [24,25]. It remains to be seen if such an event comes to pass.


  1. "Sino-Indian Border Talks 1981-1989: A View from New Delhi", Sumit Ganguly, Asian Survey, Vol.29, n.12, December 1989.
  2. China Report , compilation of news reports in Vol. 23, Nos. 1 & 3, 1987, published by The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, N.Delhi.
  3. "Sino-Indian Border Dispute Reconsidered", Neville Maxwell, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. 34, No. 15, April 10-16, 1999.
  1. The Economist, May 23, 1987. The S-C valley "seemed to lie to the north of the McMahon line; but is south of the highest ridge in the area, and the McMahon line is meant to follow the highest points". The highest ridge in the area is the Thag La (claimed by India to be on the border), which is actually to the north of the McMahon Line as drawn on a map.
  2. Gopal Ji Malaviya in "Indian and Chinese Foreign Policies in Perspective", edited by Surjit Man Singh, 1998, Radiant Publishers, N.Delhi.
  3. The Militarization of Mother India, Ravi Rikhye, 1990, Chanakya Pub. N.Delhi.
  4. "George in the China Shop", India Today, May 18, 1998 -
  5. "Midstream: George and the Dragon", Rakshat Puri, The Hindustan Times, April 22, 1998
  6. "Warrior as Scholar", India Today, February 22, 1999 -
  7. "China and India: Moving beyond Confrontation", Surjit Mansingh and Steven Levine, Problems of Communism, Vol. 38, no. 2-3, Mar-June 1989.
  8. "Eye-witness in Tibet", Far Eastern Economic Review, June 4, 1987.
  9. "Towards India’s Second China War?", Neville Maxwell, South, May 1987.
  10. "The Dragon’s Teeth", India Today, August 15, 1987.
  11. "Disputed Legacy", India Today, May 15, 1988.
  12. "Sino-Indian CBMs: Problems and Prospects",Swaran Singh, Strategic Analysis, July 1997, Vol.20, n.4
  13. "Parliament and Foreign Policy - Reflections on India-China Relations", Naheed Murtaza, 1998, Cadplan Pub., N.Delhi.
  14. Reuters report on August 21, 1995 -
  15. "A Border which is Quiet and Tension Free", Barun Das Gupta, The Hindu, June 7, 1999
  16. "Getting Tough With China: Negotiating Equitable, Not "Equal" Security", Bharat Karnad, Strategic Analysis, January 1998, Vol. 21, n.10
  17. "China's Long March to World Power Status: Strategic Challenge for India", Gurmeet Kanwal, Strategic Analysis, February 1999, Vol. 22, n.11
  18. "The China Syndrome", The Hindustan Times, June 6, 1999
  19. "Time to Draw the Line", Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, November 17, 1999
  20. Quoted portion taken from [10]. However, most reports on the PLA assign the 13th Group Army to the Chengdu Military Region, and there is no mention of a 53rd Group Army (or Corps) in the PLA.
  21. "Sino-Indian JWG to meet often", The Hindu, July 23, 2000
  22. "Sino-Indian Border Talks Next Week", The Hindu, November 11, 2000

Manning the Siachen Glacier

The Siachen Glacier is a mighty river of ice that brings forth many descriptions. Some authors characterize this place as the 'roof the world', and yet others call it the 'third pole'. Both descriptions are quite apt, the glacier is at least 15,000 feet above sea level, and peaks lining the glacier rise comfortably to over 23,000 feet. Biting winds routinely sweep through the region. Temperatures here frequently drop to –40°C. The glacier highlights nature's dual personality - majestic beauty and sheer brutality. This region is home to some of the least explored parts of the Himalayan mountain range. Most people would be hard put to explain a mountaineer's desire to venture into this frigid and unforgiving land, so it is perhaps even more difficult to explain why a battle rages there.

For the past 19 years, the Indian Army has been engaged in a frigid battle to protect the region from Pakistan's territorial aggression and keep it free of interference. The Indian Army's presence on the Siachen is frequently viewed from under the rubric of national security, all manner of explanations are extended and all sorts of significance are attached to this task. Although experts have written several books on the topic of the Siachen Glacier conflict, reading them is difficult even for the most seasoned observers. The result is a vague public understanding of the issues underlying the Siachen Glacier conflict. The Bharat Rakshak Forum offered a unique opportunity to discuss the issue of 'Manning the Siachen Glacier' on a recent thread. Several forum members weighed in with their views on the topic.  With great enthusiasm, the utility and futility of the Siachen Glacier conflict were hotly debated. The result was a thread regarded by several forum members as one of the best discussions on the BR Forum.

In this article, we will try to sketch out the salient features of that discussion. Every attempt is made to source a view to a particular participant in the discussion. We have taken the liberty of assuming that the members are who they claim to be and no effort is being made to ascertain their true profession and/or identity. We have attempted to minimize redundancy by posting select views. Readers can get in touch with the members by contacting them on the forum.  However, we cannot guarantee a response. We dedicate this article to those brave men and women of the Indian Army who have scaled the 'roof of the world' to guard India's soaring borders.

Quartered in snow,

Silent to remain,

When the bugle calls,

They shall rise and march again.

A brief history of the conflict

Pavan Nair initiated his discussion with the comment that:

"Gen Hoon then commanding 15 Corps says in his book published in 2000 that Khardung La and Leh would have been threatened had we not done so (i.e. taken the glacier). Gen Chibber-the then Army Commander says that Pakistan would have occupied Saltoro (a ridge west of the glacier) in the summer of '84 - for which we now know they had the plans."

The forum member Bishwa clarified that the Indian Army's move into the region was not without provocation,

"India did not initially occupy the ridgeline. It dropped troops on the 2 passes initially to block entry to the glacier from POK side which was legitimate. It tried to send troops to a third – Gyong La- by foot but failed. The race to move up vertically on the ridgelines started when the PA was not able to dislodge the Indian Army and tried to jockey for position IMHO. They lost out is their problem."

Citing excerpts from books by Gen. Chibber of the Indian Army and Gen. Jahan Dad Khan of the Pakistan Army, Bishwa categorically dismissed any suggestion that the Indian troops had illegally occupied the area.

"1. The first party to occupy Bilafond La (pass) with military force was Pakistan in 1983: This is from the book by Gen Jahan Dad Khan then commander 10 Corps - "Pakistan Leadership Challenges"

When the SSG company got across Bilafond Pass (in 1983), the helicopter pilot reported an Indian location one thousand yards ahead in the Siachen Area. After seeing our helicopter, the Indian troops, comprising Ladakh Scouts, left their location in a great hurry abandoning all their rations and tentage. The SSG Company stayed in this area for ten days but was ordered to withdraw in the first week of September 1983 as it had started snowing and the company did not have equipment for survival in the winter season under thirty to forty feet of snow, which is the normal snow range. I believe the scout who warned the Indian location of the approaching SSGs was awarded an Ashok Chakra.

2. From The Indian point of view this triggered action: This is what Lt. Gen M.L. Chibber who was Army Commander North has to say on this incident,

The problem precipitated on 21st August 1983 when a protest note from Northern Sector Commander of Pakistan was handed over to his counterpart in Kargil stating that Line of Control joins with the Karakoram Pass, also that all the area West of this extended line belongs to Pakistan. When Army Headquarters saw this and also got information that Pakistan troops had occupied Bilafond Pass, they ordered Northern Command to prevent the occupation of the Glacier area by Pakistan during the mountaineering season in 1984.

3. The fact of the matter is in 1984 the Pakistanis lost out due to poor intelligence: This is what Lt. Gen Jahan Dad Khan, Corp Commander 10th Corps, has to say on the matter

The withdrawal of the SSG company was followed by many meetings in the GHQ to decide our plan of action for the summer of 1984 when the Indians were bound to come in greater numbers. Also taken into consideration was the fact that whoever succeeded in occupying the passes first would be able to hold them, as it was impossible to dislodge them from these positions due to the terrain and the conditions. As Corps Commander, I gave the following assessment to the GHQ:

Next year (1984), India is most likely to pre-empt the occupation of the main passes of Baltoro Ridge with two-battalion strength for occupation and a third battalion as reserve. It would need another brigade to provide them with logistic support. Maximum helicopter force will have to be utilized for logistic support. Their air force will be available for air cover and airdrop of supplies/equipment. We will need a brigade group with a battalion plus to occupy these passes and the rest of the force to provide relief and logistic support. We would also need maximum porter force to carry supplies and ammunition from Goma to the glacier position. All our helicopters force, both Alouette and Puma, will have to be mobilized for recce and logistic cover. The PAF has to stand-by to provide air cover. I had also cautioned GHQ that this operation will be very costly in logistic support. Our Military Intelligence must be alerted to keep us informed of all enemy movements beyond Leh to forestall their occupation of the glacier area.

A meeting was held in December 1983, in the GHQ Operation Room under the chairmanship of President General Zia ul Haq. After listening to the 10 Corps Plan, the COAS thought that the operation on both sides would be on a limited scale, involving not more than a brigade on the Indian side and a battalion on Pakistan's side. The COAS had obviously underestimated the quantum of force required by both sides. He had also under-estimated the logistic problem of this operation as presented to him by the logistic staff of the GHQ. In this meeting, it was decided to incorporate the PAF in this operation and Ma. Gen. Pir Dad Khan (Commander of the Northern Areas) was given the task of pre-empting occupation of the passes, reaching there not before May 1984, as weather conditions before that period would not allow the use of helicopters and the PAF. This decision was to be approved by Defence Coordination Committee (DCC) attended by Chairman Joint Staffs Committee and all service chiefs. So preparatory work was started on the procurement of high altitude equipment and clothing, improvement of roads and tracks, recruitment of porters etc. All these preparations were to be completed by April 1984.

I handed over command of the 10 Corps to Lieutenant-General Zahid Ali Akbar Khan on 31st March 1984 after completing my tenure of four years. I gave him a detailed briefing about this operational plan and particularly stressed the importance of Intelligence keeping a watch on Indian moves beyond Leh. However, I learned later that when our troops approached the Baltoro Ridge passes during the third week of May 1984, the Indians were already in occupation of Gyong Pass in the south, strategically important because it could interfere with the enemy's line of logistic support. As it was impossible to dislodge the Indians, we had no option but to occupy the next highest feature opposite them. This was a great setback for Pakistan, although all plans, including the timing of troop movement, had been laid down at the highest level. We had obviously failed to appreciate the timing of the Indian move and our intelligence agencies had failed to detect the movement of a brigade-size force in this area. It was learnt that the Indians had moved up their troops from Leh in the second half of April 1984.

After the occupation of these positions by both sides, opposite each other, the border became active. Both sides started inducting heavy weapons, including artillery guns, rocket launchers, and anti-aircraft missiles. Fire duels, patrol clashes, and engagement of helicopters through anti-aircraft guns became a daily affair. Both sides also brought up more troops to counter each other. Since then, there has been no substantial change in the relative position of both sides. It was in the winter of 1984 that the Pakistani troops first experienced operating at that altitude. But the troops were provided high altitude equipment and there was no abnormal loss of life due to weather conditions. Pakistan was also able to induce French Lama Helicopters to make up for our disadvantage vis-à-vis the Indians.

4. Now what were the Ladakh Scouts doing there? Well, this is what Lt Gen ML Chibber has to say,

In 1978, when I was DMO we got information about a foreign expedition from the Pakistan side visiting the Siachen Glacier. The Line of Control terminates at NJ 9842. The Glaciers are not demarcated. We sent a patrol next year and it was confirmed that Japanese expeditions had visited the Siachen Glacier. So routine patrolling started."

This should give the readers a real background of what happened in 1983-1984. It will show that India did not act unilaterally."

This closed the discussion on the matter of 'who started this war' on the Siachen Glacier. After this, the discussion focused on other aspects of Pavan Nair's first post.

Image 1 : Map of the Siachen Glacier Conflict Zone

Pavan Nair had asserted that the Pakistani threat might have been misread; he posed the following questions,

"The issue is that was there ever a real threat to Leh or Khardung La? Could this threat have been avoided by keeping a strong reserve in the Nubra Valley rather than occupying punishing heights (of the Saltoro Range)? Have we not made our point that the line runs along Saltoro and not to Karakoram Pass from NJ9842? Should not the military take up this issue with the political leadership and arrange a honourable pull out from Saltoro?"

Here Pavan Nair highlighted a common motif presented in discussions on the Siachen Glacier conflict; i.e. what is the exact strategic significance of the glacier? Moreover, could it be handled differently?

In a reply to this, participants Praneet N, Y I Patel, and Ray responded with the following points;

1) Keeping the Pakistanis off Siachen is critical to maintaining the security of the Nubra Valley. If the Pakistanis were to somehow secure the village of Dzingrulma at the snout of the glacier, they would be able to put the entire Nubra Valley within artillery range.

2) Holding the Saltoro Ridge on the west of the Siachen Glacier opens up the possibility of interdicting any Pakistani moves towards the Indian town of Chalunkha. The town of Chalunkha has very little depth due to its geography on the Indian side; the loss of Chalunkha would impose immense costs on the main lines of communication in the region.

3) By deflecting the threat to Chalunkha and Dzingrulma, we protect key passes (the Khardung Pass and the Saser Pass) in the region and close the gap that existed between the Shyok and Nubra rivers. This is essential to preserving the security of Leh and other key military positions along the Northern end of the Line of Actual Control with China.

In another post, Y I Patel added another aspect to the strategic significance of Siachen:

"The Saltoro Ridge, simply put, acts as the wedge that keeps India's door to Central Asia open. It may be pertinent to note here that during Mughal times Surat and Bharuch were among India's richest cities, thanks to the trade between India and Arabia. The prosperity was further boosted by commerce resulting from the Silk Route paths that passed over the Himalayas and connected China and Central Asia to the Middle East via India. The glory of Bharuch port is but a memory, but geographical verities remain constant with time. It is still shorter, for example, to get to Urmuqi (the capital of Chinese Xinjiang province) from Kandla rather than Hong Kong."

"There are Buddha statues in Mongolia, even in Siberia. They bear witness to the Indian cultural values that were transmitted to the remote reaches of Central Asia by Indian traders and monks. The geography remains the same, and those ancient routes can now be transformed to interstate highways and broad gauge railways."

"It is in my appreciation of the importance of Saser and Karakoram passes. I do not see them as letting China in; I see them as letting India out to China and through it to the other countries of Central Asia. That thought may have been too "visionary" just a few months ago, but if Nathu La will see traders plying their wares to Tibet again, can Karakoram La be far behind? This, ultimately, is what India's young sons are shedding blood in Siachen for. ....But portraying the Battle for Karakoram as a senseless or petty struggle does grave injustice to the brave young Indians who have paid in their blood to keep this door open."

The poster Ray appreciated the originality of Y I Patel's thesis, and its relevance:

"Pakistan could link up POK to China - that was their original intention. That is why they extended the line from NJ9842.

While I (Ray) was inward looking, he (Y I Patel) is outward looking and aggressively fresh. I looked at Karakorum as China connecting to it. Y I Patel looked at it better – (as) our gateway into China!"

However, Pavan Nair was not convinced by these arguments; in a short note, he subsequently opined that:

"The very basis of the operation was flawed in a strategic as well as a legal sense. Whatever threat to national security was perceived-rightly or wrongly- could have been countered by means other than the physical occupation of ground."

He continued, saying:

"The Eastern most stretch of the border was not demarcated after the Karachi Agreement of 1949 after a point called NJ9842 since it was inhospitable and uninhabited. The language used and now famous is that from NJ9842- the line would run 'thence North to the glaciers'. The Glaciers in question are the Siachen which feeds the Nubra River, the Rimo which feeds the Shyok River and the Baltoro which lies further to the North of Siachen."

"The Pakistani stand since the 1962 Chinese aggression was that the line extended North East from NJ9842 to the Karokorum Pass. They produced maps to prove it and encouraged mountaineering expeditions in the area, which prompted us to do the same-a perfectly correct reaction. It was a case of cartographic aggression and should have been dealt with as such. The approaches to Khardungla and Leh via the Nubra and Shyok Valleys were held by India as was the approach to the Karakoram Pass. Even if Pakistan had occupied Saltoro-there would have been no tactical or strategic advantage and they would have literally been left high and dry."

In this way, Pavan Nair lays out the basic geography of the Siachen region. He points out the most important part of the Siachen Glacier conflict that escapes many who write about it i.e. the physical battleground is not the glacier itself, but a high ridgeline that dominates the western approaches to the glacier, the Saltoro Ridge. These approaches lie through four passes, the Sia La, the Bilafond La, the Gyong La, and the Chulung La (see map). Control of the towering peaks of the Saltoro Ridge is vital to preserving control over the Siachen Glacier, and as always holding this high ground proves enormously costly.  Pavan Nair's basic point appeared to be that a Pakistani military campaign through the Shyok – Nubra gap would have to entail crossing this very adverse terrain. This negates the possibility of an incursion.

Y I Patel did not agree with Pavan Nair's comments, suggesting:

"Technology never remains static, and Gen Bhagat (who was responsible for delineating the LoC in 1948-49) erred primarily in assuming that since the glaciers were humanly uninhabitable, they would pose a similar obstacle to military occupation. He would not have dreamt that a handicapped person would attempt to climb Everest either, but an attempt was made this year, and technology may yet permit such a person to conquer Everest! By leaving the glaciers un-demarcated, Gen Bhagat's team not only failed to foresee the impact of modern medical research and mountaineering equipment on high altitude warfare, he also grossly disregarded the possibilities of plainly foreseeable advances in weaponry such as induction of artillery guns with extended ranges and with greater traverse capabilities!"

Ray, also rebutted Pavan Nair with an example from the Kargil War of 1999,

"The area Pt. 5299 to Bhimbat LC as also the Mashkoh area was supposed to be 'glaciated' and none could traverse the same and hence (it was left) unoccupied (by the Indian Army). The Pakistanis 'did a Kargil' and now it is choc-a-bloc full of troops!"

Other participants also offered similar views and highlighted the general lack of trust in Pakistan. Surya eloquently stated these as follows:

"I simply do not trust Musharraf. An Indian Special Forces officer once said to me – If you want to find out how Musharraf thinks, ask us. He will do anything to gain the advantage."

For his part, Pavan Nair was not deterred by the lukewarm reception of his premise. He acknowledged the objections of the other participants, but insisted that cost of India staying up on the Saltoro Ridge was unacceptable,

"Members should think of the thousands who have been wounded and have been 'boarded out' from the army with a measly disability pension. No sir! It is not worth holding an inch or even thousands of square kilometers of strategically useless terrain when the purpose can be served by moving into a position of strength below."

To bring down the cost, he offered a de-escalation proposal.

The Proposal

Pavan Nair proposed that India engage in what he termed, a 'Unilateral Strategic Withdrawal'.  He suggested that a token force be maintained as observers on the glacier itself and that the de-inducted force be converted into a reactive reserve to be located in the Shyok and Nubra Valleys. This proposal set the stage for the real debate. On its face, the withdrawal was highlighted as a sign of defeat; however, Pavan Nair argued that this unconventional thinking could work to India's advantage.

The Counter-Punch

Having examined the pros and cons of Indian unilateral withdrawal, Rudra Singha, asserted that:

"Perhaps a mutual pullout can be organized when Kashmir peace moves fructify",

Though the idea to link Siachen with a resolution of conflict imposed by Pakistan in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was never fully accepted or debated, the idea of a mutual pullout as opposed to an Indian unilateral pullout found much support. Almost uniformly, participants felt that a 'Unilateral Strategic Withdrawal' will be interpreted in Pakistan, as an 'Indian Defeat' and that would surely bring adverse consequences for India.

Forum member Shiv was somewhat more open to the idea but with caveats:

"Knowing Pakistan I am sure that there will be two definite responses to a unilateral strategic withdrawal from Siachen.

1) Militarily I guess that Pakistan will do what t can and occupy some areas at least in a token fashion to show victory and progress in their war against the infidels.

2) Politically - the leader of Pakistan if we do a withdrawal - whether it is Musharraf, or Gen. Aziz or anyone will automatically claim that the "Unilateral Strategic Withdrawal" is a lame excuse and that Pakistan's policies are paying off, and that India is getting "tired" and that a few more years of jihad will get them Kashmir. This is the premise on which the military in Pakistan keeps links with Islamists and keeps a grip on Pakistan.

So my opinion of a unilateral withdrawal by India is that the idea is good if it is backed by a "big danda" (an element of coercion aimed at the Pakistanis)"

The sub-issues of the 'mutual pullout' were;

· Whether a mutual pullout is indeed feasible, and if so, what shape is it likely to take?

· Whether the pullout is sustainable – can a few limited posts on the glacier actually defend it?

· What are the costs and benefits of not being physically present on the Saltoro Ridge?

Is a Mutual Pullout Possible?

On the issue of the feasibility of a mutual pullout, most participants expressed cautious enthusiasm keeping in mind treacherous Pakistani intentions. Pavan Nair himself felt it would very easy to do this.

Sunil S opined that irrespective of whether it is a unilateral or a mutual withdrawal, there were inherent risks in the proposal:

"Should Pakistan move onto a peak after an India has withdrawn from there, they could subsequently claim that they had "conquered the Siachen Glacier". The Indian army would then incur high costs in bringing them down. Given that the Pakistani Army is desperately looking for a victory against India to bolster its image back home, it will be tempting for them to pursue this path."

Other participants (Jagan and Bishwa) pointed out that in technical discussions between the Indian and Pakistani Government, a possible withdrawal zone was discussed. This zone would put all Indian forces back to Dzingrulma and all Pakistani forces to Goma (See map). Most participants concluded, after looking at the map, that such a proposal was (prima facie) acceptable.

The forum member Bishwa pulled out paragraphs from Gen. M. L. Chibber's book that highlights that the positions held in the Saltoro Ridge by Indian Army were acquired sequentially, and in a manner that provided maximum overlapping coverage to each other. Undoing such a defensive line appeared to be a formidable proposition. In the later part of the thread much discussion centered on the positions of some of the posts on the Indian and Pakistani sides. Given that Indian and Pakistani armies refer to each other's posts on the ridge by different names, correlating the posts with names proved quite challenging.

Several participants such as Ashutosh, Bishwa, and Jagan spent a lot of time seeking out maps of the region. A very impressive write up of a journey to the Siachen Glacier was found in an account of the ROSE expedition of the Indian Mountaineering Federation. The veteran Indian mountaineer Harish Kapadia led this expedition. Another account of a journey to the Saltoro Ridge was found in the Outside Magazine. These maps and accounts helped increase the general understanding of the difficult topography of the region.

Is the Pullout Sustainable?

Pavan Nair opined that holding the glacier after withdrawing from the Saltoro Ridge could be feasible in the days of modern technology.

"The Glacier should continue to be occupied by us by keeping a few observation posts and blocking positions. We have an existing infrastructure and can block the approaches using surveillance devices. In fact, we may also continue to occupy the Southern part of the ridgeline where a road is now under construction-if so required. This would entail a much smaller force at considerably lower expense in terms of casualties and cost."

Pavan Nair also discussed the possibility of using close air support and satellite based surveillance to minimize the need for human presence on the Saltoro Ridge. Among the others, however, there were equally grave doubts about the ability to hold the glacier once the posts on the Saltoro Ridge had been vacated.

Ray noted that:

"If we moved into to block the Pakistanis at the Snout [flat and wide] as suggested, without heights, to my mind, the hasty defenses that would have to be taken would not have the defensive potential desired. Also reacting in the High Altitude Area [to take up defenses at the Snout] has attendant problems like acclimatization etc and it cannot be perceived to be in the same light as in lower hills and plains. Likewise, without road communications, it would be slow…. in fact, very slow since helicopters or even aircraft carry very low payloads [if operating from High Altitude air bases]. Moving in artillery too, which is essential, would be immense problem."

Ray countered that the idea of reactive force was ineffective;

"In the High Altitude, there is no question of 'rushing in' troops to stop any enemy. .... It is worse in the Siachen since apart from the rarefied atmosphere, the terrain obtained in the Siachen [moraine, ice walls, crevices etc] negates any movement. As far as 'Blocking Positions' go, there is no such thing for the Infantry. It is in armor warfare… Similarly the atmosphere played a significant role in making the PGMs (laser guided bombs) ineffective during the Kargil war."

Y I Patel also added;

"Our current deployment is really no different – a few observation posts to keep an eye on Pakistani movements. In fact, our posts on the heights of Bilafond La and northwards do nothing more than that. The real fighting is done by their calling on arty to prevent any Pakistan movements up the slope. Please let us not judge the current fighting by the accounts of Subedar Bana Singh's exploits (refer Operation Meghdoot). Thanks to men like him, we are now in a position to maintain a minimal presence in actual "posts" Indirect records such as Republic day award lists point out that the overwhelming majority of units deployed to Siachen are logistics and engineering units."

Sunil S further elaborated on the constraints of using technology by stating;

"The performance of PGMs in Kargil was patchy. It is difficult to use PGMs in mountains, and accuracy matters a lot. Even if we use a PGM I see little chance of doing away with a ground based spotter team to illuminate the target. You have to have feet on the ground."

"Satellite surveillance is in its infancy in our part of the world, it is notoriously inaccurate in mountain terrain. Given that even an average mountain can have inclines at 80 degrees, the 1-meter resolution actually compresses feature about 4-5 times the size. This renders the image useless. A polar orbit satellite can be over a location for a very short period, it is possible to predict the period that the satellite will be over the spot and to cover movement in that region over that period. I remain skeptical if even the most advanced western satellite technology can really maintain round-the-clock surveillance on the region."

"As far as ground based sensors go, the complexity of the task of putting up surveillance equipment on the Saltoro Ridge (~ 22000 feet) will be comparable to that task under taken by M.S Kohli's team when placing SNAP-19C powered sensors on Nandakot and Nandadevi in 1962."

Y I Patel felt that;

"If the authors (of an article linked by Pavan Nair) could spot the glaciers from the Nubra valley, then someone sitting on the glaciers could, in turn, spot anyone coming up Nubra valley. By occupying the snout of the glacier, Pakistanis can interdict the lines of communication (LC) running up Nubra Valley. Without the logistics, the posts on either side of the Nubra Valley would become unsustainable. Likewise, Saser La would suffer the fate of Dras, with Pakistanis occupying commanding positions and indulging in turkey shoots."

Sunil S also discussed the paradox at hand and the difficulties it imposed;

"'Good tactics' says "higher is better" - 'good logistics' says "higher is harder to re-supply" thus the only way to beat this paradox is to use the higher altitude and suppress the enemies supply routes asymmetrically (otherwise the enemy will return the favor). If you look at the battlefield

Confrontation at Siachen, 26 June 1987


After the end of the first Indo-Pak War of 1947-48, a cease Fire Line (CFL) was established from Manawar in Jammu to Khor (NJ9842) in Ladakh just short of the Karakoram glaciers. No precise line was extended beyond this. Under the Shimla Agreement the CFL was redefined and named the Line of Control (LoC). In the late 1970s the Pakistanis started to show the area as belonging to them. Both sides responded by creeping in to establish posts. In 1984 the Pakistanis started sponsoring mountaineering expedition from this area and their maps started showing the Siachen area as their territory. In 1987 the Pakistanis intruded and established a feature, naming it Qaid Post, at 6452 meters on the Saltoro ridge overlooking the defences on the Bilafond Pass. From this post they would snipe at our helicopters and defences. The posts at Amar and Sona, which were maintained by air, became untenable. The decision was made to retake Qaid Post.


The Siachen glacier is one of the worlds most inhospitable terrain. It is a frozen river of ice with temperatures from -35º Celsius in summer to -60º Celsius in winter. Add to it unseen crevasses, avalanches and howling winds and it has all the appearances of hell. Many a times the inclement weather would clamp down for days at end, leaving the Indian Air Force as the only lifeline to the outside world. On 18 April 1987 the Pakistanis from Quaid Post fired on our troops at Sonam. One JCO and one OR of 5 Bihar was killed. The eviction of the Pakistanis became essential. On May 29 a patrol of 8 JAK LI was asked to probe the approaches to Quaid Post. Led by 2nd Lt. Rajiv Pande they started through a difficult route, a sheer almost 90º wall of 500 meters at 1100 hours.

They were undetected till they were about 30 meters from the post. The first man over the ice wall was Lance Havildar Mulk Raj Sharma who equipped with only a pick axe established a number of footholds on the vertical ice wall. The patrol inched its way onwards the post. At the last moment they were sighted by the enemy who opened fire with a heavy machine gun. The heavy fire at close range instantaneously killed 2nd Lt. Pande, Lance Havildar Sharma and four others. Three men survived to tell the tale. However they did not die in vain, as they had laid a rope to the top. A pall of gloom descended on 8 JAK LI which gave way to cold fury. A new plan to capture the post was launched. The task force was led by Major Varinder Singh. It consisted of 2 Officers, 3 JCOs and 50 ORs. Code-named Operation Rajiv in honor of 2nd Lt. Rajiv Pande VrC, it was launched on 23 June 1987.

Due to bad weather the force took nearly four hours to travel one km. It took some time to locate the rope causing the attack to be postponed. The evening of June 24th, the task force located the rope and climbed the ice wall. Having established a base, one team under Subedar Harnam Singh was sent to the attack. En route they came across the bodies of their fallen comrades. At 0330 hours on June 25th they were detected and fired upon. The base team could not provide covering fire as the extreme cold had jammed the weapons. The attack was aborted. It was now more than 48 hours and the limited food and water supply was running out. Cold and exhausted the troops sucked at ice to quench their thirst. On the night of June 25/26th, a second attack led by Subedar Sansar Chand was launched. Once again they were detected and repulsed.

It was now three nights out at 21000 feet in biting cold. Since the weapons were jamming in the night a do-or-die day attack was launched. At 1330 hours on 26 June 1987, a force under Naib Subedar Bana Singh with 4 ORs launched an audacious daytime attack. Assaulting with demonic fervour they entered Quaid Post and a bitter hand-to-hand combat ensued, killing 5 Pakistani soldiers. Soon Qaid Post was in Indian hands. It was later found that they belonged to "Shaheen Company" of 3 Cdo Btn of the elite Special Services Group. The morale of the Pakistani Army and especially the Special Services Group was permanently scarred. To this day there is an constant attempt to take back the post. In honour of Naib Subedar Bana Singh's heroic actions the post was renamed Bana Post and he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest medal for valour. The scroll of honour at the Siachen base camp reads, "Quartered in snow, silent to remain. When the bugle calls, they shall rise and march again."

Fallen members of the 8 JAK LI at Bana Post

2nd Lt. Rajiv Pande, VrC
Naib Subedar Hem Raj, VrC
Naib Subedar Rashpal Singh
Havildar Ram Dutt
Havildar Mulk Raj Sharma
Naik Tara Chand
Naik Kuldeep Singh
Rifleman Om Raj
Rifleman Sham Lal
Rifleman Shiv Ram
Rifleman Girdhari Lal
Rifleman Kashmiri Lal
Rifleman Kulwant Raj
Rifleman Pritam Singh
Rifleman Daleep Kumar
Rifleman Kuldeep Singh

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