The planning and operations involved in the Indian moves to prevent Pakistani occupation of the Siachen Glacier area, known as 'Operation Meghdoot', closely mirrored the personality of their creator, General Prem Hoon, the then GOC of XV Corps. A tough, no-nonsense soldier, he was a bold and resourceful commander with a reputation for cool and methodical planning.
Trained by the Swiss Army in mountain warfare, he had been Commandant of the High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) at Gulmarg and was well-versed with the technical skills and tactics needed for such operations.
In the summer of 1983, based on intelligence inputs and increasing Pakistani oropolitical moves in organising mountaineering expeditions into what was essentially Indian territory, the high command focused on the area.
A Ladakh Scouts patrol reported a Pakistani helicopter flying over the glacier. Later, a strategic reconnaissance by a team from HAWS found traces of enemy presence in our territory, including landing of helicopters and patrol debris. It was obvious that Zia-ul-Haq was planning to grab Siachen in order to claim a victory and legitimise his regime. The capture of Siachen would enable the enemy to pose a dangerous threat to our lines of communication between Srinagar and Leh.
In a brilliant move, a close watch was kept on suppliers of Arctic gear in Europe, leading to a discovery that the Pakistanis had ordered 150 sets from a dealer in London. Whereupon, it was decided on the recommendation of General Hoon to launch a full-fledged operation in the summer of 1984 to pre-empt the Pakistanis and demonstrate our ownership and control over the Siachen Glacier.
Indira Gandhi, fully alive to the dangers of the emerging situation, lived up to her reputation for audacious and creative action, approved the operation and facilitated the onerous logistical build-up required. Prem Hoon and his staff, including his senior general staff officer, Brigadier (now Lieutenant General) JL Malhotra, now got down to planning 'Operation Meghdoot' down to the minutest detail. A project was planned with an outlay of Rs. 5 crore.
Next week: the operational plan
The ISI base at Samahni
With the help of authoritative sources in both countries, one has been able to reconstruct some details of the operation launched by the Pakistani Border Action Team (BAT) that led to the beheading of Lance Naik Hemraj Singh of 13 Rajputana Rifles. An ISI detachment located at Samahni, 5 km from the LoC in PoK between Bhimber and Mirpur and opposite Lam Valley in Naushera sector, is charged with carrying out the outrage. This post is manned by elements of the Special Service Group (SSG) seconded to the ISI. The officer commanding bears the permanent pseudonym of 'Major Musa', leading a complement of 15 SSG personnel, including 2-3 JCOs and some Havildar instructors.
This is essentially a training and operational base for actions conducted in Indian territory up to a penetration depth of 5 km, the aim being to destabilise the area. The Samahni detachment's area of responsibility extends up to Uri in India. Besides fundamentalists and 'Jihadis', criminal elements are recruited for training and induction into operations.
In some cases, they are freed from jails; in others, they are drafted when the cases against them are at the judgment stage. Besides direct recruitment by the ISI, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LET) also supplies criminals from Punjab. In no case are these criminal elements inducted into deep penetration or long-stay operations into the Kashmir Valley for the fear that their predilection for criminal activity could alienate the civilian population.
They are meant for quick insertion, actions and extraction training being given in weapons, IEDs, ambushes, raids and, not to put too fine a point on it, hatred for all Indians.
Next week: methodology of Border Action Teams
Dept of Defence and Strategic Studies, Punjabi University
Set up in 1969 under the stewardship of Dr Fauja Singh Bajwa, the department was a pioneer in the region in this discipline. Later, Colonel Dr Bhupinder Singh headed the department for many years. National security, international relations, strategic thought, defence economics, science and technology, theory and practice of war, south Asia and Indian Ocean, military sociology, military psychology, international law, security studies, conflict resolution and peace studies and warfare in India are the main thrust areas of specialisation for postgraduate studies leading to the award of MA and MPhil degrees and for research at the doctoral and post-doctoral levels.
The recent seminar on 'No Traditional Threats to India's Security: Challenges and Responses' evoked a good response from academics, thinkers and soldiers in the form of both participation and papers presented. Dr Kamal Kingar, who specialises in south Asian studies and defence economics and has got published nine papers and a book, heads the department and is ably assisted by doctorates Umrao Singh, Inderjeet Singh and Kewal Krishan. A most useful research institute for higher defence learning.
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