Book Review : India's Military Conflicts And Diplomacy


The only good histories are those that have been written by the persons themselves who commanded in the affairs whereof they write; rest is hearsay - Michel Eyquem Montaigne, {from the Preface of the current book}

This is the second book by General V P Malik - and it is as good as the first; and in some ways, far more reader friendly. While the first - Kargil - was a deep and involved analysis of the Kargil War, this is one comprises a set of real-life incidences from his Army Experience; incidences which are known in almost every educated household in India. This takes up half of the book; the second half is a short, and to-the-point analysis of Military Diplomacy. Again, in this part as well, the author has delved into his personal experience, which gives the reader the entire story from the horse's mouth, so to speak. 

THE FIRST PART
This part will be the interesting part for those readers who are not too interested in Military Diplomacy or Foreign Policy. This part alone makes it worth the money spent on it. For, in this part you get to read about some of India's most famous military operations - from a person who was an integral part of the entire matter. This lends considerable weight to the book, as well as makes it doubly interesting; you are not reading a third person telling a story. You are reading history as it happened, through the eyes of one of the major players in these historically vital events; you get a blow-by-blow account of things as they happened and when they happened. 

The events I am referring to are the IPKF, Kargil, Commando Operation in the Maldives, Nuclear Tests, and UN Peacekeeping at Sierra Leone. For those who dont have the patience to read the voluminous Kargil - From Surprise To Victory - this book will give a short but complete summary of the Kargil War, alongwith an insightful but interesting analysis. And for those who have read the first book, this book contains new material, including analyses and reports from retired Pakistani senior Military Officers and journalists who have ripped into the Pakistani ruling elite for the entire fiasco. 

For the first time, we get an understanding of the sad sequence of events that led to Rajiv Gandhi's assasination; a true and no-holds-barred account of the entire IPKF saga that is disquieting and frank, honest and transparent in its appraisal. The book makes no bones about it : as the heading of the chapter itself states: Wrong From The Start. You feel sad - not just for Rajivji; but actually for all the needless lives lost in that entire IPKF mission. And yet, you also feel pride in the performance of our warriors despite the immense pressure and problems they had to face; the struggle of coming to terms with a sudden 180-degree turn in political orders, and the brilliant performance despite such factors. You feel a sense of pride, tinged with grief at what was inarguably the second-worst episode in our military history. This chapter will be a stunner to the uninformed; a punch to the solar plexus, since the entire saga goes far deeper than what is generally known; as well as will raise some very very pertinent questions for Indians.

Moving on from this, we are treated to a fast-paced and deeply interesting account of how India helped the Maldives President avoid a military coup, in all the classic detailing by a person who was there. Even here, the more informed will wonder at the turn of events, as a close relationship has gone slightly awry in recent times, as reported in the latest papers - educating us about the need for keeping good relations on a healthy level, and giving due importance. You get a ringside seat {in every chapter} of the decision making process; it is an experience to be savoured, as you read about momentous and well known decisions being made. 

Then you get to read the details of the Nuclear Tests, and the way India went about it - alongwith the international repercussions. You also get to read an insightful yet simply worded analysis of the Nuclear Issue, which is an education in itself. The last operation covered is a UN peacekeeping operation at Sierra Leone. Like the other chapters, this one is also chock-full of surprises that will bring questions to your mind; like the hardly known fact that Indian casualties in UN operations are the highest suffered by any nation, and that India is one of the most active members in peace-keeping missions in the UN. You cannot avoid a feeling of pride as you get to know how highly regarded Indian soldiers are in UN missions due to various factors. It is such simple insights, simple analysis and fast-paced narrative of actual on-ground operations that make this part of the book a highly engaging and energising read. 


THE SECOND PART
This part is much shorter {happily so for those readers who are not inclined towards deep analysis}, but is equally - if not more - full of surprises and unknown or lesser known facts of the Indian Armed Forces. This part starts with the role of the Military in Diplomacy, which will be both a surprise to us, as well as a very highly informative and interesting look into a side of the Armed Forces that is not too well known. It contains a short but to-the-point and effective analysis of our relations in Military as well as diplomatic terms with China, Maldives, Nepal, Israel, Tajikistan, Myanmar and the USA. Again, you get a ringside seat on the authors visits to these places, as well as interesting background on how relations were repaired {Israel, for example - or Myanmar} and the role of the Military in these matters. 

The last 3 chapters are on Myanmar, Nepal, and an analysis of our strategic culture and the way forward for us. The chapters on Nepal and Myanmar are replete with surprises; I would prefer each reader discovers what they are for themselves. Suffice it to state that these are the most surprising of all, and contain the real meat of the book. These 2 chapters are the most engaging and informative, alongwith IPKF - and form the real meat of this fast-paced, interesting book that both educates us on our Military Operational And Strategic Culture, as well as raises some deeply disquieting questions.

This book  is a great resource for every educated Indian; a must-read for all of us, given that we as a nation do not have a very transparent culture on these matters, Further, there is little understanding of how a public discourse of these matters can help give shape to national policies, which are currently made in exalted halls, with little information being shared with the public, leading to a situation where the common citizens are just not aware of strategic matters, and thus cannot help shape the national dialogue, which is an essential part of any democracy. That is why this book, alongwith Pax Indica, is an important contribution towards a more open public discourse on matters relating to strategy, as they ultimately impact all of us... 

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