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Sitrep | Securing permanent defences in Punjab

‘Permanent ditch-cum-bundh defences in Punjab need to be secured in peace time too from the enemy’s human intelligence and saboteurs’

punjab Updated: Oct 08, 2017 14:17 IST
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Hindustan Times
Punjab,punjab border,war narratives
Mandeep Singh Bajwa

General Prem Bhagat who commanded the corps defending Punjab in 1966-70 analysed the lessons of the 1965 war in detail. He concluded that loss of territory in the strategically important state was politically unacceptable.

In the absence of any natural defences in the area, he advocated digging of a deep ditch obstacle all along the most vulnerable stretches of the border. This was to be surmounted by a high earthen embankment. At various points concrete emplacements for weapons were embedded in the structure. Water was to be released into the ditch during war. While screen positions protected bridges and vulnerable points ahead of the ditch, strong mobile reserves were held in readiness behind the obstacle to counter-attack any penetration. On certain very vulnerable stretches a dual obstacle system was constructed.

The Bhagat Line, as I prefer to call it in the memory of a most illustrious general, has protected Punjab well. However, in peace time the ditch-cum-bandh obstacle lies unoccupied open to enemy humint scrutiny and potential sabotage. This unsecured state most glaringly came to public notice when a restaurateur sought to boost his business with ‘bunker tourism’ – trips to the defence line complete with selfies inside defensive positions.

How are the permanent defences to be kept out of harm’s way in peace time? One solution could be to have them occupied permanently by a militia composed of ex-servicemen and youth from the border areas. These can be posted in penny packets to man intersections and patrol the defence line. When regular troops occupy the defences for training or operational alerts they can be concentrated for training. During war the force can be used for rear-area security, flank protection or manning of gaps.

40th NDA on a cruise

Nothing is quite as strong as the bonds of friendship, camaraderie and affection between officers of the armed forces who have done their pre-commission training together at one of the service academies – the legendary brotherhood of course-mates. The 40th National Defence Academy (NDA) course is a case in point. Passing out in June 1971 they served to replace the casualties of the war in December and fought in Sri Lanka, Siachen and all the no-war, no-peace conflicts through the 70s to the early years of this century. Stalwarts from this course include former Army chief General Bikram Singh, former Northern Army commander General KT Parnaik, General DS Chauhan, General Dhruv Katoch, strategic thinker Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal and Sri Lanka war-hero Colonel Anil Kaul, Vir Chakra.

Now the 40th course plans to take an eight-day cruise together on a liner to reaffirm those ties of fellowship. Ninety course-mates and their families will be sailing together in December topped off with a three-day holiday in Singapore. Bon voyage to them! Earlier the 34th and 39th Courses had done a cruise together too.

Swachh Armed Forces?

Defence minister’s off the cuff remark that the Army would clear garbage in tourist spots in high-altitude areas has caused consternation among veterans. This is a typical example of the unthinking kind of statement which offends both the serving and retired fraternity. The defence services maintain a very high degree of cleanliness and sanitation in their cantonments and stations. No special efforts or hygiene drives are required for the purpose. It just comes to them in the natural course of things.

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(Views expressed are personal)

First Published: Oct 08, 2017 14:17 IST