Wars, Modern

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WARS, MODERN India has fought four open wars and been involved in several near and minor armed conflicts with its neighbors. India has large standing armed forces and also possesses nuclear weapons. Arguably these are a result of insecurities arising from a history of conflicts that it has been involved in, some whose origins lie in forming a nation comprising scores of ethnic and linguistic groups. The disputes with Pakistan are said to center on Jammu and Kashmir, but as the record shows, the causes of disagreements between the two countries could be more elemental. In the case of China, the dispute is over their border and is yet to be resolved.

Indo-Pakistan War: The First Round

Britain's Independence of India Act of 1947 created the dominions of India and Pakistan, and while the rulers of the over five hundred princely states were asked to work out arrangements with the two new nations, none had the option of remaining independent. Pakistan assumed that the Muslim-majority Kashmir would accede to it, but witnessing the carnage of partition, the maharaja, a Hindu, vacillated. To force his hand, a tribal army attacked the state on 22 October, and the ruler decided to accede to India. India launched a massive airlift on the morning of 27 October, flying in troops to defend the state. Pakistani army regulars, allegedly on leave, led the attack, notwithstanding claims that they were Azad (free) Kashmir forces who had revolted against the maharaja.

The Valley of Kashmir was quickly cleared of the invaders, but through 1948, India and Pakistan were locked in combat across the entire state. In the north, British officers of the Gilgit Scouts handed over the territory to Pakistan. But the battle focused on Indian efforts to secure Ladakh in the northeast, while Pakistan attempted to prevent the Indians from recapturing a strategic sliver of territory stretching from Muzaffarabad to Mirpur, cushioning its Punjabi heartland. It was only in July 1948, when a United Nations commission reached the subcontinent, that Pakistan conceded that its regulars had been involved, but only since earlier that year.

The British generals and a unified British commanderin-chief, Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, who still headed the two armies, were able to manipulate and moderate the conflict to some degree. Essentially it was an infantry war of mortars, machine guns, and some artillery. India used light tanks to capture the crucial Zoji La Pass and open the road to Leh and used the Indian air force continuously, but Pakistan could not use its air force because of the issue of its legitimacy as a combatant in Kashmir.

When it became clear that neither side could advance beyond what they held by the autumn of 1948, the two sides accepted a cease-fire that became operational at midnight on 31 December 1948.

The Sino-Indian Border War of 1962

The entire 2,520 miles (4,056-km) Sino-Indian border is considered disputed by Beijing, while New Delhi argued that a customary line defined it. Attempts by both sides to militarily establish the border as they perceived it have led to clashes since 1959. The ill-equipped and poorly led Indian army was ordered by the government to undertake a "forward policy" to establish posts behind the Chinese positions. The Chinese bided their time and launched an attack on Indian positions in the North-East Frontier Agency and in Ladakh on 22 October 1962.

An Indian brigade readying to occupy the Thag La ridge across the Namka Chu River was wiped out and the monastery town of Tawang captured. On 16–17 November, after a lull of some three weeks, the Chinese moved against the supposedly strong Indian defenses at Se La and Bomdi La to the east, using infiltration tactics reminiscent of the Korean War. The Indian division was routed, bringing the Chinese within sight of the plains of Assam. Further east, the Indian forces fought with great determination in the Walong area, but were also forced to retreat in some disorder. The Indian army performed better in Ladakh, where they conceded ground to the Chinese only after a tough fight, on some occasions to the last man. Indians used light tanks here, but did not commit the combat strength of the Indian air force during the war for fear of Chinese retaliation.

India sought military help from the United States and the United Kingdom, but the Chinese shrewdly declared a unilateral cease-fire on 20 November and in most cases withdrew to their original positions before any significant assistance arrived. Though fighting was limited, the war, particularly the collapse in the east, was a major trauma that led India to embark on a major expansion and reequipment of its forces.

Indo-Pakistan War: The Second Round, August–September 1965

The second Indo-Pakistan war began with a clash in the southern extremity of their land border in the Rann of Kutch in February 1965, and through the summer there were heightened tension and clashes across the cease-fire line in Kashmir. But beginning in August, Pakistan initiated Operation Gibraltar, an invasion of the state by thousands of irregulars. Their aim was to converge on Srinagar and stage a "popular" uprising, which failed to take place; those guerrilla forces that did not retreat were captured or killed. The tough Indian reaction, which included the capture of the strategic Haji Pir Pass and several other Pakistani posts in Kashmir, compelled the Pakistanis to up the ante.

On 1 September, a Pakistani armored division moved toward Akhnur, to cut Indian forces in western Kashmir and threaten links with the valley. Pakistan hoped to localize the conflict within the Jammu and Kashmir state, as had been the case in the 1947–1948 war. But the Indians had other ideas; to relieve pressure in the north, they launched on 6 September a three-pronged attack toward Lahore and also moved against Sialkot. The Indian plans were, however, poorly executed. The Indian air force was not told of the Lahore thrusts, and the Pakistani air force disrupted the central Indian spearhead, striking at Indian air bases and causing considerable damage.

Pakistan had audacious plans of its own, and after blocking the southern thrust against Lahore, they counterattacked with the aim of capturing a vital bridge on the Beas River linking Amritsar with the rest of India. But the badly led Pakistanis floundered at Khem Karan, and the attacking force was trapped and destroyed. By mid-September, Pakistan had expended most of its ammunition, and India's advantage of size would have come into play; strong Chinese pressure and poor advice from army headquarters, however, persuaded India to accept a cease-fire on 22 September. Both sides returned the territory they had captured through an agreement signed at Tashkent in early 1966.

Indo-Pakistan War: The Third Round, The Bangladesh War of 1971

The refusal of Punjabi-dominated West Pakistan to accept the victory of the Awami League, the principal party of East Pakistan, in the first general election of the country in early 1971 led to the latter declaring itself as an independent Bangladesh. Beginning on 25 March 1971, the Pakistani army sought to restore authority through a brutal campaign, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Some 10 million refugees fled across the border to India, along with many Bengali leaders. Led by Bengali officers of the Pakistani army, a Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force) launched a guerrilla war against the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan/Bangladesh.

India began to assist this force and to prepare for a general war. As the battle lines were being drawn, India signed a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union on 9 August 1971; meanwhile, U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger's secret visit to China, via Pakistan in July 1971, cemented the already existing U.S. tilt toward Islamabad. By the end of November, fighting along the border intensified, and Indian forces entered East Pakistan/Bangladesh at several points.

On 3 December, in a bid to ease Indian pressure, the Pakistani air force launched a series of air strikes against Indian airfields in the west, leading to open war. The Pakistani commander in Bangladesh planned to keep screening forces on the border and build up cities as strong points that could hold out for two months or so The initial Indian plan was to advance on four fronts across the riverine terrain, occupying positions short of the capital, Dhaka. But as the confused Pakistanis pulled back, Indian generals sensed opportunity, and two of the thrusts reached the gates of the city by 14 December; two days later, the 91,000-strong Pakistani army surrendered. The dispatch of a nuclear-powered carrier group to the region by U.S. president Richard M. Nixon was to little avail.

The Pakistani army had vague plans for an offensive in the west to help the beleaguered forces in the east. The plan to capture Poonch failed, but Pakistani forces captured Chamb again. But the anticipated big offensive, however, did not take place. Indian forces were put off-balance by contradictory orders on whether they should take the offensive or remain on the defensive. The limited offensives that did take place yielded insignificant gains because of poor leadership. Unlike the war of 1965, this conflict saw considerable naval action. The Indian navy conducted two daring raids on Karachi, bombed Chittagong harbor, and sank a Pakistani submarine, though it lost a frigate off Gujarat.

Under the Simla Agreement in 1972, prisoners of war were exchanged and captured territory returned, except in Jammu and Kashmir, where the cease-fire line was replaced by a Line of Control (LOC), through which both sides kept their respective gains: Pakistan in Chamb, and India in Ladakh.

The Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka, 1987–1990

India sent in a division-sized force in September 1987 as part of an accord with Sri Lanka. Their job was to enforce a peace with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist group that India had earlier backed. However, the effort soon involved India in combat operations against the LTTE, which expanded to a guerrilla war across the northern and eastern parts of the island and sucked in another three Indian divisions. A change in government led to a Sri Lankan request for an Indian withdrawal in March 1990, which took place after India had lost some 1,100 soldiers.

The Siachen War

The officials who determined the LOC in 1972 did not anticipate one problem when they terminated the line at a point NJ 9842: the agreement did not stipulate the location of the line for the remaining about 60 miles (100 kilometers) of glaciated terrain before it reached the border with China. In the early 1980s, Pakistan began to issue maps with the border running northeast to the Karakoram Pass, incorporating the Saltoro range and Siachen Glacier. India refused to accept this, sending reconnaissance parties to occupy the Saltoro range on the western side of the glacier in April 1985, thereby preempting a similar Pakistani plan. Since that time, an autonomous conflict has raged there, primarily in the form of artillery duels, though a greater proportion of Indian losses have been caused by avalanches, altitude sickness, and frostbite, since the forces occupy altitudes up to 20,000 feet (over 6,000 m). An agreement between the two sides to withdraw from the area has been pending implementation since 1989.

The Kargil War of May–July 1999

This miniwar, the first face-to-face conflict between two nuclear-armed powers anywhere, began when India discovered a shallow Pakistani incursion on the LOC near Kargil in early May 1999. India's initial efforts to push back the well-entrenched Pakistanis failed. After a buildup, a counteroffensive was launched in June with the help of massed artillery and the Indian air force, but the main thrust consisted of near-suicidal enveloping infantry attacks on Pakistani strong points. India strictly confined the area of fighting to the locale of the incursion. The Pakistanis maintained that the intruders were mujahideen (Muslim guerrilla fighters) and even refused to reclaim the remains of 279 soldiers buried by the Indians, who in turn lost 524 dead. A U.S.-brokered agreement persuaded Pakistan to pull out, and India declared the war to have ended on 26 July.

Minor Wars and Near Wars, 1947–2002

The 100-hour war to liberate Hyderabad in September 1948 was termed a "police action," but it was conducted as an orthodox military operation codenamed "Polo." Surrounded by Indian territory, the state was run by the Muslim nizam, who declared independence in 1947, despite being told by the British that this was not an option. The state had a fairly large army, including armored car regiments and a large levy of paramilitary razakars, or Islamic volunteers. India used a roughly division-sized force as well as combat aircraft beginning 13 September 1948, and the state forces surrendered on 17 September.

After independence, remnants of the Portuguese empire—Goa, Dadra, and Nagar Haveli—were a sore point for Indian nationalists, who tried to use Gandhian tactics to liberate them, but failed. In 1961 Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, despite pressure from the United Kingdom and the United States, gave the go-ahead for a military operation. Given the imbalance of forces, Operation Vijay was virtually uncontested. It began on 17 December and ended in a day, since the Portuguese put up only token resistance.

In 1986–1987, two major exercises nearly triggered conflicts with Pakistan and China, respectively. Exercise Brasstacks, an Indian military exercise that concentrated a huge amount of armor in Rajasthan, led to precautionary Pakistani deployments in Punjab, setting off a train of events that nearly led to war, as well as a veiled Pakistani nuclear threat in January–February 1987. Exercise Chequerboard was designed to test Indian abilities to move forces from their bases in the plains to the Sino-Indian border in the east. Unsure of its purpose, the Chinese mobilized, and the two forces came face to face in the Tawang region, the site of the Indian disaster in 1962. Some deft diplomacy defused the crisis by May 1987.

In a show of force linked to a series of demands after the 13 December 2001 terrorist attack on its Parliament, India mobilized its army for a punitive strike against Pakistan. By the time the Indian forces were ready, however, Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf delivered a speech, on 12 January 2002, outlining steps to break Islamabad's terrorist links. A second alarm came in May 2001, after terrorist killings of relatives of Indian army personnel at Kalu Chak, near Jammu; it was defused by U.S. intervention after Pakistani leaders declared that they would end infiltration across the LOC "permanently."

Manoj Joshi

See alsoArmed Forces ; Bangladesh ; China, Relations with ; Ethnic Conflict ; Kargil Conflict, The ; Military Interventions in South Asia ; Nuclear Programs and Policies ; Pakistan and India ; Strategic Thought


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