the 60 years since Independence, entire generations of Indians haveseen their country locked in conflict with both Pakistan
and China, invariably over the so-called Kashmir problem.
strategic significance of Kashmir (including Jammu and Ladakh)
is not a modern day issue but dates back 200-odd years to the beginning of
the Great Game whose ramifications were felt by England, Russia, France,
Tibet, China and shaped events in the subcontinent.
Long Road to Siachen: The Question Why' is a
recent book by Kunal Verma
and Brigadier Rajiv Williams that takes the reader through an incredible
journey that presents a comprehensive picture of the events through the
by Rupa & Co. the major part of the book is
authored by Kunal Verma
who is well known for his path breaking documentaries on the Indian Air
Force, the Kargil War, and the film on the National
Defence Academy (Standard Bearers). Drawing on the vast exposure he has had
with all three Services of the Armed Forces, he has adopted a unique style
of telling the story; sometimes even writing in the first person which
makes the narrative engaging.
reader is drawn into the vagaries of the terrain in Jammu, Kashmir, Zanskar and Ladakh at the
very onset as Verma talks of his early days as a
trek manager with Tiger Tops Mountain Travel in the 1980s. His chance
encounter with a French tourist after crossing Umasi
La in 1981 that resulted in his obtaining USAF maps which depicted the
entire region north and east of Tortuk as PAF
overflying areas and the subsequent events makes the entire book part
memoir, part history lesson, part analysis and his ability to take stunning
photographs, part photo essay!
narrative goes back and forth as present incidents are linked to the past
to provide the reader with an appreciation of the entire chain of events.
It indeed is a Long Road to Siachen as Kunal Verma traces the
history of various exploratory expeditions launched in the region during
the 'Great Game years' and then subsequently the post Partition and
Independence era, when various mountaineering forays from the Pakistani
Indian side of the story unfolds as Colonel Narendra
'Bull' Kumar's attempts are documented along with other major expeditions.
subsequent race between India and Pakistan to be the first to establish
their dominance over the region provides an exciting edge.
intricacies of Geo-Politics, alas so rarely understood by Indian leaders,
then unfold as Verma gets into the nitty-gritty
of hard-core Military History, starting with the broad Indian canvas which
narrows down on Kashmir. The emergence of the Sikh Confederacy under the
legendary Ranjit Singh; Gulab
Singh's establishing of the Dogra Empire and the
role played by Hari Singh and the Congress Party
are looked at minus the Anglo-Saxon spin on the events and personalities
which we in India have generally inherited unquestioningly.
Hari Singh, the last ruler of Kashmir, for example, so
often branded a villain for his dilly-dallying in 1947, comes across as a
thoughtful personality who derailed the British plans during the Round
Table Conference by giving voice to what at best can today be described as
'Indian ambitions'. The so-called heroes of India's freedom movement, more
often than not oblivious of the larger strategic picture,
often come across as unthinking puppets dancing to a preordained script
written by the British. That Ambedkar first
talked of dividing India on caste lines during the Round Table Conference
even before the Muslim League got into the act of promoting the 'Two-Nation
Theory' are important events which help unravel the complex jigsaw of the
political machinations of those times.
author also dwells at length on the creation of Pakistan, analyzing the deliberate
strategy of the British to look after their own strategic interests post
World War 2. The meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt that sealed the
fate of British Colonialism, the relationship between Churchill and Jinnah,
the evolution of Indian Military Intelligence agencies are important pegs
in the book. Even the first Indo-Pak war of 1947-48 is dealt with in some
detail, especially the fighting in Poonch.
the main, the book time and again brings out the
disconnect between the early political leadership in India on the
one hand and the military and strategic think-tanks on the other. The
appointment of Baldev Singh, an industrialist, as
India's first Defence Minister by Nehru for political expediency tells its
alarming situation continues to haunt us even with the Kargil
War of 1999. Kunal Verma
was involved in filming the conflict for the Indian Army and he puts forth
his opinions and insights on the operations from the privileged ringside
view that he had. Photographs pertaining to the war, especially those of
General Budhwar (GOC 3 Division) and Brigadier Devinder Singh (Cdr 70 Brigade) have added significance
in view of the Armed Forces Tribunal recently ordering a re-write of the
official Kargil history.
is an important chapter on two lesser known battles of the conflict: 27 Rajput at Tortuk and 14 Sikh
at Chorbatla. Both these sectors were sandwiched between
the Kargil and Siachen
regions and consequently were beyond the reach of the media during the war.
These are tales of great courage and valour which only the Indian Army
could have managed. Imagine a battalion of Rajputs
recruited from the Jodhpur area, men who had not seen anything higher than
a sand dune before joining the Army, now being pushed by a Manipuri Commanding Officer
to launch an almost vertical assault at an objective at 18,000 feet.
entire book is richly illustrated by photos taken by the author over the
years, plus other images obtained from various archives.
of the raider columns in 1947 as the Pakistanis pushed into Kashmir should
forever bury the ghost of 'non-state actors', the smoke screen fine tuned
and patented by the ISI for decades! There are maps and illustrations, all
of which combine to make it an extremely readable tome. One can see the
photos of the terrain and admire the cold remote beauty created by Nature.
One marvels that an heaven on earth can become
such a battlefield but it has.
Williams as a young Company Commander watched from Sonam
Post his battalion, the highly decorated 8 JAK LI, defend Bana Top as the Pakistani Army launched a major attack.
His documentation of both OP RAJIV and OP QIADAT bring out in graphic
detail the bitter, horrific fighting in 1984 that saw a post on the Glacier
actually change hands. He then
dwells on the logistics/supply lines involving IAF fixed wing transports and
Army and Air Force helicopters which ensure a permanent link to the Glacier
with the rest of the country.
be honest, a book on Military History is hardly likely to be on the average
reader's "must read" list. But the Long Road to Siachen has successfully traversed across that line by linking
the past with the present in so many different ways. This is a much needed
book which should be made compulsory reading for our people - the citizen
and the policy maker alike!
images from the book:
shot of Siachen – credit Dipti
along with the author prior to a fighter sweep over the Zanskar
and Ladakh regions. Photo by Wg
Cdr Anil Tharani
A sea of
mountain peaks and glaciers.The view from a MiG 29 somewhere over the Zanskar
and Ladakh ranges.(Kunal
with Pakistani and Muslim League flags,a
propaganda rally being held in Karachi,December
1947.Standing on the Bonnet is Zaidi Haroon yelling 'Free Kashmir". Both Naval ratings
and Pakistani soldiers were present during the rally. Photo by Margaret
Devinder Singh(Cdr 70
Brigade) and Major general V S Budhwar (GOC 3
Div) review the situation at Ghanasok on 5 July
1999. The assorted battalions of 70 Brigade fought in a region which was generally
not covered by the media. (Photo:Kunal Verma)