October 16, 2002


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The Rediff Special/Colonel (retired) Anil Athale

The 'sixth battle of Panipat' might be taking place in Delhi today, October 16, when the nation's security establishment meets to take stock of Kashmir's post-election situation.

There have been straws in the wind and relentless pressure from the 'international community' to de-escalate the situation on the India-Pakistan border. Many are already calling for 'people-to-people contact' and the resumption of sports and cultural ties. There are already murmurs that the strong showing by the jihadi parties in Pakistani's election threatens the 'moderate' (planner of Kargil!) Musharraf and so, to shore him up, India must give a few concessions. There are arguments about the difficulties faced by the troops and also the economic burden of it all.

One can already see the orchestration of moves to let Pakistan off the hook. If that happens, then India would have notched up another 'Panipat', the sixth one, to be precise. If that happens, India would be laying the foundation for a future terrorist strike against itself, this time around by 'freedom fighters' that Musharraf may well arm with nuclear weapons.

Indians can be proud of many achievements, but they must honestly acknowledge that Indian history reads like a chronicle of military disasters. As a military historian, I did the job of researching and writing the account of the dismal Indian defeat at the hands of the Chinese in the border war of 1962 and have been searching for an answer to this Indian weakness.

Consider the battles of Panipat. The first three are well known and were actually fought at Panipat, 120 kilometres northwest of Delhi, in present-day Haryana. The fourth was the rout at Sela in November 1962 at the hands of the Chinese forces. And the fifth was the surrender at Kandahar in December 1999.

All these momentous events have one thing in common: the Indians' loss of nerve! It will not be an exaggeration to say that the first three battles of Panipat, rather than being victories for the invaders, were, more appropriately, battles lost by the Indians. A common feature in all these encounters was the fall of the leader, followed by panic, leading to a rout.

Colonel Murray, a military historian who took part in and studied many of the Duke of Wellington's [Arthur Wellesley] battles in India, put his finger on the Indian weakness. He wrote: "The natives have a tendency to regard even the smallest setback or even a tactical retreat as a major national disaster... there is immediate loss of morale and will to fight on!"

In November 1962, Indian troops were manning a well-stocked and commanding position at Sela. Brigadier Hoshiyar Singh ordered the forward troops (of the 4th Garhwal battalion) to fall back from the Jang Bridge at night. But in the atmosphere of gloom and loss of morale, this proved to be a disaster. As the Garhwalis reached the Sela pass, the 1st Sikh manning the southern shoulder of the defences mingled with the retreating troops. The next morning, the Chinese merely occupied the vacant positions. All hell now broke loose once the Chinese began to take pot shots at the Indians from the rear. The panic-stricken and leaderless mass of soldiers then ran all the way, nearly 100 kilometres, to the plains of Misamari!

The fifth Panipat was recent! Jihadi elements hijacked Flight IC-814 of the Indian Airlines and took the Boeing 737 to Kandahar in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Such was the panic and drama enacted by the relatives of the hostages that the Government of India succumbed to the pressure and released Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, and Ahmed Omar Syed Sheikh! The then external affairs minister, representing one billion Indians, went to Kandahar in abject surrender to the ragtag regime of the Taliban.

In comparison, many years ago, during the 1972 Olympics at Munich, Germany, Palestinian terrorists stormed the athletes' quarters and took several Israelis hostage. Israel refused to negotiate and, in a botched rescue attempt, all the Israeli hostages were killed. When the then Israeli ambassador was asked about the tragic loss, he replied, "In the war against terrorism, all Israeli citizens are soldiers and like soldiers they know that they may die! If we give in to the terrorists once, the hijackings and hostage taking will only increase. We will not negotiate with the terrorists."

The trail of terrorist incidents after the Kandahar hijacking proves his point. From the attack on Parliament in December last to the massacre of families of soldiers at Kaluchak in May and the Godhra incident, all have the stamp of Masood Azhar!

It is time Indians realised that we are fighting our own 'mini' cold war! During the Cold War, for over 30 years, the armed forces of the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union confronted each other in the highest state of readiness! We are only in the first year! Like the other Cold War, this cold war will also end when Pakistan gives up its ideology of hate. As yet, there seems absolutely no sign of that happening.

Here one is not referring to the mad 'jihadi' elements, but even the mainstream English-educated elite! Sample this: Shireen Mazari, director, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, or Dr Parvez Iqbal Cheema, a respected strategic analyst, have both been repeating that the attacks on Parliament or Kaluchak were actually carried out by Indians themselves! And to think that these worthies often take part in 'peace' parleys and 'Track II' diplomacy! The most hilarious 'proof' of Indian complicity in the attack on Parliament, according to them, is the fact that TV cameras were present! Who is to tell these 'elites' that TV cameras have been fixtures at Parliament for several years now?

The Indian armed forces are quite capable of making sure that despite the deployment on the border, the soldiers' welfare is taken care of! In any case, with the Pakistani population projected to double by 2025 and the growing poverty there, we must soon expect an influx from our western borders. Containment of Pakistan and punishing it for every transgression is the only viable alternative till there is a change in the mindset.

The international community needs to be told in no uncertain terms that since Pakistan has failed to curb cross-border terrorism, India will continue to exert military pressure. Perhaps the economic costs will begin to hurt and finally lead to a Soviet Union-like collapse of the 'failed state'.

It is time we give up the Panipat syndrome, keep our nerve, and be prepared for a long haul. Else, we may be sowing the seeds of a nuclear Panipat for future generations.

Col Athale is a former joint director, War History Division, Ministry of Defence, Government of India.

Image: Uday Kuckian

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