“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Frequently and wrongly attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, this truism from George Santayana’s book The Life of Reason (1905) is relevant in view of the events of the past few days. The attack by Pakistan backed terrorists on an army camp in Uri, and the overwhelming outrage thereafter.
In 1962, an ill-informed government sent an equally ill-informed and unprepared army to war with China. This was a consequence of a long chain of events, beginning with Nehru’s ‘Forward Policy‘ in 1961 and climaxing in an overwhelming strength of Chinese soldiers surrounding the tactically unsound Indian post at Dhola. The news caused a massive media outrage, which echoed in the parliament with demands to retaliate becoming louder. Having painted himself in a corner with his earlier false bravado, Nehru tried to save face by telling the Indian Army to ‘Throw the Chinese out’. Result was the debacle which remains the darkest blot on the otherwise glorious history of Indian Army.
In 1971, Indira Gandhi the Army Chief Gen Manekshaw to go to war with Pakistan over the East Pakistan refugee issue. The refugee influx was already a crisis, and there was public hue and cry, specially in the Eastern states whose thin resources were stretched to extreme due to the influx of millions of miserable souls fleeing from Pakistani atrocities. Gen Manekshaw had the moral courage to stand up to the Prime Minister, asking for the right to strike at the time of his choice, keeping the time for preparation and campaigning season in mind. And to her credit, Mrs Gandhi had the sagacity to listen to professional military advice and not succumb to public pressure. Result was a resounding victory, a bloody nose to Pakistan, and the creation of Bangladesh.
The difference in the results between the two instances above ought to serve as a lesson for India’s strategic planners in the current environment. Yes, our patience has been tried once too often. The thousandth cut has been inflicted, and it’s necessary to sort out the hand wielding the knife has to be severed. Yet, as the DGMO has said, it has to be at a “Time and Place of our choosing”. The response can not and must not be a political face saving exercise, but a well thought out military response. That’s what the past tells us.