Tuesday, September 19, 2017

OROP : ************ .and the faujis are angry


        OROP......and the faujis are angry


       Col Dabby S De mello (Retd)

Ex-servicemen are engulfed by a smouldering disconnect following the inept handling of the OROP issue by the government. In their sunset years, they are being made to feel as if they are a spent force.

Posted at: Sep 19, 2017,

In times of war and not before,
God and soldier we adore.
But in times of peace and all things righted,
God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.

                                                —Rudyard Kipling

Veteran servicemen at a protest seeking OROP in New Delhi. PTI

Manohar Parrikar apparently is an ardent fan of the legendry poet Rudyard Kipling. Within a month of his swearing in as Raksha Mantri, he has revealed to the country that the nation no more holds the defence services in high esteem. His reason: "These days, people don't look up to the military in high esteem since there has been no war for so many years."
True, there has been no general war, but just count the horrendous losses suffered in the interim years, battling an insurgency and terrorism, largely the creation of the failed political ideologies, and at times open support to anti-nationals. Coming, therefore, from a Raksha Mantri whose mandate is to uphold the morale of the three services, this statement was most shocking. Parrikar is neither rustic nor illiterate. Nobody becomes an IITian with limited knowledge. All the more reason his disparaging remarks are repugnant. But by saying so, did he bare his party's mindset towards the faujis or that of the collective conscience of the Indians  as a whole? The revelation, true or false, by  the Raksha Mantri, spoke volumes about the way Defence Services will be treated by the NDA (read BJP). The entire defence fraternity was shocked and felt angry.
September 15, 2013, remains a sad day for the exservicemen (ESM) for, on that day, they got carried away by the rhetoric and honeyed words of Narendra Modi, the NDA's prime-ministerial candidate, during the ESM rally at Rewari. Having seen their stock lowered by the earlier governments, they, rightly or wrongly, allowed themselves to be considered a vote bank by the BJP, a decision they now regret. In his election bhashan, Modi promised to honour the long-pending demand of One Rank One Pension (OROP) in its entirety and true essence, if NDA was voted to power. That it was voted to power with an unexpected majority was also due to the faujis voting en bloc for the BJP, a fact it  should remember. Faujis, for whom an oral commitment is sacrosanct, felt utterly cheated and decided to take an unprecedented step — peacefully protest throughout the country with Jantar Mantar as the pivot. To press home their rightful demands, the ESM, mostly in their twilight years, have been sitting on a relay hunger strike on a footpath near Jantar Mantar non-stop for more than two years. How disgracefully can the government and its leaders behave with the faujis is a new and bitter experience for a disciplined force. And they are angry. 
ESM’s Tiananmen moment
Early morning of August 14, 2015, was the ESM’s Tiananmen moment, when the might of the state pitted itself against peaceful demonstrators; young policemen were allowed to manhandle grey-haired retired soldiers (many of them war-decorated ones) and widows engaged in a peaceful and permitted protest near Jantar Mantar. No one from the government apologised for this shameful behaviour. The faujis have not forgotten that day, and are angry.
To break the protest movement, the government even attempted to create an officer-jawan divide by maliciously goading another set of retired jawans to set up an alternate OROP stage a few feet away from the main protest tent at Jantar Mantar. From there, the misguided jawans denounced their officers by reading out the script handed out to them; what sort of government is this that uses such lowdown methods against its own veterans? Fortunately, this misguided lot soon realised its folly and joined the main protest, but the collateral damage it did to the strong officer-man bond which sustains our military, is frightening; a damage which can seriously impair the fighting abilities of our defence forces. The entire fauji fraternity took no time to fathom the design of the establishment and is angry.  
Finding far too many anomalies, some very serious, in the notification issued on OROP, the ESM rejected it outright and conveyed it in no uncertain terms to the government. To address the anomalies, the government on December 14, 2015 constituted a one-man judicial committee comprising a retired chief justice and asked for his recommendations within six months, a job which could be done within a month. After five months, the government maliciously extended its term by six months, apparently to tire out the protesting ESM.  The honourable judge finally submitted his report on October 26, 2016, but more than nine months later, the report has not been made public. Maybe the judge was convinced about the genuineness of OROP demands and has recommended in favour of the ESM. If that be so, implementation of his   recommendations can be a win-win situation for the government as well as for ESM. But the govt hasn't budged from its hardened stand and as a result, the faujis are angry.
Babus vs faujis
The establishment continues to pit the bureaucracy against the defence services, resulting in systematic degradation of the services. An  undesirable and unhealthy civil-military equation exists today.  The faujis are not oblivious to the step-brotherly treatment meted out to them vis-a-vis the bureaucrats and are very angry.
Due to the inept handling of the OROP issue, and indifferent attitude of the establishment on many other matters, including the warrant of precedence, a smouldering disconnect has engulfed these men who once were sentinels of our borders during their prime years, but are now considered a dispensable and a spent force. Their collective protest has been on for 27 months, but none from the establishment has bothered to discuss a way out with them. The faujis have started feeling that they are being treated unfairly and are angry. 
By now, the Pradhan Sevak knows too well that the one-time raise given to the military pensioners is not the OROP approved by the two parliamentary committees; yet he mocks the ESM by repeatedly misinforming the countrymen from just about any platform, "Hamari govt ne fauji bhaiyon ko ek rank-ek pension de di hai!" What an emotional assault on the naïve veterans! No fauji, whether in or out of uniform, remains emotionally unmolested by the government's highhandedness and indifference, and is angry.
There are more counts on which the faujis are angry, the manifestations of which have not gone unnoticed by the BJP thinktank. Their appeasement has commenced and is gathering momentum to bring them back, yet again in good humour. But there is a saying that you cannot fool everyone all the time. The vote bank it created in 2013, and successfully milked in 2014, can't be left unamused. 2019 is not far and 4.91 crore voters make a formidable electorate. All media is put in high gear to woo the ESM by cosmetic gestures. Courtesy the BJP, faujis are no more apolitical or gullible as in 2014. They know their vote will make a difference, like it did in 2014. 
The faujis are angry and not without reason. Let us not forget that this patriotic lot of Indians also includes the soldiers in uniform guarding the borders in most adverse conditions. Populist measures of the state to keep their morale to the optimum will never be enough. The cumulative anger of these forgotten soldiers needs to be addressed the soonest in national interest. In military parlance, it is the captain of the ship that must bear responsibility for the errors of his command, no matter who lower in the chain, may have been responsible. Whether by design or by default (heeding to biased advice from biased advisers), whatever, the Pradhan Sevak is responsible for the current state of affairs. 
PS. Let the statesmanship prevail over ego and faujis be also taken along in the Sab ka Saath venture. Far too many elections have been won on the name of the fauj, faujis and "surgical strikes". It's high time the BJP won their hearts by giving the ESM their rightful due. By staging a countrywide peaceful protest, they are only reminding the Pradhan Sevak to fulfil the promise he made to them at Rewari. Can the BJP risk antagonising this large vote bank, if their promises are not fulfilled? I am not too sure. Jai Hind. Jai Hind ki Sena. JaiHind ki Bhootpoorv Sena. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Diplomacy in Doklam: New Strategic Ground for India in South Asia


Diplomacy in Doklam: New Strategic Ground for India in South Asia


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Doklam issue: China’s Xi Jinping has a PLA Problem


Doklam issue: China’s Xi Jinping has a PLA Problem


                     Brahma Chellaney

The Doklam pullbacks suggest that the removed chief of the 

People Liberation Army’s joint staff department, 

General Fang Fenghui, was an obstacle to 

clinching a deal with India and probably was responsible for 

precipitating the standoff in the first place.

Chinese President Xi Jinping stands on a military jeep as he inspects troops of the People's 

Liberation Army during a military parade in July 2017 (Xinhua via AP)

The Doklam debate has missed one key element: The mutual withdrawal deal was clinched just after Chinese President Xi Jinping replaced the chief of the People Liberation Army’s (PLA) joint staff department. This topmost position – equivalent to the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff – was created only last year as part of Xi’s military reforms to turn the PLA into a force “able to fight and win wars”.
The Doklam pullbacks suggest that the removed chief, General Fang Fenghui, was an obstacle to clinching a deal with India and probably was responsible for precipitating the standoff in the first place. Fang was fired just days after he hosted America’s highest-ranking military officer, General Joseph Dunford.
To be sure, this was not the first time that PLA belligerence in the Himalayas imposed diplomatic costs on China. A classic case was what happened when Chinese President Xi Jinping reached India on a state visit in September 2014. Xi arrived on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday with a strange gift for his host — a predawn Chinese military encroachment deep into Ladakh. The encroachment, the worst in many years in terms of the number of intruding troops, overshadowed Xi’s visit.
It is bizarre that the PLA would seek to mar in this manner the visit of its own head of state to a key neighbouring country. Yet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s earlier visit to New Delhi in 2013 was similarly preceded by a 19-km PLA incursion into another part of Ladakh that lasted three weeks.
Such provocations might suggest that they are intentional, with the Chinese government in the know, thus reflecting a preference for blending soft and hard tactics. But it is also possible that the provocations underscore the continuing “disconnect between the military and the civilian leadership” in China that then U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates had in 2011 warned about.
Xi’s purges of generals and admirals and other reform-related actions have been designed to consolidate his authority over the PLA and ensure that it does not blindside the government. But as Fang’s firing and other latest changes in the PLA leadership highlight, Xi is still working to bring the military fully under his control.
During his 2014 India visit, Xi appeared embarrassed by the accompanying PLA encroachment and assured Modi that he would sort it out upon his return.
Soon after he returned, the Chinese defence ministry quoted Xi as telling a closed-door meeting with PLA commanders that “all PLA forces should follow his instructions” and that the military must display “absolute loyalty and firm faith in the party.” He has conveyed that same message repeatedly since then, including recently on the 90th anniversary of the PLA’s creation. Had civil control of the PLA been working well, would Xi repeatedly be demanding “absolute loyalty” from the military or asking it to “follow his instructions”?

Under Xi’s two immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, the PLA gradually became stronger at the expense of the party. The military’s growing power has troubled Xi, a former military reservist whose present wife — folk singer Peng Liyuan — is a civilian member of the PLA, holding a rank equivalent to major general.
As part of his effort to reassert party control over the military and carry out defence reforms, Xi has used his anti-corruption campaign to ensnare a number of top PLA officers. He has also cut the size of the ground force and established a new command-and-control structure.
But just as a dog’s tail cannot be straightened, asserting full civil control over the PLA is proving very challenging. After all, the party is ideologically and morally adrift and depends on the PLA to sustain its political monopoly and ensure domestic order. The PLA, with its soaring budgets and expanding role to safeguard China’s overseas interests, sees itself as the ultimate arbiter of Chinese nationalism.
The structural change in China parallels what happened in Imperial Japan, which rose dramatically as a world power in one generation after the 1868 Meiji Restoration. Boosted by war victories against Manchu-ruled China and Tsarist Russia, the Japanese military gradually went on to dictate terms to the civilian government, with tragic consequences.
The PLA’s increasing clout has led China to stake out a more muscular role, including resurrecting territorial and maritime disputes, asserting new sovereignty claims, and using construction activity to change the status quo. It won’t be long before the PLA rekindles Himalayan tensions with a new encroachment.
China’s internal politics clearly has a bearing on its external policy. China’s prospective rise as a praetorian state will adversely affect the security of its neighbours.
Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Skirmish at Nathu La (1967)


                   The Skirmish at  Nathu La (1967)
                                  VK Singh


Nathu La lies on the Old Silk Route between Tibet and India. In 1904, Major Francis Younghusband led a successful mission through Nathu La to capture Lhasa. This led to the setting up of trading posts at Gyantse and Gartok in Tibet, and gave control of the surrounding Chumbi Valley to the British.

 In 1947, Sikkim became an Indian protectorate. After China took control of Tibet in 1950, and suppressed a Tibetan uprising in 1959, refugees entered Sikkim through Nathu La. 

During the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Nathu La witnessed skirmishes between soldiers of the two countries. Shortly thereafter, the pass was sealed and closed for trade. Five years later, Nathu La was the scene of a ‘border skirmish’ between India and China, which resulted in heavy casualties to both sides. Significantly, it was the first and only instance when the Chinese got a ‘bloody nose’ from the Indians. 

In order to help Pakistan during the 1965 War, the Chinese served an ultimatum and asked India to withdraw its posts at Nathu La and Jelep La, which were then held by 17 and 27 Mountain Divisions respectively.

Accordingly, orders were issued by Corps Headquarters (HQ) to both divisions to vacate Nathu La and Jelep La. 

As a result, 27 Mountain Division vacated Jelep La, which the Chinese promptly occupied.

 However, Major General Sagat Singh, GOC 17 Mountain Division, refused to vacate Nathu La, which was a Border Out Post (BOP), while the main defences were at Changgu.

 In the adjoining sector, manned by 27 Mountain Division, Jelep La was also a BOP, with the main defences located at Lungthu. In case of hostilities, the divisional commanders had been given the authority to vacate the posts, and fall back on the main defences. 

Sagat reasoned that Nathu La and Jelep La were passes on the watershed, which was the natural boundary. The McMahon Line, which India claimed as the International Border (IB), followed the watershed principle, and India and China had gone to war over this issue, three years earlier. Vacating the passes on the watershed would give the Chinese the tactical advantage of observation and fire into India, while denying the same to our own troops 

The Chinese had installed loudspeakers at Nathu La, and warned the Indians that they would suffer as they did in 1962, if they did not withdraw. However, Sagat had carried out a detailed appreciation of the situation, and reached the conclusion that the Chinese were bluffing. They made threatening postures, such as advancing in large numbers, but on reaching the border, they always stopped, turned about and withdrew. They also did not use any artillery for covering fire, which they would have certainly done if they were serious about capturing any Indian positions. Indian artillery observation posts on adjoining high features called Camel’s Back and Sebu La overlooked the Yatung Valley for several kilometres, and could bring down accurate fire on the enemy, an advantage that the Chinese did not have. It would have been a tactical blunder to vacate Nathu La and gift it to the enemy. Ultimately, Sagat’s fortitude saved the day for India, and his stand was vindicated two years later, when there was a showdown at Nathu La.    Vexed by their failure to occupy Nathu La in 1965, the Chinese continued their pressure on the Indians. In December 1965, the Chinese fired on a patrol of 17 Assam Rifles, in North Sikkim, at a height of 16,000 ft, killing two men. They made regular broadcasts from loudspeakers at Nathu La, pointing out to Indian troops the pathetic conditions in which they lived, their low salaries and lack of amenities, comparing them to those enjoyed by Indian officers. It was a form of psychological warfare in which the Chinese were adept, and had to be countered. Sagat had similar loudspeakers installed on our own side and tape recorded messages, in the Chinese language, were broadcast every day. Throughout 1966, and early 1967, Chinese propaganda, intimidation and attempted incursions into Indian territory continued. The border was not marked, and there were several vantage points on the crest line which both sides thought belonged to them. Patrols which walked along the border often clashed, resulting in tension, and, sometimes, even casualties.1 In the first week of August 1967, the BOP at Nathu La was occupied by 2 Grenadiers, relieving 18 Rajput. Lieutenant Colonel Rai Singh was then commanding 2 Grenadiers. Major Bishan Singh took over as ‘Tiger Nathu La’, as the company commander holding the pass was generally known, with Captain PS Dagar as his second-in-command. The deployment at Nathu La comprised a platoon each on Camels Back, South Shoulder, Centre Bump and Sebu La. The Battalion HQ was at Gole Ghar, while the battalion 3-inch mortars and administrative base were at Sherabthang. Even while 2 Grenadiers was in the process of taking over the defences at Nathu La, Chinese activities increased. They were noticed repairing their bunkers on North Shoulder and making preparations to construct new ones. On August 13, the observation post at Sebu La reported that the Chinese had arrived on the crest line and dug trenches on our side of the international border. When challenged, they filled up the trenches and withdrew. On the same day, they added eight more loudspeakers to their already installed 21 speakers on South Shoulder. Due to this, the volume of their propaganda increased and could now be heard at Changgu. The divisional commander discussed the problem with the corps commander, Lieutenant General JS Aurora, and obtained his concurrence to mark the crest line. 2 Grenadiers was ordered to lay a three-strand wire fence along the border from Nathu La towards the North Shoulder. However, as soon as work began on the fence on August 20, 1967, the Chinese became agitated, and asked the Indians to stop. One strand of wire was laid that day, and two more were added over the next two days. This led to an escalation in Chinese activity. 

On August 23, at about 1400 hours, Major Bishan Singh reported that about 75 Chinese in battle dress, carrying rifles fitted with bayonets, were advancing towards Nathu La. They advanced slowly in an extended line and stopped on reaching the border. They started shouting slogans which the Political Commissar read out from a red book and the rest repeated after him. The Indian troops were ‘standing to’, watching and waiting. Nothing happened for another hour. After standing on the border for about an hour, the Chinese withdrew and all was calm and quiet again. On September 01, the corps commander along with the divisional commander visited Nathu La. The visibility that day was rather poor. They went to Centre Bump first and then to South Shoulder. Then they walked along the border to Four Poles area, where they crossed the border and went a few steps inside. At once, the Chinese Political Commissar came running up to them, shouting “Chini, Chini”, indicating that they had crossed the border into China. The two Generals immediately withdrew, but the Chinese kept on grumbling. Soon a photographer came and took photographs of their footsteps across the border. 

Next morning, General Sagat Singh again went to Nathu La. He directed that the border from Right OP to Camels Back must be patrolled. Immediately, a patrol of two officers, one Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and 15 Other Ranks (ORs) was sent out under Major Bishan Singh. As soon as the patrol reached the U Bump near Tekri, the Chinese surrounded them. Major Bishan Singh tried to explain to the Chinese officer that they had not crossed the border and, in fact, it was the Chinese who were in Indian territory. However, the Chinese did not budge. Bishan and his men then pushed their way through the Chinese and returned to Hotel. The Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant Colonel Rai Singh, was watching all this from South Shoulder. On September 04, Sagat again went to Nathu La. He directed that the wire fence be converted into a Cat Wire Type 1 obstacle, using concertina coils. The task was allotted to 2 Grenadiers. A platoon of 70 Field Company Engineers under Major Cheema was allotted to assist them. On September 05, work started at 0500 hrs but the Chinese objected. There was an argument between Colonel Rai Singh and the Chinese Political Commissar as to alignment of the border. The work was stopped at 0800 hrs. However, work on the Chinese defences on North and South Shoulder continued. During the night, the Chinese came up to the Bump and cut off one Shoulder so that if water was poured on the other Shoulder, it would flow into China. Next morning, when our men went to straighten out some wire, a few Chinese came running up to the border with a bucket of water and poured it on the Bump, indicating the watershed. On September 07, the work started again on the laying of the wire. This time, about 100 Chinese came to the fence and there was hand-to-hand fighting between the troops. Realising that they were unequal to the Jats, the Chinese withdrew and began pelting stones, the Grenadiers responding in the same manner. Because of all this fighting, there was not much progress in the laying of the wire. The Chinese suffered a few casualties in wounded, and we had two wounded. On September 08 and 09, things were relatively quiet but the Chinese continued work on their defences. By now, Sagat’s patience had been exhausted and he was determined to complete the work before he proceeded on leave on September 12. On the night of September 10, he held a conference at HQ 112 Mountain Brigade in Changgu, where he personally briefed everyone on how the operation for laying the wire was to be carried out on September 11. Additional resources in men and material were moved for this purpose. One company of 18 Rajput was brought in to reinforce the defences. An ad hoc force of 90 men was organised into a protection party to charge the Chinese positions if they opened fire. Major Bishan Singh was in charge of the work, with Captain Dagar as his assistant. Apart from the platoon of 70 Field Company, a pioneer platoon was to assist in the construction of the fence.2

The Events of September 11, 1967 

As soon as work commenced on September 11, the Chinese came up to the fence, and tried to stop the work. There was a heated discussion between the Chinese Commander, who was accompanied by the Political Commissar, and Lieutenant Colonel Rai Singh, CO 2 Grenadiers. Sagat had foreseen this eventuality and told Rai Singh not to expose himself but remain in his bunker, where the brigade commander, Brigadier MMS Bakshi, MVC was also present. But this was not heeded and Rai Singh, with an escort, came out in the open to stand face-to face with the Chinese officers. As the arguments became more heated, tempers rose, with both sides standing their ground. Suddenly, the Chinese opened fire, causing several casualties among the troops working on the wire fence. Colonel Rai Singh was hit by a Chinese bullet and fell down. Seeing their CO fall, the Grenadiers became mad with rage.

 In a fit of fury, they came out of their trenches, and attacked the Chinese post, led by Captain Dagar. The company of 18 Rajput under Major Harbhajan Singh and the Sappers and pioneers working on the fence had been caught in the open and suffered heavy casualties from the Chinese firing. Realising that the only way to neutralise the Chinese fire was a physical assault, Harbhajan shouted to his men, and led them in a charge on the Chinese position. Several of the Indian troops were mowed down by Chinese machine-guns, but those who reached the Chinese bunkers used their bayonets and accounted for many of the enemy. Both Harbhajan and Dagar lost their lives in the action, for which they were later awarded the MVC and VrC respectively. Second Lieutenant NC Gupta was commanding the brigade signal company, the Officer Commanding (OC) being on leave. Gupta had recently returned after completing the Commando Course at the Infantry School and was promptly christened ‘Commando’ by the brigade commander. A soft spoken and affable officer with a diminutive frame, Gupta made up in courage and diligence what he lacked in size. For his fearless actions in the Nathu La operations, he was awarded the Sena medal, though he was, in fact, recommended for the MVC. 

Though young in years, Gupta maintained a diary of events as they occurred. Filling several foolscap sheets of paper, now yellowed with age, the record makes fascinating reading. It also brings to light several discrepancies between the actual events and the accounts that are to be found in war diaries and regimental histories written afterwards. (The author was also serving in 17 Mountain Divisional Signal Regiment in 1967. Subsequently, he had interviewed Lieutenant General Sagat Singh in 1997-98 while writing his biography. Most of the details given in this account are based on the diary maintained by Gupta, and personal interaction with him and General Sagat Singh). 

Based on his diary, some of the events of September 11 are described by NC Gupta in the following words:

By about 0930 hrs, Chinese fire had intensified and gradually we started getting out of touch with the troops at North Shoulder and South Shoulder. By 0945 hrs, we had no contact with anyone on the position on the Shoulders even on the Artillery network. It was a panic station for me. All the lines were down and so was the B1 to the pass. I tried to enter the battalion net and the company net but failed. There was no response on any of the almost dozen frequencies of the battalion in use that day for various nets. I asked the operator at Brigade HQ to press in additional radio sets and keep trying for a response directly on ANGRC-9 working to the Artillery OP and CO of the Field Regiment. Around this time, from the vantage position at Central Bump, the Commander saw over a dozen troops running down the slopes of South Shoulder towards Sherabthang. He also observed that some of them had shed their helmets, packs and even rifles as they ran down. This created panic for us. The Commander asked me to call South Shoulder but there was no response. We tried to observe the area of South Shoulder but could see no movement. The shelling on the South Shoulder had also increased. Under the circumstances perhaps there was no other option for the Commander but to ask me to send someone to South Shoulder to restore the communication. While I had a line party and spare radio sets with me, it was decided that a radio be sent to South Shoulder, a distance of around 500 mtrs. The route was open at places and involved going down around 300 mtrs and then up around 200 mtrs. The linemen with me were new to Nathu La and had never gone to South Shoulder. Havildar Bhakuni of the Rover had gone there many times. The choice was, therefore, between him and me. Seeing the gravity of the situation and the shelling, the Commander said, “OK, Commando (my pet name in Brigade HQ), off you go”. 

  I reached South Shoulder at around 1000 hrs. To my astonishment, I found the post totally abandoned. I informed the same to the Commander. He asked me to look around for wounded, if any, and remain at the post and keep him in the picture. From the bunkers on South Shoulder I could see the Chinese in their bunker across. By this time, intermittent fog had started setting in. I informed the Commander that I could see a few dead soldiers in the area ahead of our defences close to the fence. Barring this, there was no one on the post that was designed for a platoon of Infantry. I resorted to intermittent firing from my carbine to indicate that the post is still occupied. Soon I found an LMG in its bunker. I then used it very carefully to try and depict our presence on the post.

 At around 1100 hrs, the Commander informed me that reinforcements are on their way but would take at least three hours to reach and that I must hold on till then. A little later, he asked me to go around 100 mtrs down South Shoulder where he had spotted around six soldiers sitting behind a huge rock. After firing a few salvos of LMG, I went down. I found six Jawans of 2 Grenadiers, including 2/Lt Attar Singh (fresh from IMA), one Havildar and four Jawans. I made Attar Singh speak to the Commander. Thereafter, we all went back to the post and organised ourselves. By 1200 hrs, the fog had intensified. As I was watching from one of the bunkers I saw one of the dead moving. He was just next to the fence barely 10 mtrs from the Chinese bunker. Taking advantage of the fog I went ahead to try and recover him. To my surprise, it was Major Bishan Singh, Tiger of Nathu La, who had been injured in the initial firing. He was a 6 foot tall Jat. He was badly injured. With great difficulty I managed to lift him and partly drag him into our defences. Once inside, I made him speak to the Commander. After the Commander had been briefed by him, the Commander asked me to evacuate him using the four Jawans and asked me, Attar Singh and the Havildar to remain at the post. Ten minutes later, the Commander asked me to return to the area of Bumps, leaving the radio set with 2/Lt Attar Singh.3 The shelling was on-off. On my way back, I was hit by a shrapnel of one shell. However, I never came to know of it at that point of time. I say so because that was the closest any shell had exploded near me. I came to know about it after three days when I was changing the uniform. My vest was full of dried blood with a small wound on the chest. In our family we had a tradition to give a silver coin when someone was going out on some important job. My mother had given me this coin when I left Delhi for 17 MDSR after YO’s course. This coin was in my wallet along with the ID card and had taken the brunt of the shrapnel saving me from certain death. By about 1330 hrs, the reinforcements had reached South Shoulder. After passing necessary instructions, the Rover Group decided to move to area Steps and then to Sherabthang. Before moving, I left Havildar Bhakuni and the line party with the task of restoring the line in the battalion defended area including those to South Shoulder, H Section and the OP. I took the B1 radio myself and moved with the Commander. The events of September 11 at Nathu La had been an experience for me. We lost around 70 troops in the day. The skirmish lasted five days before being called off. The most amazing event was the recovery of a wounded soldier from the fence after six days in the open. It was nothing short of a miracle. The sad part was that over 90 soldiers of 2 Grenadiers had run away from the post. More than three dozen of them were later court-martialled. As a Signaller, it was something I had never expected out of Infantry.

The skirmish at Nathu La developed into a full scale battle, lasting six days. The Indian casualties in the action were just over 200: 65 dead and 145 wounded. The Chinese are estimated to have suffered about 300 casualties. Though the action taken by Sagat in marking the border with a wire fence had the approval of the higher authorities, the large number of casualties suffered by both sides created an uproar and he was posted out soon afterwards as General Officer Commanding (GOC) 101 Area. However, Sagat was not perturbed. For the last two years, the Chinese had been instigating him and had killed several Indian soldiers. The spectre of the Chinese attack of 1962 still haunted the military and political leadership in India and had prevented them from taking effective action against them. This was the first time the Chinese got a bloody nose, and the myth of their invincibility was broken.

Maj Gen VK Singh is an avid writer and has written many war accounts. 


 1. Major General VK Singh, Leadership in the Indian Army – Biographies of Twelve Soldiers (New Delhi: Sage, 2005), pp. 309-10. 

2. Colonel RD Palsokar, The Grenadiers – A Tradition of Valour (1980), p. 363. 

3. According to the regimental history of the unit, “The South Shoulder would have remained unoccupied had 2nd Lieutenant Attar Singh not been there. His personal example inspired the men to stay fast. For his steadfastness, he was promoted to the rank of captain on the spot by the GOC”. While the part about his on-the-spot promotion is true, this happened due to a misunderstanding. When the GOC came to know the real story later, he was enraged and almost ordered the officer to be stripped of the rank. His recommendation for a gallantry award was also reportedly cancelled.

 4. Apparently, 2 Grenadiers was not the only battalion that showed traces of fear and weakness. Similar instances occurred in other units, including Gupta’s own company, as subsequent entries in his diary reveal.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Welcome to the H-Bomb Club, North Korea


Welcome to the H-Bomb Club, North Korea



After months of anticipation, it finally happened. On Sunday morning, September 3, at precisely noon local time, North Korea detonated its sixth nuclear device ever to test a presumably new thermonuclear bomb design. The explosion generated an earthquake that was felt across the border in China and suggested a total explosive yield on the order of hundreds of kilotons, or ten times greater than the weapon the United States dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 — and likely similarly an order of magnitude greater than North Korea’s fifth nuclear test almost exactly a year ago.
What exactly did North Korea achieve with this test? In its state media, North Korea claimed the new device was an advanced nuclear bomb design ready for use with its Hwasong-14/KN20 intercontinental-range ballistic missile — the missile it first tested on July 4 this year — which can likely reach parts of, if not most of, the continental United States. If North Korea’s new bomb design appears as capable as initial impressions suggest, and its claim of missile-readiness are unexaggerated, North Korea has unquestionably attained what it sees as the capabilities necessary to deter the United States from a military attack against its leadership and territory.
For the doubters, North Korea released a highly specific technical statement through its state-run Korean Central News Agency meant to signal specific knowledge of thermonuclear bomb design — specifically, what is known as a two-stage Teller-Ulam bomb. The accomplishment, if verified, would be no small feat. Many new nuclear powers struggle to achieve this design capability quickly if at all, including India and Pakistan more than 20 years after their first tests in 1998. France took over 8 years, achieving this destructive capability in 1968. North Korea may have gotten there in a little over 10 years — which is quite impressive given the noose around the country and its program.
North Korea claimed it detonated some form of a thermonuclear weapon with its fourth nuclear test in January 2016. But many experts had doubted North Korea’s claim, so Pyongyang wanted to make clear that it had crossed that threshold now. To emphasize this achievement, hours before its sixth test, North Korea released images of Kim Jong-un inspecting a peanut-shaped device that resembled known designs for two-stage thermonuclear bombs. These bombs use a compact primary fission explosion to ignite a secondary fusion-fuel explosion (up to megaton range of yields) for a much greater total explosive yield than simpler fission (up to tens of kilotons yield) — or “boosted” fission (up to hundreds of kilotons yield) — bombs. Bombs with yields in the 100-kiloton range, like the U.S. W76, also use a staged thermonuclear design. So North Korea’s test yield could be consistent with both boosted fission and staged thermonuclear devices. It is almost certainly beyond simple fission designs.
Did North Korea actually succeed in testing a true staged thermonuclear device on September 3? Experts will pore over seismic data, radionuclide signatures from possible atmospheric venting, and study the images released by North Korea carefully to determine the veracity of its technical claims and whether the test suggests a true staged thermonuclear device or a boosted fission device. But, for strategic deterrence purposes, it does not matter. All that matters is that the explosive yield is large enough to flatten cities and the device is ready for use in ballistic missiles. And given the magnitude of the seismic data, it seems clear North Korea unquestionably demonstrated that ability.
We knew this was coming. North Korea has been telling us for months that its longer range missiles were capable of carrying a “large-sized, heavy nuclear warhead.” This sixth test may have exactly been for that warhead. We should also expect North Korea to continue refining the operational and technical components of its nuclear arsenal. Last week, North Korea fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile before dawn from a new launch site in Pyongyang to test its ability to retaliate quickly and from surprising locations, using the cloak of night cover to enhance survivability. This was as much an operational test for its units as it was a provocation to overfly Japan. It would not be shocking if North Korea performed an extended range ICBM test over Japan to prove doubters wrong about the state of its re-entry vehicle. In short, expect more tests as Kim consolidates a developmental program into a truly operational one.
Strategically, the capability demonstrated on Sunday dovetails with North Korea’s pursuit of a sufficient deterrent against the United States. Long unsatisfied with its ability to conventionally saturate South Korea alone as a deterrent to a United States attack, North Korea pursued nuclear weapons to ensure the Kim dynasty would remain in power indefinitely, immune to the fate that befell Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi after they made concessions on their nascent nuclear programs.
The device tested Sunday may fill out the nuclear strategy North Korea has been outlining over the years, one known by analysts as “asymmetric escalation” against a conventional attack or invasion. Unable to defeat allied forces conventionally, North Korea likely plans to use nuclear weapons against regional U.S. and allied bases in South Korea, Japan, and Guam — asymmetrically escalating the conflict to the nuclear level in first use — to degrade America’s ability to sustain conventional operations against it.
But how does that deter annihilation by U.S. nuclear retaliation? Enter the ICBM and the “heavy nuclear warhead,” which is designed to hold major American cities at risk. With a thermonuclear weapon sitting atop even an inaccurate ICBM, a single warhead — rather than three or five lower yield weapons — is sufficient to level most of a large American city. After North Korean first use of nuclear weapons regionally to stave off an allied invasion, it is this threat of retaliating against an American city with a thermonuclear-tipped ICBM that is North Korea’s only hope of surviving and creating an operational pause or cease-fire. That is why, from a deterrence perspective, this sixth test is so important, but also so unsurprising. North Korea’s nuclear strategy does not work nearly as well without it.
Politically, North Korea’s claimed possession of city-busting nuclear missiles capable of reaching the contiguous United States is largely aimed at driving a wedge between Washington and its allies. The same Cold War-era question that drove U.S. allies in London, Paris, and Bonn to wonder whether the United States would trade New York or Los Angeles for their protection now is relevant in Northeast Asia. Seoul and Tokyo will wonder how long they can take the United States at its word that Kim Jong-un’s ability to hold U.S. cities at threat will leave their alliances “ironclad.” The day of the test, one could already see the effects of this strategy as President Donald Trump angrily tweeted about South Korean “appeasement” of North Korea. If Kim’s aim was to decouple the United States from its alliance with South Korea, Seoul could be forgiven for thinking it was working.
Where do things go from here with North Korea?
Sunday’s test is perhaps the clearest signal that North Korea’s interest in voluntary denuclearization is a Western fantasy. Attempting to denuclearize North Korea by force would require a surprise attack by the United States — one that already makes Pyongyang wary of American B-1B Lancer sorties from Andersen Air Force Base at Guam that may one day be a prelude to such an attack. There is no guarantee that the United States could find and destroy all of Kim’s nuclear systems, and it thus leaves the United States and its allies in the region open to unacceptably high conventional and nuclear retaliatory risk. If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now: Any war with North Korea will be a nuclear war. Realistically, this is now out of the question.
To make the point clear that sanctions — even the far-reaching measures of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2371, passed last month — are insufficient to rein in its ambition, North Korean state media noted that “all components of the H-bomb were homemade,” adding that the country was able to produce “as many as it wants.” The claim may or may not be accurate, but sanctions alone certainly haven’t stopped North Korea’s progress to this point. And whether China can or cannot tighten the noose on North Korea is irrelevant so long as allowing a festering North Korean nuclear problem to distract Washington leaves Beijing as the biggest geopolitical winner.
Diplomacy is a third track and the only to have yielded observable limitations and delays on North Korea’s pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. However, the challenges of diplomacy remain considerable, with trust between both sides at abysmal depths and the Trump administration, like its predecessors, disposed toward a strategy privileging punitive sanctions and pressure. Concerns that North Korea may opportunistically defect from any unilateral assurances it may provide in bilateral or multilateral talks continue to persist as well.
The Trump administration may well find solutions it deems satisfactory on this side of the Pacific. It could funnel massive amounts of funding into long-meandering and disappointing ballistic missile defense programs like the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, the only system capable of defending the U.S. homeland against ICBMs. A former director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency described the probability that this $40 billion system would successfully intercept a North Korean ICBM as “at least as good as a coin toss” — far from a ringing endorsement. Nevertheless, missile defense appears to be an all-but-assured part of the longer-term strategy pursued by the United States and its allies to manage the North Korean threat.
In the end, however, Washington will have to learn to practice deterrence with North Korea, as it has done with the Soviet Union, Russia, and China. That will require an appreciation for North Korea’s capabilities and accepting that this country, once referred to by Richard Nixon as a “fourth-rate, pipsqueak power,” now deters the United States from invasion and regime change. Indeed, although Pyongyang may have long-term aims to reunify the Korean peninsula on its terms, in the short to medium timeframe it is unlikely to use nuclear weapons at all unless it fears a regime change, invasion, or disarmament attempt.
Reducing the risk of war — nuclear war — will require both sides to set up military-to-military channels to manage risk and, above all, for the United States to stop doubting that North Korea indeed possesses the capabilities it has now dramatically demonstrated. If Kim Jong-un wants us to believe that he has a long-range missile capable of delivering a “large-sized, heavy nuclear warhead” to U.S. cities, let’s not dare him to prove it. He just might.

Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) is a senior editor at The Diplomat and an independent researcher. Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) is an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.