General J F R Jacob played a pivotal role in planning, logistics and the conduct of the 1971 liberation of Bangladesh. It was he who negotiated with Pakistan’s General A A K Niazi to turn a ceasefire into an unconditional surrender of 93,000 Pakistani troops. Thirty six years later, he examines the lessons of that war, and laments the steady and deliberate erosion of izzat, or honour, in our proud fighting forces.On December 16, 1971, the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered formally to the Indian Army, and Bangladesh was born. Thirty six years later, we should remember all those gallant soldiers, sailors, airmen and para-military who laid down their lives in the service of our nation, not only in 1971, but also in the wars of 1948, 1962, 1965 and the incursions in Kargil.
In 1971 the pattern of operations was defensive-offensive in the West and a lightning offensive in the East. The thirteen days of operations in the East resulted in the unconditional surrender of Pakistan’s Eastern Command. The ceasefire proposed by Pakistan under the auspices of the United Nations was converted into an unconditional surrender of some 93,000 officers and men.
Pakistan’s General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi had some 30,000 troops in Dacca as opposed to the mere 3,000 Indian soldiers outside the city. He had the capacity to fight on for weeks. And if he had, a Polish resolution being debated at the United Nations for a ceasefire and withdrawal under the auspices of the United Nations could have come into force. But instead, he agreed to surrender. Asked why he agreed to the humiliation of an unconditional public surrender, the only one in history, General Niazi told the Commission of Enquiry in Pakistan that he was blackmailed by General Jacob, the author, into surrendering. He repeated this in his book Betrayal of East Pakistan.
The officers and men of our Army, Navy and Air Force are the finest in the world. But they need to have the wherewithal to execute their duties, namely state-of-the-art weaponry and equipment. They also require suitable emoluments and facilities commensurate with the difficult tasks they have to perform. Most importantly, they need to have the izzat, or honour, they deserve. Time was when the status equations of service officers with their IAS and IPS counterparts were commensurate with their respective responsibilities. Sadly, after every war, this equation has been downgraded.
Some in the IAS are interpreting civil control of the Armed Forces as civil service control. The IAS officers are government servants, and not the Government, as some of them would like to believe. This deliberate erosion of status can be seen in the way our Service Chiefs had to suffer the ignominy of frisking at our airports. Though they were subsequently exempted following a public outcry, today’s civil servants obviously feel that the Mont Blanc pens they wield are more powerful than the swords of their Service counterparts.
The Armed Forces are responsible for the defence of the country. They have not only to wage big wars but also the small wars of counter-insurgency. They need the state-of-the-art weaponry and equipment. The weapon systems held by our armed forces today have progressed little from those used in World War II. Modernisation and upgradation of weapon systems is being retarded by archaic bureaucratic procedures. Modern weapon systems are complex and take a long time to master and absorb.
There has been an inordinate delay is the acquisition of the 155mm Howitzers. We are desperately short of this weapon system. For Instance, the 155mm Bofors was the main battle winning weapon system at Kargil. Yet, the further induction of 155mm Howitzers is a very very long way off. The Army too needs to rethink and upgrade its tactics and standing operating procedures. Unfortunately, a Maginot Complex is prevalent among many decision makers. There has been far too much reliance on linear defence based on the Ditch-cum- Bund.
Due to our very long borders, these linear defences lack depth. Fixed defences are not impenetrable. Both the Maginot Line of Sergeant Maginot and the Sigfried Line of Adolf Hitler were breached. Fixed defences can, at best, only delay in order to determine the quantum and direction of the enemy thrust. Once this is established, it has to be countered by mobile reserves. Ground should be used for manoeuvre to destroy the enemy. The Mobility Factor is of paramount importance.
To ensure mobility by land, air and sea, formations should be structured accordingly.Presently, our units and formations are man-power intensive, rather than being Fire-power intensive. Tactical doctrines should be reassessed. For example, the current Army doctrine states that defence is the basic operation of war. Surely, the offensive is! If this is accepted, then our organisations should be structured to reflect this.
The author took part in several operations in World War II. Invariably, the Infantry battalion assaulted with one Company up. Very exceptionally, with two Companies up in the assault. The author never saw an attack with two Companies up in any assault. The Commanding Officer of the battalion cannot handle more than three companies in the assault. If it is accepted that the offence is a basic operation of war, then the organisations should be structured accordingly.
Incidentally, the Russians, Americans and most other armies have a three Company organisation. The man-power saved in such restructuring can be used to raise more battalions. Similarly, we should re-examine the organisation of the tank squadron. The present squadron consists of four troops of three tanks each, and two in squadron headquarters. A total of 14 tanks.
The Russians used armour most effectively through out World War II, from Kursk, all the way to Berlin. Their squadron consists of three troops of three tanks plus one for the commander. A total of ten tanks. As with the infantry, we should re-examine these organizations. The savings in tanks and man-power, if adopted, could be used to raise further units.
Incidentally, the Artillery was the only arm after World War-II to re-organise. The eight-gun battery of two troops of four guns each, was re-structured as a six-gun battery. But we need smaller and lighter formations that are more mobile and can be transported more readily.
Today, the Division is the smallest formation that can work independently. There is a need to make the Brigade group as the smallest formation that can operate independently. At least, one Brigade group in the Army should be capable of being air-transportable and able to deploy rapidly in distant areas.
Regarding armour, the role of armour and the Armoured Division needs to be clarified. The Armoured Division’s role is to break out, once a breach in the enemy defences has been made. The Division then pours through the breach, and then devastates the logistics and infrastructure of the enemy in the rear areas. In the military environment that obtains today, it is necessary to re-examine the requirement for the number of armoured divisions. Independent Armoured Brigade Groups are more flexible and appropriate. A similar restructuring is being undertaken in many foreign armies. As for the Navy, considering the many islands off the East and West coast, it is necessary for the to enhance its amphibious capabilities. We have come a long way since the fiasco of the landings near Cox’s Bazaar in 1971 (Ukhia).
With the acquisition of a greater amphibious capability, the Armed Forces should aim at being able to assault beaches with at least a Brigade Group. There should also be a “lift” capability to land the remaining elements of the Division.
In 1971, we were only capable of dropping a battalion group at Tangail in Bangladesh. There is a urgent requirement to be able to lift and transport a complete Brigade group by air, using helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. This capability is essential to move a brigade rapidly over large distances.
There’s a pressing requirement to re-examine the quantum of Teeth versus Tail as also the proliferation of staff manning the various headquarters, particularly at New Delhi. Staff procedures at Service Headquarters need to be streamlined. The bureaucracy in Olive Green at Service Headquarters today is more Whitehall than Whitehall in London itself.
The Armed Forces today are serving the nation with dedication. They are fighting small scale wars in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East. They are manning the heights overlooking the Siachen Glacier under the most extreme climatic conditions.
The Armed Forces not only need the wherewithal to fight but also commensurate emoluments and facilities such as housing, schools etc. Today, we are short of over 12,000 officers. Fewer people want commissions in the Army, preferring to opt for more lucrative careers in civil life.
And finally, there is the question of izzat. The motto of the Regiment of Artillery is Izzat o Iqbal. Unfortunately, today’s soldier does not get the izzat he deserves. He is forgotten in peace and only remembered in times of war, and forgotten again shortly after that. The izzat of the Armed Forces is being steadily eroded. The glory obtained on the battle-fields quickly fades into oblivion.
The politicians make wars and the soldiers, sailors and airmen fight them. Politicians then make peace, and the soldier is quickly forgotten!
Julian Grenfell wrote in World War I:
“The thundering line of battle stands
And in the air death moans and sings,
But day shall clasp him in strong hands
And night shall fold him in soft wings.”
Eternal night has fallen on our martyrs but has also folded them in its soft wings. Lest we forget, lest we forget, let us remember them – they gave their tomorrow for our today.
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