1971 India-Pakistan War: Loyalty

This is the second post of a four-part series on India-Pakistan 1971 War. First part can be  read here

Richard Nixon (left) and Henry Kissinger, two most controversial figures of the 1970s

Richard Nixon (left) and Henry Kissinger, two most controversial figures of the 1970s

Six days after Pakistan Army began massacring its own people, a meeting on the East Pakistan Crisis was held in the White House Situation Room.  It was chaired by Henry Kissinger, the US National Security Adviser and President Richard Nixon’s right-hand man when it came to the American foreign policy. Kissinger, a former Harvard academic, was brilliant, ruthless and extremely powerful. Perhaps the most controversial figure in the American foreign policy of the time, he was an ardent worshipper of realpolitik in foreign policy, which often translated to celebrating cold-blooded calculations.

On this day, the calculation was about East Pakistan and Yahya Khan. A week into the crisis, Kissinger and his boss, Nixon, had already made up their mind to stay out. Despite the mounting reports of a bloodbath coming in from their own consulate in Dacca, the mood in White House was to let Yahya do what he wanted.  In the meeting, Kissinger’s main concern was whether Pakistan Army could actually succeed or not. As the meeting progressed, Kissinger asked about the people killed in Dacca University. “Did they kill Professor Razak? He was one of my students.” He was informed by a CIA official that Razak probably had been killed. Kissinger, apparently referring to the previous rulers of South Asia, replied, “They didn’t dominate 400 million Indians all those years by being gentle.”

This detached statement perfectly represented the American attitude towards the East Pakistan genocide. And it was about to get worse.  Within a month, US will shed its disinterested neutrality and will actively begin aiding Pakistan in the massacre. Why? Because Nixon and Kissinger were secretly working on a project to change the world.

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1971 India-Pakistan War: Genocide

This is the first post of a four-part series on India-Pakistan 1971 War. The second part is available here

Yahya Khan: The man responsible for the genocide

Yahya Khan: The man responsible for the genocide

On the night of 31 March 1971, two men huddled under a small culvert somewhere on the India-East Pakistan border. A week ago these men – Tajuddin Ahmad and Amirul Islam – were riding the greatest high of their lives, a landslide victory in the Pakistani elections. And now they were hunted men, escaping from their own country like criminals. Their boss – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – was already in jail and the Pakistani Army was rounding up thousands of their supporters as of that moment.  As the morning came, Ahmad and Islam, cold, hungry and scared for their lives, heard the familiar footsteps of army boots. Soldiers in green uniforms began to appear around them. Islam breathed a sigh of relief. For these were Indian soldiers, here to give them refuge.

It was still hard to see, but the entry of these two men into India was going to set in motion a chain of events leading to perhaps the most significant war in South Asia since the Second World War.

The crisis that had brought Ahmad and Islam to India had its roots in the end of the British Raj. Independence of India and its consequent partition into two countries had left resultant Pakistan as a geographical anomaly unique in the world. Two wings of the nation – West and East Pakistan – were not just separated by a thousand miles of a hostile India, but also by ethnicities and languages. While the west was dominated by Urdu-speaking Punjabis, the east was almost entirely made up of ethnic Bengalis. Further, accidents of history had ensured that the West Pakistan enjoy a certain political dominance over the East. Invariably, this had led to a build-up of resentment that the Bengalis had nursed for decades. The relationship between the two parts of the country was always rocky and periodically worsened over issues like national language. Enter an alcoholic dictator – General Yahya Khan.

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IPKF in Sri Lanka: War

This is the fourth post (Part 3) of a six-part series telling the story of India’s intervention in Sri Lanka. You can read other parts of the series here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 2.5

From left: Prabhakaran, Dixit and General Harkirat Singh. Ten days after this picture was taken, they will be fighting a war against each other.

From left: Prabhakaran, Dixit and General Harkirat Singh. Ten days after this picture was taken, they will be fighting a war against each other.

At first, Major General Harkirat Singh had it easy. In July 1987, he had been sent to Sri Lanka to command Indian Army’s 54 Infantry Division, essentially making him in-charge of the IPKF in the Tamil North. At first this had meant protecting Tamils from the Sri Lankan army and cajoling LTTE and other Tamil insurgent groups into keeping their side of the Accord. The duties were mostly ceremonial and the biggest worry for officers was to have enough games and activities going to make sure that the soldiers don’t grow bored. Meanwhile, IPKF command was making friends with the Tamil insurgents. LTTE leadership was often in and out of IPKF HQ. Indian officers attended weddings of LTTE families. General Singh hoped to be back home by December. All in all, it seemed an easy assignment. Sadly, the good days were not to last.

Behind IPKF’s backs, LTTE had been steadily preparing for a war with the IPKF. Weapons were being smuggled in and hoarded; anti-India propaganda was quietly being circulated. LTTE was also assassinating rival Tamil leaders, getting rid of the competition from other Tamil insurgent groups. Parallel to it, Prabhakaran was slowly sabotaging the negotiations, making excessive demands from the Sri Lankan government. India’s High Commissioner in Colombo, JN Dixit, who had been taking care of the political side of the Accord, was the first raise alarm. But General Singh and IPKF command, sympathetic to LTTE, were willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

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IPKF in Sri Lanka: Coup

This is a sidetrack to the five-part (now a six-part) series on Indian Peacekeeping Mission in Sri Lanka. Consider it Part 2.5. Although not technically set in Sri Lanka, it is nevertheless an important and interesting part of the story. You can read the previous parts of the series here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

International Conspiracy: India-trained Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka invade Maldives

International Conspiracy: India-trained Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka guarding the NSS Complex

They had been at the sea for three days now. Sri Lanka, where they had spent most of their lives fighting a war for the cause of Tamil liberation, was hundreds of miles away. India, where they had been secretly trained in the trade craft of warfare years ago, lay even further off. They were eighty in number, huddled in four stolen fishing boats. They were armed to the teeth with AK-47s, grenades, heavy machine guns and mortars, but had run out of food and water. Hungry and thirsty, they had been searching for land for hours. They finally saw it at 11 am on the night of 2 November 1988, a tiny red light on one of the buildings off the coast. The leader, a young guerrilla nicknamed Vasanthi, ordered his men to check their arms and ammunition, as they approached their destination. They were here to invade Maldives.

At first, the invasion went without a hitch. The Tamil militants landed in Male, capital of Maldives, at 4 am on 3 November 1988. Maldives didn’t have an army, only a 1400-strong National Security Service that served as police, fire fighting service and military, all rolled into one. The first task for the invaders was to neutralise it. After a half-an-hour fire fight, they had taken over the NSS complex, killing a few NSS guards but losing Vasanthi. Next they took the harbour, the power grid, and TV and radio station. By noon, they were in control of Male and in effect the entire Maldives. Only the Maldivian president Maumoon Gayoom eluded capture, but all in all, the operation had gone without much trouble. The 30,000 or so bewildered Male residents could only watch as lungi-clad Tamil militant looted their shops for food and booty.

However, the success was short-lived. In afternoon they heard BBC radio announce that help for Maldives was on its way. The radio was reporting a military contingent of hundreds of commandos flying in to liberate the country. In the evening, the militants heard a fighter jet zoom over their heads. This was more than they had bargained for. Leaderless, the militants began to panic. Indian forces were coming for them.

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Indian Peacekeeping Mission in Sri Lanka: Accord

This is the second post of a five-part series telling the story of India’s Sri Lankan adventure. You can read other parts of the series here: Part 1, Part 2.5, Part 3

Feared LTTE leader Prabhakaran, flanked by Indian guards

Feared LTTE leader Prabhakaran, flanked by Indian guards

The crisis was not long in coming. In January 1987, Sri Lankan military started a new offensive, putting the Tamil city Jaffna under martial law. The entire Tamil north was put under embargo, stopping supplies of even essential like food and medicine and creating famine-like conditions. The government also started using its newly-acquired air power for air strikes. Undoubtedly, these were highly brutal tactics, causing incalculable harm to the innocent Tamil civilians.

While Indian government sought to defuse the situation, both LTTE and Colombo kept escalating it by attack and counter-attack. By May, the situation had become intolerable. Faced with growing pro-Tamil sympathy at home, Gandhi decided to issue an ultimatum. Jayewardene was demanded by India to end the military offensive. But the Sri Lankan president was ready to call Gandhi’s bluff. “India can go to hell,” he told his advisers. When Indian diplomats stressed on their demands, he told his advisers, “what is the worse [sic] that India can do? It will invade Sri Lanka. I will cross that bridge when it comes.”

Given Jayewardene’s stubbornness, Gandhi was forced to take more drastic measures. On 2 June, the Sri Lankans were informed that in a few hours India will be unarmed ships carrying food and medicine for the embargoed Jaffna city. The Indian ships will be sailing through the Sri Lankan naval blockade and delivering the relief supplies to the distraught Tamils. However, by this point, Jayewardene was too committed to turn back. The nationalist Sinhalese population (including the Buddhist monasteries) were goading him on to take on the big Indian bully.

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Indian Peacekeeping Mission in Sri Lanka: Origins

What remained of Tamil areas in Colombo after Black July

What remained of Tamil areas in Colombo after Black July

This is the first post of a five-part series telling the story of India’s Sri Lankan adventure. You can also read other parts of the series here: Part 2, Part 2.5, Part 3. This is for Shivangi Singh who asked me to explain the whole IPKF story. 

The plane was late. The Sri Lankan president JR Jayewardene had been anxiously awaiting its arrival for hours, but to no avail. It was a delay that the president couldn’t afford, for the plane carried the dead bodies of thirteen soldiers who had been ambushed and killed by the Tamil insurgent group LTTE the day before. Earlier in the day, the president had overruled his advisers and decided to have their funeral in Colombo. Now it was proving to be a fatal mistake. Every minute that the plane was late, the crowd outside the cemetery swelled even further, demanding retribution against the Tamils. By the time the plane arrived, the restive mob had grown to 10,000. The police, concerned about law and order situation, decided to use its riot squad to break up the crowd. Instead it brought the situation to a boiling point, and almost instantly ethnic riots engulfed Colombo. Within a day, the riots spread across the country. For the next seven days, Tamils were targeted, looted, killed by hordes of angry Sinhalese. By the end of what became known as Black July, more than 100,000 Tamils had been made homeless, most of them fleeing to refugee camps in India. Within days of Black July, ranks of Tamil separatist groups like LTTE began to grow. What were until now basically just terrorist groups, started to build armies of their own. In the following months and years, these groups unleashed the level of violence unprecedented in the entire South Asia.

The Sri Lankan Civil War had begun.

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The 2001-2002 India-Pakistan Standoff (Operation Parakram): A Dangerous Experiment

Security Personnel during the firefight at the Parliament

Security Personnel during the firefight

On the morning of 13 December 2001, Shekhar, the driver for the Vice President of India, was at the Parliament parking lot waiting for his boss. The Rajya Sabha, which his boss chaired, had been adjourned forty minutes ago, but the Vice President was still inside the building. At around 10:00 am, Shekhar heard someone shouting and suddenly a white Ambassador rammed into his car. By the time he got out of his car to have a word with the Ambassador’s driver, five men armed with AK-47s had poured out of it and begun shooting indiscriminately. Shekhar ducked for cover as other members of the Vice-Presidential security detail begun shooting back. A fire fight had broken out a few feet away from the heart of the Indian Government. In thirty minutes, it was over. All five attackers, who will be later linked to Pakistan, were dead. So were six of the policemen and security guards and a gardener who tended the Parliamentary gardens. The Parliament Attack was one of the deadliest terrorist strikes India had suffered through since its independence. In response the Indian Government started off the first nuclear crisis of the twenty-first century. A ten-month stand-off, where they stood precariously on the brink of an all-out war, was the closest India and Pakistan had come to nuclear annihilation. This is the story of that crisis.

The Parliament Attack had touched off one of the most difficult puzzles that the Indian leadership had been struggling with for more than a decade – how to handle a nuclear-armed Pakistan. Since Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons in late 1980s, it had grown more and more aggressive in pushing terrorism and the Kashmir Insurgency. As Pakistan’s leadership had calculated, the bomb gave them a cover against India’s superior military forces. They could bleed India by supporting the insurgency and be assured that India would not retaliate, for a retaliation could mean escalation to an all-out war and a nuclear annihilation for both countries.  It was a game of perverse logic much like living next to a crazy neighbour (or a very smart neighbour pretending to be crazy) who keeps stealing from your house. Should you ever retaliate, he threatens to burn down both your houses.

All through the 1990s, while Pakistan continued to train and send increasing numbers of insurgents into India, New Delhi remained stuck in a strategic paralysis. While retaliations like air bombings or commando raids were considered, the risks were too great for India to ever go through with them. With the nuclear threat, coupled with the weak leadership that India suffered through during the decade of fractured politics, Pakistan seemed to have hit upon the perfect solution for its own security. The continued insurgency meant that the Indian Army remained occupied in Kashmir and thus not free to threaten Pakistan. It also meant that the Indian Government had to bear the crushing cost of securing India-Pakistan border against infiltration and the counter-insurgency campaign as opposed to Pakistan’s extremely cheap expense of running a few terrorist training camps.

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