INTERVIEW

An Interview with

Padma Bhushan

Lt Gen (Retd) Dr M.L Chibber,

PVSM, AVSM, PhD

Lt Gen (Retd) Dr ML CHIBBER was visiting Pakistan in May 2000. He was kind to spare some time to give an interview to DJ. Publisher and Managing Editor IKRAM UL MAJEED SEHGAL conducted the interview on May 7, 2000 in Karachi.

DJ: General Chibber, thank you for agreeing to give me this interview at short notice. DJ readers would like to know about your youth.

A: We belong to Abbottabad. I schooled there and a few other places in NWFP as we moved with my father during his service in PWD. I was in Gordon College from 1943 to 1945 when I was selected for Officers Training School at Banglore. Said Azhar (Brig) and I were selected for regular commission and moved to Indian Military Academy to join the 2nd regular course in 1946. My other course mates in Pakistan are Brig (R) Amir Gulistan Janjua (ex Guides Cav and former Governor NWFP), Lt Gens (R) Jamal Said Mian, Kamal Matinuddin, Maj Gen (R) Qayyum (Signals) Brigs (R) Asghar (Former MNA), Anwarul Haq, MM Karim and Muhammad Yusuf.

DJ: In which unit were you commissioned?

A: In 1947 I had opted for Pakistan to join 13 FF. However, two of my uncles were killed by mobs at Peshawar and my own family escaped by hiding in a Muslim neighbour’s house. When they decided to come to India,

I had to change my choice and joined 5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force).

DJ : Can you briefly describe your early Army life?

A: I served with my battalion from 2/Lt to Lt at Delhi and later Naushera, Rajouri sector while demarcating the Ceasefire Line (CFL), till 1951; then at Kargil 1955 - 57; in NEFA 1964 and again in 1966 - 68. In between served in Korea UN peace mission, was Instructor at the Indian Military Academy; attended British Army Staff College in 1960 when Maj Lodi (later Lt Gen Sardar FS Lodhi) of Pakistan was a batchmate. Served in General Staff Branch (tactical doctrine) Army Headquarters and Instructor at the Staff College Wellington. Commanded a Brigade in Kashmir valley 1968 to 70; attended National Defence College in 1971 and was posted back to another brigade in Kashmir valley on 01 December 1971, the war broke out on 04 December 1971. Thereafter, came to Delhi as DDMO and was involved in demarcating the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir which replaced the CFL of 1949.

DJ: Give us a little background of your senior years in the Indian Army.

A: In 1976 I became Director Military Operations (DMO) in Army HQ. In 1979 I was promoted to Lt Gen and took over the Strike Corps at Chandigargh. I then served two years under Gens Malhotra and Krishna Rao as Adjutant General in Army HQ in 1980-81. In 1982 I was made the Army Commander of Northern Command.

DJ: You are the man said to have started the Siachen episode. Can you clarify this?

A: In 1978, when I was DMO we got information about a foreign expedition from the Pakistan side visiting the Siachen Glacier. The Line of Control, terminates at NJ 9842. The Glaciers are not demarcated. We sent a patrol next year and it was confirmed that Japanese expeditions had visited the Siachen Glacier. So routine patrolling started. Similarly routine protest notes used to be exchanged. The problem precipitated on 21st August 1983 when a protest note from Northern Sector Commander of Pakistan was handed over to his counterpart in Kargil stating that Line of Control joins with the Karakoram Pass, also that all the area West of this extended line belongs to Pakistan. When Army Headquarters saw this and also got information that Pakistan troops had occupied Bila Fond Pass, they ordered Northern Command to prevent the occupation of the Glacier area by Pakistan during the mountaineering season in 1984.

DJ: What happened?

A: What General Jahan Dad Khan has mentioned in his book “Pakistan Leadership Challenges” is absolutely true. You may like to quote him. It so happened that we chose our D day as 13 April 1984 and preempted Pakistan occupying the area. Your troops were in vigorous contact with us after  April.

Quote

When the SSG company got across Bilafond Pass (in 1983), the helicopter pilot reported an Indian location one thousand yards ahead in the Siachen Area. After seeing our helicopter, the Indian troops, comprising Ladakh Scouts, left their location in a great hurry abandoning all their rations and tentage. The SSG company stayed in this area for ten days but was ordered to withdraw in the first week of September 1983 as it had started snowing and the company did not have equipment for survival in the winter season under thirty to forty feet of snow, which is the normal snow range.

The withdrawal of the SSG company was followed by many meetings in the GHQ to decide our plan of action for the summer of 1984 when the Indians were bound to come in greater numbers. Also taken into consideration was the fact that whoever succeeded in occupying the passes first would be able to hold them as it was impossible to dislodge them from these positions due to the terrain and the conditions. As Corps Commander, I gave the following assessment to the GHQ:

Next year (1984), India is most likely to pre-empt the occupation of the main passes of Baltoro Ridge with two-battalion strength for occupation and a third battalion as reserve. It would need another brigade to provide them with logistic support. Maximum helicopter force will have to be utilized for logistic support. Their air force will be available for air cover and also air drop of supplies/equipment.

We will need a brigade group with a battalion plus to occupy these passes and the rest of the force to provide relief and logistic support. We would also need maximum porter force to carry supplies and ammunition from Goma to the glacier position. All our helicopters force, both Aloutte and Puma, will have to be mobilized for recce and logistic cover. The PAF has to stand-by to provide air cover. I had also cautioned GHQ that this operation will be very costly in logistic support. Our Military Intelligence must be alerted to keep us informed  of all enemy movements beyond Leh to forestall their occupation of the glacier area.

A meeting was held in December 1983, in the GHQ Operation Room under the chairmanship of President General Ziaul Haq. After listening to the 10 Corps Plan, the COAS thought that the operation on both sides would be on a limited scale, involving not more than a brigade on the Indian side and a battalion on Pakistan’s side. The COAS had obviously underestimated the quantum of force required by both sides. He had also under-estimated the logistic problem of this operation as presented to him by the logistic staff of the GHQ. In this meeting it was decided to incorporate the PAF in this operation and Maj Gen Pir Dad Khan (Commander of the Northern Areas) was given the task of pre-empting occupation of the passes, reaching there not before May 1984, as weather conditions before that period would not allow the use of helicopters and the PAF. This decision was to be approved by Defence Coordination Committee (DCC) attended by Chairman Joint Staffs Committee and all service chiefs. So preparatory work was started on the procurement of high altitude equipment and clothing, improvement of roads and tracks, recruitment of porters etc. All these preparations were to be completed by April 1984.

I handed over command of the 10 Corps to Lieutenant-General Zahid Ali Akbar Khan on 31st March 1984 after completing my tenure of four years. I gave him a detailed briefing about this operational plan and particularly stressed the importance of Intelligence keeping a watch on Indian moves beyond Leh. However, I learned later that when our troops approached the Baltoro Ridge passes during the third week of May 1984, the Indians were already in occupation of Gyong Pass in the south, strategically important because it could interfere with the enemy’s line of logistic support. As it was impossible to dislodge the Indians, we had no option but to occupy the next highest feature opposite them. This was a great setback for Pakistan, although all plans, including the timing of troop movement, had been laid down at the highest level. We had obviously failed to appreciate the timing of the Indian move and our intelligence agencies had failed to detect the movement of a brigade-size force in this area. It was learnt that the Indians had moved up their troops from Leh in the second half of April 1984.

After the occupation of these positions by both sides, opposite each other, the border became active. Both sides started inducting heavy weapons, including artillery guns, rocket launchers, and anti-aircraft missiles. Fire duels, patrol clashes, and engagement of helicopters through anti-aircraft guns became a daily affair. Both sides also brought up more troops to counter each other. Since then there has been no substantial change in the relative position of both sides. It was in the winter of 1984 that the Pakistani troops first experienced operating at that altitude. But the troops were provided high altitude equipment and there was no abnormal loss of life due to weather conditions. Pakistan was also able to induce French Lama helicopters to make up for our disadvantage vis-a-vis the Indians.

Unquote

DJ: Was Siachen worth it? Why are the two Governments persisting in their stand?

A: What was done had to be done but I was confident that the problem could be easily resolved. Having been involved as the DDMO, in demarcation of the Line of Control, I knew how General Bhagat of India and General Hamid of Pakistan were able to resolve far more complex problems. For example the Neelam valley problems was far more difficult to untangle. But unfortunately the Siachen problem got politicized when Benazir Bhutto started beating General Ziaul Haq with the Siachen stick. Similarly the issue froze after Indira Gandhi was assassinated. It is not worth slogging it out on the world’s highest battle ground. I am sure a solution can be found.

DJ: How did Pakistani troops perform?

A: You have excellent quality of troops, the way they have performed in Siachen is admirable. Siachen has very hard and rugged conditions, both of terrain and weather. In fact I would propose a “Siachen Veterans Association” on the lines of Cassino Veterans Association (after the famous Mount Cassino Battle in Italy).

DJ: You have met Gen Pervez Musharraf recently in Pakistan, previously you have had contact since your cadet days with Pakistan Army Officers and you have fought literally 21/2 wars against us. How do you regard the Pakistan Army?

A: I have the highest regard for the professionalism of your Army and the dedication of your officers and men, having seen them both in peace and war. This time we had a very good meeting with Gen and Mrs. Musharraf. He is handling a Herculean task with great deal of dedication. We have also had free and frank discussion with other retired officers, diplomats and scholars. Incidentally I have covered all this in my PhD dissertation published as a book titled “Military Leadership to Prevent Military Coup”. The central chapter of this book analyses how the two armies had a common heritage of over a hundred and fifty years. Despite this, why did Pakistan Army intervene in the country’s politics while the Indian Army stayed apolitical? My publisher tells me that more copies of this book of 1986 edition were sold to Pakistani visitors than to Indians. I did present a copy of this to Gen Asif Janjua in the Army House during our visit to Pakistan in 1992 and sent its photocopy to Gen Musharraf. Recently I have published a comprehensive essay on “Implications of Jihad: Its True Meaning and Purpose”. Some retired officers of your Army who have read the essay have appreciated the contents. A number of retired and serving Indian Army officers think about India and Pakistan like I do. My wife who visited most of the posts in Siachen and came under fire from a rocket while traveling in helicopter, is a soul-mate in my thinking.

DJ: What is the reason for avoidance of military coups in India?

A: I think the reason is democracy has very deep roots in our country. The democratic system is now bringing about social revolution. One man one vote is a sacred trust.

DJ: And you think what is happening in Bihar is a democracy?

A: Yes, it is a democracy even though there are anomalies like Laloo Prasad Yadav.

DJ: And what about Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, etc?

A: It is true, we have problems in many areas but we can overcome them because we have a strong, stable democratic system. However, I agree that at the Police Station level our people have the same problems as yours.

DJ: What about Kashmir?

A: We need peace in Kashmir. I have a dream; to walk the streets of Srinagar with my friend Farooq (Lt Gen Sardar FS Lodi), sip a bottle of beer chilled in the Kunhar River, pause for a while at the Batrasi Forest Rest House and then drive down to Abbottabad. I see a major role that your Journal can play by letting people know the TRUTH “so that Kashmir can became a bridge instead of battle ground between the two countries”.

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