How he & his men won wars !
NEW DELHI: ‘Sam’ Maneskhaw backed his men through and through. And, his self-belief rubbed on to his men.
He would back officers even if some of them developed a fondness for the bottle that made them anathema in the eyes of some of his more punctilious colleagues. ‘Sam’ felt that the indiscretions of youth could be overlooked if the officer was courageous and a brilliant tactician, one whom soldiers would follow unquestioningly.
Thus, when the 1971 war came about, the General had around him officers who were not afraid to speak out their mind but when ordered to do so, would fulfil their missions with the dedication of evangelists. Like Major General Ian Cordozo who cut off his leg without anaesthesia after gangrene had set in during the battle at Sylhet in Bangladesh. Manekshaw conveyed to his Eastern Command chief Lt. Gen. J.F.R. Jacob, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s wish to move quickly into East Pakistan in 1971. On being asked by General Jacob to wait till the end of monsoons, ‘Sam’ accepted his commander’s advice and did not budge when requested by the political leadership to launch operations immediately.
Asked by Indira Gandhi whether “he was ready [for the war],” Sam replied, “Sweety, I am always ready.” But he stood solidly by the assessment of his field commanders, who felt that a military campaign which began in summer would not be concluded successfully because of the monsoon. This lead to the famous four words from Jagjivan Ram, then Defence Minister: Sam, ab maan bhi jao (Sam, please do agree).
Manekshaw was proved right. By the time war was declared, the army had over eight lakh men, about 300 fighter planes, 1,500 tanks and 3,000 artillery pieces. The Pakistan Army had less than half that number of men, fighter jets, tanks and artillery pieces.
‘Sam’ had mentored many of the officers serving under him. Pakistani military historian Shuja Nawaz recalls that the war gaming models by an Indian officer about Pakistan’s likely offensive in Jammu during the 1965 war were so accurate. It was as if he had read the Pakistan commander’s mind. The Indian army officer later revealed that he had developed these ideas while serving under a certain Brigadier Manekshaw in an infantry school.
The sterling display by the army in 1971 under Manekshaw could not have happened without a combination of factors. Having noted Foreign Minister Swaran Singh’s advice to not venture into the war without an influential international friend, Indira Gandhi signed the 20-year friendship treaty with the Soviet Union which instantly increased the availability of weapons. Foreign journalists expelled from East Pakistan were smuggled back by India to write on the Mukti Bahini’s successes and the Pakistan Army’s excesses. This put Pakistan on the backfoot as far as the liberal international opinion was concerned.
The 1971 war saw several instances of jointsmanship among the armed forces. Naval jets accompanied IAF fighters to pound Chittagong. The navy made innovative use of high-speed short distance missile boats by towing them towards the Pakistan coast at night and launching a lightning attack on ships in the Karachi port from the southern side even as IAF fighters appeared from the eastern side. Indeed this thread of all the three forces chipping in their might made the 1971 war a delight to execute for its Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals.
While Manekshaw was adamant about delaying the military campaign till the monsoon had receded, he was flexible on many occasions. A firm believer in the Clausewetzian theory of that war is continuation of politics by other means, Manekshaw accepted the creation of a joint military command in which the head of the Mukti Bahini (a retired colonel) was given the title of a general and made the East Pakistan’s counterpart of Eastern Command chief Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh. This was essentially a political arrangement and Manekshaw saw sense in accepting this gesture aimed at respecting Bangladesh’s status as an independent nation and its sensibilities. And as result, the Indian Army’s Eastern Command received a steady flow of priceless intelligence about the Pakistan Army.
And then there was Manekshaw’s attitude of not pulling rank if the advice was sensible. The Eastern Command wanted Dhaka as the final objective but the East Pakistan capital was missing from Manekshaw’s battle plans. An intense debate ensued at Fort William in Calcutta, the army’s Eastern Command headquarters, and battle plans were modified to include the capture of Dhaka as a key objective of the attack on East Pakistan. No debate of this kind was conducted at the Pakistan Army’s central headquarters in Rawalpindi, rues Shuja Nawaz.
All these combined to give a decisive victory for the Indian armed forces and helped create a nation that gave the lie to the two-nation theory