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Monday, December 4, 2023

IPKF 8 -The Curate’s Egg-Author interview “Valiant Deeds Undying Memories.”


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In the series on IPKF we bring to you a sneak peek into the forthcoming book, “Valiant Deeds, Undying Memories.” (VDUM)The book is coauthored by two veterans, Lt Col Atul Kochhar and Lt Col Ravi Nair.

“Some books leave us free and some books make us free.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

To read all part of IPKF- The Curates Egg:

Part 1: https://goachronicle.com/the-indian-peace-keeping-force-in-sri-lanka-a-curates-egg/
Part 2: https://goachronicle.com/the-curates-egg-ipkf-and-indo-sri-lanka-accord-of-29-july-1987-part-2/
Part 3: https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-3-the-curates-egg-turn-of-the-tide-jaffna-medical-university-helidrop/
Part 4: https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-curates-egg-part-4/
Part 5: https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-5the-curates-egg-warriors-of-a-lesser-god/
Part 6: https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-6-the-curates-egg-the-hurt-lockers/
Part 7: https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-7-the-curates-egg-the-veer-naari/

Watch the webinars on IPKF:


Readers should also watch this space for the forthcoming release of the book: ‘’Forgotten Glory’’ on the IPKF

IPKF 8 -The Curate’s Egg-Author interview “Valiant Deeds Undying Memories.” -

1 Sir, thanks for a sneak preview of your upcoming anthology on the Indian Peacekeeping Force in OP PAWAN. You have highlighted legacy issues in the book, wherein it appears that the nation has not done enough to honour the fallen of this operation. Many of the former IPKF veterans have revisited Sri Lanka too. What inspired you and your co-author, Lt Col Atul Kochhar, to pen the book “Valiant Deeds, Undying Memories”, especially considering the fact that this Operation is now more than 34 years old, and rarely talked about?

Ravi : While discussing our shared experiences ,the idea struck us that there are only accounts about the operation written by senior officers or by journalists- both largely playing to the gallery. To illustrate, If the voice of the soldier was actually heeded, we would not be still struggling, for an individual reliable personal weapon to replace the unwieldly SLR !!Those who actually did the work of patrolling, seeking out the LTTE, and eliminating them, were hardly getting any mention in such accounts. It was either all politics or the correctness of the generalships displayed, when those like us, who survived know that it was precisely these two components who were largely responsible for the over 1500 fatal casualties and over 3000 wounded during the 3 years of the deployment. Rather we found the soldier was more of an adjunct to main accounts.
In VDUM we wanted to reclaim the rightful central space to the foot soldier. We thus felt compelled to narrate the stories of those junior leaders and men who only obeyed orders. In this endeavour, I am happy to say that we found many kindred souls who gave shape to our dreams. Thus, the idea of an anthology to give free voice to the foot soldier emerged. Besides this operation had many “firsts” to its credit, which are highlighted in the book .The current generation of military leaders including the present Army Chief ,was shaped heavily by their experience in this war.

2.The opening Chapter “Forced Awakening” seems to echo the theme of the book and encompasses the failed Jaffna University Heliborne operations, vividly highlighting the utter lack of preparedness of the Indian Armed Forces. Any reflections on this particular operation and of Indias political failure?
Ravi: In hindsight one can definitely say that it was the most botched operation of the entire IPKF deployment of over three years. We were unprepared and the strange habit of keeping the professional intelligence personnel out of contact/loop with the divisional operational and intelligence staffs on the express orders of the gen GOC of the division in Jaffna, Maj Gen Harkirat Singh added to the scale of the lack of preparedness. The whole idea of force projection /regional stabilization etc, was new to our armed forces. In July 1987 our MI Directorate did not even have a section dealing with Sri Lanka nor did we have any personnel with an in-depth /expert knowledge of the country, its people or its culture etc. Any information, if at all, came via diplomatic channels and they tended to concentrate more on politics, less on economics and least on the military aspects. There was no practice of compiling CIA style fact books of other countries, least of all on our neighbours. While taking up the proposed operation, the military was kept totally out of the decision-making loop, nor was it deemed necessary to build a public consensus- in both countries. This gravely hampered the subsequent issue of directives to the military, and allowed local opposition parties in both countries to criticise the actions of govts in Colombo and New Delhi.

3.The LTTE was a formidable foe. A number of tactical and operational lessons are enumerated in the book as narrated by junior leaders and commanding officers from that era. Basis your own experience, could you outline, which is the most significant learning you gathered, as a veteran from the Intelligence Corps, considering the vital role of intelligence here?

A number of tactical and operational lessons emerge in this operation and can be gleaned from the book relevant for junior leaders of all times. The most significant learning for me was the absolute need for a ‘whole of government’ approach involving all departments , towards foreign policy. Arms of govt cannot afford to work in silos, ignorant of the other. In intelligence ‘empire building’ tendencies have to stop if we have to improve the quality and effectiveness of our intelligence given to the decision makers. The tendency to refrain from giving unpalatable news or to tailor advice to suit political bosses must cease. The same tendency within the uniformed fraternity too must be severely curbed if not eliminated all together. A system of preparing and continuous updating of ‘country handbooks’ must be started if not already begun. The Intelligence Corps cannot afford to remain fixated only on Pakistan or China- our recent experience or the lack of it in Afghanistan is proof of the pitfalls in such over fixation. Academia involvement and the incorporation of domain experts besides creating our own cadre of country specialists is a must. The post of military attaché in embassies must not be seen as an avenue for career progression, or as a reward for good regimental ties! Those selected must be professional intelligencers who can do their jobs in a professional manner while under diplomatic cover. Pakistan has a history of posting such well qualified officers at their High Commission in New Delhi.

4. Sir the book has an eclectic collection of accounts from all arms including armour, aviation etc and sister services. Was the level of integration of arms during the operations adequate, considering that many of the operations initially, comprised the armour, mechanised forces and engineers? What was the contribution of the Navy and Air Force during this operation?
CI(counter insurgency) or CT(counter terrorism) operations are essentially infantry centric operations. The presence of other arms like armour, artillery, mechanized or Engineers etc are a bonus and their fire power and expertise should have been optimised- not just as a means to avoid infantry casualties. The operations by the Navy & Air Force were mainly in logistics support, and they were rarely used in direct support to ground force operations. The use of the Navy in support of opposed landings or the use of armed helicopters was rare and isolated to a few actions far apart in time. The rapid modifications on light utility helicopters being fitted out with a pair of MMGs and providing close support to infantry operating in dense jungle terrain was an innovation that we can be proud about-a tribute to our ingenious technicians and their indomitable leaders at junior levels.

5. You have touched upon the Indo SL Accord, vividly highlighting the reasons for its failure in your introductory Chapter – “From Chess to Wei Qi.” What is your assessment of the Indo SL Accord of 1987, given the current local political set up in the island nation, which is seen as pro-China and in the light of Chinese investment in the island nation in a big way? Would you call it an intervention by stealth?

The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord (ISLA) was hatched and negotiated in a hurry, to suit the personalities and the needs of the SL President and the Indian PM. No consultations were considered necessary with the affected Tamil militant groups, nor the Tamil politicians in either SL or in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. India’s security concerns were genuine as the civil war in an Island country barely 25 km from our southern shores was being ravaged by ethnic strife that had pitted a minority, mainly Hindu, Muslim and Christian Tamil population against a majority and mostly Buddhist population that had taken control over the country after its independence from the British in 1948.The US, Israel and Pakistan were all suspected of taking undue advantage and were likely involved in activities inimical to our security interests. Unfortunately, this aspect was never properly projected in India and an impression was allowed to take root that our policies were only to feed the ego of an impressionable young PM, who was in his first term in office. In today’s language India lacked the ‘comprehensive national power’ or CNP so necessary if a country has to attain its foreign policy goals. The role of the Rajapakse Govt in SL , in inviting Chinese presence and interventions, is suspect and not a good portend of emerging security contours in the Indian Ocean.
Today the new version of the great game is being played out, with China shifting goal posts, with scant respect for “rule-based order” while trying to dominate the vital shipping lanes for crude oil, amongst others, by its signature presence in Sri Lanka and by offering to develop Hambantota Port. We need to counter these moves adequately, as we now have an enemy at our footsteps.

6.Is there any plan for a sequel /series?

When we put out our intentions to the environment and sought accounts from participants, we were deluged with accounts! What began as a trickle, soon turned into a virtual tsunami. Both Col Kochhar and me found it very difficult to pick and choose since a single book would not do justice to all the accounts, we received. Thus, was born the idea of a sequel- keeping it to a maximum of about 18 to 20 individual accounts per book and to include accounts from all three Services in each. Op Pawan was India’s first tri-Service operation to date that predated the setting up of our Tri Service Command in the A&N Islands, the Integrated Service Headquarters or the office of the Chief of Defence Staff by a few decades! As we went along, the idea of a commemorative wreath laying ceremony at the National War memorial at Delhi (the first time in 34 years)on 29 July and a webinar series on popular defence channels came up and was successfully executed with the help of dynamic and well-connected OP Pawan veterans like Colonel Manoj Channan and Colonel Rakesh Sidhu as well as generals like Jose Manavalan, Gurmit Singh, Ata Hasnain,Binay Poonen and a host of others ,who cannot all be individually named.


[author title=”Shefali Kochhar,” image=”http://goachronicle.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Screenshot_20210321-160233_LinkedIn.jpg”]Journalist, Goa Chronicle .

I am an entrepreneur who has tried her hands on various ventures like Electric Vehicle Charging Station , Online Retail Store / Trading and few more ventures. I have done my entrepreneurship from Amity University Noida.

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Shefali Kochhar
Shefali Kochhar
From politics to startups 'Reflecting light on issues that go unspoken about'

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