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August 5, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/Lt Gen P N Hoon (retd)

'I hold Narasimha Rao responsible for allowing Kashmir to slip out of India's hand'

Lt Gen P N Hoon 'If we give away our territory we are going to run into trouble tomorrow'

What kind of leadership heads the Pakistani army? What are they driven by? Sheer hatred for India?

Complete hatred for India. There are schools at the border which are funded by the Middle East. I remember meeting some children once or twice who would say 'Pakistan zindabad' when you drove past. But when you stopped and asked them where was Pakistan, they wouldn't know. The government also has to see its education policy. The people of Kashmir are not happy because for so many years there has been no development.

I was the commandant of the High Altitude Warfare School. The slopes of Gulmarg could have been turned into a skiers' paradise. But local politics is so self centred that this is not possible. You can't build a road from Tanmarg to Gulmarg because the ponywallah would lose his livelihood.

I don't blame the Kashmiri for being dissatisfied. He doesn't have electricity for seven months. He has no economy. He eats Nadru -- a part of the lotus. His children have no schools. If a young man in Delhi or Chandigarh can drive a Maruti or a Santro, why can't a young man in Kashmir do the same, why are you stopping him? Kashmiri youth should be encouraged to move out of Kashmir.

You say India should not be hasty and the situation allowed to simmer. The Indo-Pak hostility has continued over five decades, how long can this continue?

In today's context wars are not easy. There has to be reason for a war. We had a reason this time, but we didn't do it. We are not over the hump yet. We cannot lower our guard. We went into East Pakistan because we had a reason. There were 90,000 refugees in India. So there has to be an occasion. Knowing Pakistan, they will always give us a chance. They are still humiliated by the 1971 defeat. They will carry on and they are carrying on. Militancy can increase now. They can spill over into Punjab. I believe they are well entrenched in the North-East.

From your experiences at the LoC, how difficult and stressful is it to guard that stretch?

Very difficult. Even the Americans are trying to find out from us how we fight and live in that area. Even Siachen. I maintain that Siachen was a botched up operation. Over Rs 60 million is spent on Siachen every day. This money comes by way of direct and indirect taxes paid by the people of this country. The question is, how long can we afford to spend so much on Siachen? Since retirement I have been submitting papers and writing to PMs about the security concerns of India.

I was the brain behind Operation Meghdoot -- the plan that put the Indian army atop. The present impasse happened because the operation was never fully implemented. I want a probe into the botched Operation Meghdoot.

Siachen I blame the Indian government for having messed up Siachen. I hold former prime minister Narasimha Rao responsible for allowing Kashmir to slip out of India's hand. As PM he did not even visit Kashmir. In his August 15 address to the nation, he blamed Pakistan for the kidnapping of foreign tourists while his Pakistani counterpart Benazir Bhutto in her speech was talking of a visit to Siachen. The difficult conditions the Pakistani soldiers are living under and how she could even hear the echoes of the Holy Quran at such a high altitude.

How was Operation Meghdoot botched up?

My plan was to hold it thinly at the top. There are three approaches there. So Pakistan could have taken it there. If I beefed it up like it was done later, my logistics would go wonky. I said, let me have this force on the line of communication -- on the Srinagar-Leh Highway and if they take anything there (200 km away), I will hit them with this force, even in winter. I will just go and take Gilgit, Skardu and hit the Karakoram highway in Pakistan.

Now again there was a difference of perception: Sundarji came -- a brigade was raised, a division was raised. Instead of raising a corps and placing it in that area, he shoved it into Leh. With a result that a whole division, a brigade started looking after this area in Siachen. This was not required.

Siachen has to be held for some time. Till we consolidate. We concentrate our force and keep it ready for a riposte through an area at a time of our own convenience.

What about the National Security Council...

Another thing is the National Security Council. Since we have coalition governments, we need strong institutions. The NSC as it constituted today -- some people said it was new wine in old bottle. I call it: old wine, old bottle, but a new cork. It's defunct. Just defunct. They are doing nothing.

I have nothing against Brajesh Mishra. He maybe a damn good chap. A clever chap. But the fact that he's principal secretary to the PM, he hasn't got the time to be the national security adviser. Then the council is so top heavy -- everyone is there. They are required to prepare their report on a given situation -- be it the threat perception or whatever. The PM goes through it through the national security adviser and then consults the Central Committee of Political Affairs.

Here the Cabinet Committee for Security is the same as the Cabinet Committee for Political Affairs. The players are the same. We don't need what they have done. They have met once. Well, they've met at least. They have a cup of tea and samosas. I've been told they now get pastries.

I understand the retired chiefs that are on the council could not even attend the meeting. And since it's such a large body they cannot discuss anything. The council should be a small body. That's what the PM and the government want.

K C Pant -- he was defence minister and a brilliant man. He spent months making the NSC, but his ideas have not been implemented.

George Fernandes has also been regarded as a good defence minister. People from within the armed forces also say he is the best we have ever had...

Gen. Sunderji That is a perception which has changed. I was also very impressed with him. When he took over he started making forays into Siachen. He ordered two-three of his staff who were not allowing snow mobiles to be bought to be fired and sent them to Siachen. I said: Here is a Man! But proof of the pudding is in the eating. The way he handled Kargil has been a total blow-up.

I feel he was only interested in projecting himself. I think it was wrong of him to have visited Kargil during the fighting. Even the PM. When these people go, there is a lot of preparation required. Even the firing has to cease. Pakistan won't stop. When our PM was there, a shell was dropped. They don't stop, but we have to stop. Our resources get diverted to making arrangements for the PM.

You have indicated in your book that there was a bid to dismiss the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1987. On what basis do you make this claim?

A Cabinet minister wanted to meet me. I was the Commander-in-Chief, Western Command. He wanted to know if Rajiv Gandhi were to be dismissed what would the army's role be. I told him the army was totally apolitical. I asked him why he was asking me -- he said I was most powerful because I had all the strike forces under my control. I told him no forces could move. The President of India, the supreme commander of the armed forces -- you tell me, if he was thinking of dismissing the government, wouldn't some generals and some politicians know about it? It can't be no.

Take the converse, when a PM of a country is to be dismissed, you think Rajiv Gandhi was so naive that he did not know who were the people involved and what the plan was?

You even maintain that General Sundarji and Arun Singh did not inform Rajiv Gandhi about Operation Brasstacks? What would they have gained by that?

Brasstacks was the mobilisation of the entire army of India. It was done with the background that every five years we should do this. So that commanders had time to lick their command into shape. Now, when such a large exercise is conceived, I pointed out at that time to Sundarji that the movement of our forces is going to attract the attention of Pakistan.

Militancy was at its height in the Punjab. According to this plan -- three-fourths of the army was going to be in the desert and I had told them that in view of the militancy in Punjab we may get into a situation where it could be war. And with a war-like situation, they (Pakistan) may react. Which they did. He said you don't worry about that and ask for whatever troops you want, so troops were moved from everywhere. Ammunition was moved. Pakistan also moved. I told him I hope the government has been informed about this, because such a large movement of troops had to be told.

Brasstacks was in 4 parts. Brasstack 1 was an exercise on the map, held in Delhi which Rajiv attended. Brasstack 2 was supposed to be for the military commanders in Chandigarh. This was on a sand model. Brasstack 3 was reduction of all three into writing. And Brasstack 4 was actually with troops in the desert, which would have got a reaction. It appears that Sundarji and Arun Singh did not inform the PM.

I went for the Army Day Parade to Delhi on January 15. I was there for the reception in Sundarji's house in the evening where the President, PM were there -- Rajiv had the habit of walking up and asking me: 'How is the western front?' I thought that was a very sharp question, especially when we were moving into a war situation. I said everything was going according to plan and all our troops are moving into their battle location. He asked me: 'What do you mean by battle location?' He was holding a samosa in his hand and said, 'How can we go to war?' I knew something had gone wrong.

I quickly took my aircraft and went back to the desert where my corps commanders were ready. Rajiv called the defence secretary and I understand he was very upset. Then I started getting calls from the DGMO General Ravi Mahajan that the chief wants you back.

When I went back Sundarji told me that he wanted me to change the configuration. The configuration of the exercise was east to west. He said to change it quickly from south to north. I said I could do it in 10, 12 days, and the forces were pulled back to Bikaner. Then all the MPs were brought to the desert. All military attaches were brought. But I think it was a war, and the PM was not informed.

It is understood that you and General Sundarji had your differences. What was the reason for these differences?

Sundarji had a different military strategic mind. His greatest weakness was he wanted a forward policy. Whether against Pakistan, China or the North-East. He wanted everything in the shop window. My policy was to hold thinly in the front and keep the forces back. Over the years we had got into that posture. When Sundarji took over he wanted everything in the shop window, with the result we were baring our rear. There were not enough forces to react to a particular situation.

In Siachen he did the same thing. Even in Nathula, I had differences with the then chief. I drew a line with my boot on the snow and told him that if he wanted me to defend that line, I couldn't. I needed some offensive defence. That even if I hold it thinly, even if it is violated anywhere, I'll restore it.

I had professional differences with Sundarji. Even the way he reacted to Bofors was very immature. He was a very ambitious man. He was media savvy. I think there's nothing wrong in being ambitious but a little bit of loyalty to your institution is also very necessary. I am sad he is no more today. I wish my book had come out when he was alive so that he could have given his reaction.

General Hoon's photograph: Jewella C Miranda

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