Return of the Dragon

Last Updated: Tue, Aug 31, 2010 09:08 hrs

Gen JFR Jacob, the hero of the 1971 India Pakistan war, warns that unless India wakes up to the recent developments in Gilgit Baltistan, it may be too late.

The Dragon has emerged from its lair with a vengeance.

A senior Indian army officer was denied an official Chinese visa on the grounds that he was commanding in Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory according to the Chinese.

The Chinese occupy considerable amount of territory in Ladakh, which they captured in 1962 . They are now slowly making inroads into the Indus Valley and other areas. In 1963, Pakistan had illegally ceded some 5,000 square km (2000 sq miles) in the area of the Karakoram to China.

Pakistan is now reported to have handed over control of the major part of the northern territories to China. Media reports indicate that there are some 10,000 Chinese soldiers based in Gilgit on the pretext of protecting the widening work on the Karakoram Highway and the construction of a railway line to link east Tibet with the Pakistani port of Gwadar in the Gulf of Oman.

The Russians in the 19th and 20th centuries dreamt of a getting warm water port on the Arabian Sea. The Chinese seem well on the way to fulfilling this Russian dream.

In a further move to encircle India by sea, the Chinese are establishing naval and air bases on Myanmar's Ramree Island in the Bay of Bengal. (Incidentally, I took part in the amphibous assault on Ramree Island during World War II). These bases on Ramree Island will help the Chinese in their endeavors to control the upper Bay of Bengal and pose a threat to Kolkata, Vishakapatnam and the Andamans.

The presence of Chinese troops in Gilgit is a matter of great concern. During the Kargil conflict, the five battalions of the intruding paramilitary Northern Rifles were maintained from Gilgit and thence from Skardu. There is a good road from Gilgit to Skardu. In pre-Partition days, road communications to Gilgit were along the Kargil-Skardu-Gilgit route. This section can easily be restored in a short period of time.

The reported presence of Chinese troops in Gilgit poses a serious threat to Indian road communications to Ladakh running through Kargil.

Another matter of concern is the increased Chinese interest in the Indus Valley. The easiest approach to Leh is along this valley. The Chinese have not only shown interest in the Indus Valley but also the Karakoram Pass between India and China.

Any Chinese move through the Karakoram Pass will threaten our troops in Siachen and our base at Thoise. In the contingency of any future conflict with the Chinese, new areas of conflict in Ladakh will open up. I served in Ladakh for two years immediately after the Chinese invasion of 1962, and it also fell under my purview subsequently as Chief of Staff and Army Commander covering the northeast. During this period there were many incursions and incidents.

Keeping these factors in mind, there is an urgent requirement for another division and supporting armour to be raised for the defence of Ladakh and two more for the north east.

In the northeast, the Chinese may, after negotiations, reduce their claims from the whole of Arunachal to the Tawang tract and Walong.

Major Bob Kathing and his Assam Rifles platoon only moved to take control of Tawang in the spring of 1951 . The Chinese had placed a pillar in Walong in the 1870s. They have built up the road, rail and air infrastructure in Tibet. It is assessed that the Chinese can now induct some 30 divisions there in a matter of weeks.

We are committed to ensure the defence of Bhutan. We need at least two divisions plus for the defence of Bhutan. In West Bhutan, the Chinese have moved upto the Torsa Nulla. From there it is not far to Siliguri via Jaldakha. This remains the most serious potential threat to the Siliguri corridor.

The Chinese have devoloped the infrastructure in Tibet to enable them to mount operations all along the border. We are still in the process of upgrading our infrastructure in the north east. It will take many more years before the infrastructure in the north east is upgraded to what is required. Thus we need to raise two more divisions and an armoured brigade for the north east.

There is an urgent requirement for more artillery, firepower and mobility. More helicopters are also needed to ensure mobility. Mobility is a key factor in military operations. Mobility is necessary to obtain flexibility as also the ability to react in fluid operations. In order to ensure the means to react, we need reserves. These reserves have yet to be created.

The Air Force needs to deploy more squadrons in that region, since, unlike 1962, the Air Force will play a decisive role in any future operations.

The Chinese are also said to be re-establishing their earlier links with the Naga insurgents.

In 1974/75, I was in charge of operations that intercepted two Naga gangs going to China to collect weapons and money. The Nagas were then compelled to sign the Shillong Accord, and Chinese support for the Naga insurgents was put on the backburner. Twelve years of peace followed. But now, the Chinese, in collusion with the Pakistani ISI, are said to be in the process of re-activating their support of the Naga insurgents as part of an overall scheme to destabilize the north east.

The increasing military collaboration between China and Pakistan is of growing concern, but we seem woefully unprepared for this contingency.

The government urgently needs to expedite the induction of land, air and naval weapons systems and to build up the required reserves of ammunition and spares. In any future conflict, logistics will be of paramount importance.

During the 1971 war, it took me some six months to build up the infrastructure for the operations in East Pakistan. The requirements now are far, far greater. Modern weapons systems take a long time to induct and absorb. The induction of new weapons systems and build up of logistical backing should be initiated on an emergency footing.

At the moment, we seem to have insufficient resources to meet this contingency.

We are critically short of modern weapons systems and weaponry. No new 155mm guns have been inducted for some two decades.

During the limited Kargil conflict, we ran out of 155mm ammunition for the Bofors field guns. Fortunately for us, the Israelis flew out the required ammunition.

New aircraft for our Air Force are yet to be inducted. The navy is short of vital weapons systems. These shortages need to be addressed at the earliest.

There is no Soviet Union with its Treaty of Friendship to help us now [in 1971, the Soviets moved 40 divisions to the Xinjiang and seven to the Manchurian borders to deter the Chinese]. We have to rely on our own resources. We must show that we have the will and wherewithal to meet the emerging contingencies.

It is high time the government reappraises the emerging situation and puts in place the measures required to meet the developments, before it is too late.

Also read: Nightmare 2012: Chinese Special Forces cut off Siliguri corridor

Editor's note:

- Lt Gen JFR Jacob is not an armchair warrior. He took part in operations in World War II in the middle east and Burma he was wounded in Burma..He has dealt with terrorism and insurgency over a period of many years.

- As a young Major, he took part in intensive counter insurgency operations in Sumatra 1945/1946.

- In 1970, he was responsible for setting up the army counter insurgency school in Mizoram.

- He was in charge of anti-Naxal operations in West Bengal in 1969-1971. The then Chief Minister Siddharta Shankar Ray used to say: 'Jake and I, we broke the Naxals.'

He was responsible for planning and conduct of the operations in East Pakistan in 1971 and converting a cease fire pro posed under the UN into an unconditional public surrender, the only one in history.

- In 1974/1975 the army intercepted two Naga gangs going to China [Jacob camped at Mokochong to conduct operations]. The army attacked their bases and finally forced the insurgents to sign the Shillong Accord in 1975. Twelve years of peace followed.

- He oversaw operations in Mizoram and got the hostiles to the negotiating table in Calcutta. [Calcutta Conference, 1978).

- On the other side of the coin, he was responsible in setting up the Bangladesh Mukti Bahini in April 1971, and oversaw their operations.

- In October 2007, he was invited to speak to the American military, State Department and CIA at Capitol Hill. The lecture was broadcast live. The US Marine Corps subsequently requested permission to incorporate parts of the talk in their counterinsurgency doctrine.

By the same author:
A Bitter Harvest
Five steps to fix the Naxals
Hamlet and the Naxals
The truth behind the Navy's 'sinking' of Ghazi
The Af-Pak boundary is not a border
Gen JFR Jacob on the Afghan war
The rocky road to Kargil
A Himalayan Blunder: How our maps ceded land to China
1971 War: Izzat and lessons unlearnt
An Indian Homeland Act 
Time to protect the Thunder Dragon 
What the Dragon won't forget

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