Defence Reviews

‘India’s Military Conflicts and Diplomacy – An Inside View of Decision Making’ review: A general in his labyrinth

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Former Army chief V.P. Malik recounts past strategies from the Northeast, Kargil to Male

Just three decades ago, the Northeast was saddled with many insurgency movements. Acronyms for the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) appeared in news bulletins for the violent activities they carried out in the strategically significant area which sits like the head of the Southeast Asian region. Following the Assam Accord and several other agreements, the fire of separatism in the region was contained. That of course is one part of the story. The other part is narrated by General V.P. Malik in India’s Military Conflicts and Diplomacy: An Inside View of Decision Making.

Myanmar outreach

The separatist outfits did not survive on a local sense of alienation alone. They were actively aided by Myanmar and in some cases they exploited the lax security infrastructure in the country’s north where they built extensive infrastructure to target Indian interests.

India had given refuge to the deposed Prime Minister U Nu, and relations nosedived almost immediately as the military rule under General Ne Win took a hostile position. This coupled with Myanmar’s own weakness and other regional players ensured safety for the insurgents of the Northeast.

Finally, in 1999, the Government of India reached out to Myanmar and sent General Malik, then army chief, who met with General Maung Aye first in Myanmar and then in Shillong and began a security partnership with Myanmar that built up pressure on the insurgents. Myanmar did not disappoint. On January 8, 2000, Gen. Malik handed over a map that highlighted certain Naga militant camps in Myanmar’s northern lawless areas. Within few days the camps were raided by the Myanmar Army and uprooted.

The book by General Malik is full of interesting details and is a must to understand several key strategic gains that India made during the late 1980s till the early 2000s.

As the army chief during the Kargil war, he convinced the Vajpayee government to lift the political ban on the manufacturers of the Bofors gun which was at the centre of a controversy. The gun was instrumental in India securing victory in Operation Vijay against Pakistan. The section on his visit as the first Indian army chief to Israel makes for interesting reading. Also, on then Prime Minister Vajpayee’s orders he oversaw the building of a field hospital in Tajikistan’s Farkhor Air Base where Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud was treated after he was hit by a suicide blast on September 9, 2001.

Operation Cactus

But the most exciting part is the account of Operation Cactus that India launched within hours after a group of Tamil militants attempted an armed coup in Male in 1988. Gen. Malik’s narration of his morning meeting with the then vice-chief of army staff Lt. Gen. Sunith Francis Rodrigues and the flight to Male in an IL-76 aircraft are straight out of a thriller. Such was the hurry that only after the aircraft took off, Gen. Malik — then a Brigadier in the Military Operations Directorate — realised that the food packed by his family had remained untouched in his briefcase. By next morning Indian commandos had escorted Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to safety and the attempted coup was over.

India’s Military Conflicts and Diplomacy: An Inside View of Decision Making; General V.P. Malik, HarperCollins India, ₹699.

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