Even though the author – a former Indian army chief – has given some valuable insights on military diplomacy, the real value of this honestly written and most readable book is the real lessons that need to be drawn from the recent conflicts involving Indian soldiers, most notably, in Sri Lanka (Op- Pawan) and later in Kargil (Op-Vijay). During the former, the author was a Brigadier posted at the military operations directorate and in the latter case, he was the army chief. In between these two major operations, he also was closely involved while still at the MO Directorate in overseeing Op-Cactus in the Maldives and then as the Chief with Op-Khukri a UN peacekeeping mission that went awry in Sierra Leone. General Malik’s ringside view – with detailed personal insights – of how decisions were taken in Delhi need to read with great attention. Most notably what led to the mess, in India’s intervention in Sri Lanka. For that he puts the blame essentially on General Sundarji’s cavalier approach! He had laughed off a warning by Lt. Col (later Lt. Gen.) Madan Gopal Iyengar, who said the LTTE was in no mood to honour the ‘Accord’. On his confident assertions, Rajiv Gandhi accepted President Jayawardane’s request for Indian troops to relieve the Sri Lanka army in Jaffna, without even consulting the Services. This led to utter confusion, as the IPKF turned from a peacekeeper on 8th October’87 to a peace enforcer on 10th October. Troops were launched into battle in hastily put together formations and no intelligence inputs, as RAW officials were busy making policy. No clear aims were specified, and there was considerable politico military disconnect. This led to massacres of many good men. But Rajiv Gandhi was disinclined to withdraw, fearing he’d bechided for this policy failure. Worse still, our gallant men returned home in March 1991, to no welcome. And it took two years for India’s officials and diplomats to find time to inaugurate a memorial for those who fell in battles on the island!
However, the swift deployment of troops in the Maldives – as President Gayoon requested India to foil a coup on the archipelago – was a great success. The credit for this, apart from the service headquarters, goes to a few enterprising individuals, such as the Indian high commissioner, Arun Banerjee, (who coincidentally was on leave in Delhi) and Gp.Capt Bewoor who flew and landed the aircraft with paratroopers, along with the author as LO, with virtually no navigational aids on a short runway in the sea! In five hours the island was taken back, and Indian troops left the island within a fortnight. Interestingly though, some wise hat at the PMO had initially suggested that the NSG – and not the Para brigade- be considered for this mission! Such was, and perhaps still is, the mistrust for our military in Delhi. The author’s highpoint however was the Kargil conflict, about which he has written a detailed account in his book “Kargil: From Surprise to Victory”. Despite the inadequate intelligence inputs the Kargil conflict (Op-Vijay), was a success, though raising questions about India’s higher defence management, highlighted again by the Naresh Chandra committee report. Clearly India’s defence policy making is far from dynamic and the military’s role remains in the margins, until the policy makers cannot handle a crisis situation.
As the final chapter in this most instructive account highlights, there’s a crying need for the voice of the services to be heard at the highest level of decision making. To appreciate our capabilities and shortcomings, members of parliament and political leaders must be regularly briefed by the service headquarters, if India is to play a bigger role in regional affairs. Sadly though, even our service chief’s were not trusted almost till the end, with the decision to conduct the nuclear tests at Pokhran, or with the fact that India had a stockpile of chemical weapons, until India signed the CWC in April’97. Until this changes, it will be our netas and babus who will throw our men into battle, not our generals, as was the case in Sri Lanka!