This article belongs to With a Grain of Piquant Salt column.

Prometheus was sentenced by Zeus to have his liver eaten by a giant eagle (think Garuda), while being chained to a rock. The liver would be eaten, then re-grow, and again be eaten by this eagle. Poor sod, and poor eagle (think about the monotonous diet!). The point I am making here is a bit of an obscure one. After each Indo-Pakistan war, commissions were created to understand / audit the war, its reasons and results and how to avoid the errors and better oneself next time.


However, it is something like Prometheus, if you do not listen or learn the lessons, your liver will be, with great precision and enjoyment, ceremoniously eaten on a regular basis. Did Pakistan learn its lessons? For that matter, did India learn its lessons? Let us take a look, shall we?


There have been quite a litany of wars between India and Pakistan starting from 1948, going over 1965, 1971, 1984 and finally 1999. After each war, Pakistani commissions of inquiry were established. They were mostly military in nature although (and I am sure in a fit of absentmindedness) some civilian commissions were also set up. As is with our part of the world (again, this is thankfully changing now which reminded me of a quote by Malcom X saying: "Don't stick a knife in me ten inches, pull it out six, and tell me we've made progress." but I digress), the reports were kept secret and it is very difficult to estimate the lessons learnt.


Taking a step back, inquiries or commissions on wars usually aim to fulfil the following objectives: (1) To understand the reasons behind the war; (2) To understand the way the various parties performed during the war; (3) To identify any shortfall or lacunae in the conduct of the war; (4) To recommend ways to obviate any issues identified either in the geo-political situation or domestic political setup or in the broad military getup. How the commission/inquiry performs its duties and whether the lessons have been learnt depends upon whether the war was a success or failure. It also depends on whether it is an independent inquiry or not; whether the inquiry is a military commission or a civilian one; whether the powers that be have agreed and accepted its recommendations when establishing the commission; so on and so forth.


Some inquiries become witch-hunts, some are dry audits, some are hidden away and some are really useful and lessons are indeed learnt. The advantage of sitting outside and the disadvantage of being an Indian (in terms of bias) notwithstanding allow for the ability that we can compare and contrast between India and Pakistan, which is quite edifying. First a bit of comparative list making: the official Indian histories of the 1948 and 1999 wars are the only ones, which were publicly made available (that too in a truncated manner on grounds of national security). The 1962, 1965 and 1971 war histories were never officially released, but have been leaked and can be found here and here I find this secrecy very puzzling, because having an open public report (besides keeping operational matters secret) provides so many advantages that it smacks of dunderheadness or plain and simple stupidity to keep these reports secret. Because India won most of the wars, except for 1962 with China, I would advise readers to read the 1962 history as well as the seminal book on this topic: "Himalayan Blunder" by Brig. J. P. Dalvi. It brings one down to earth.


That said, the official inquiry report helped in a massive rebuilding effort of the Indian armed forces and in many ways, helped in the 1965 victory. Once you read the 1965 review and then follow it up with the 1971 report, you will see how the Indian army, and to a lesser extent the politicians, took lessons to heart. If you want further corroboration, read the memoirs of the Indian generals of the 1971 war. It is startling how many of them learnt the lessons of 1965 in terms of armour deployment, infantry mobilisation, use of territory, communications, political backing, clear-cut political objectives, etc. etc. If one observes the Indian Army and with due apologies to the eminent military historians, it can be claimed with due justification, that generally, the core armed forces infrastructure and personnel are good. Equipment, training, logistics et. al. are smoothly humming or appear to be at least.


The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and as the Kargil report points out, the basic architecture and infrastructure was good. What went wrong was the intelligence aspect and the initial indications are that the intelligence services have been reorganized and recalibrated. The other big lacunae counter terror operations are being improved as well, with the help of other countries (such as Israel, UK, USA etc.). This is not to say that everything is hunky dory, there are issues with corruption, training, lack of officer material, problems with some weapons platforms, lack of clarity over the nuclear doctrine, strategy and posture, inter services cooperation, etc. but they are getting there. That said, once we turn our beady eyes on Pakistan, and with an admittedly indirect exposure to what one gets by just reading memoirs of Pakistani Army Officers of varied ranks, foreign experts, the media and the surprising release of the Hamdoor Rahman Report, it seems like Pakistan has not been able to learn its lessons.


In the previous article, we talked about how preconceptions can destroy reality and make defeat at worst and stalemate at best a possibility. The only way to handle preconceptions is to study one's mistakes and put into place action plans and review/feedback mechanisms to resolve these issues. Looking at the history of Indo Pakistan wars dispassionately and putting myself in a Pakistani historian's shoes, I would see the 1948 war as a trial ball. Let me be charitable and say that the huge mistakes made by the Pakistani Army and the civilians can be written down to inexperience and the trauma of Partition. 1965 would be the first time that a serious attempt was made to grab Kashmir by force (both covert as well as overt).


Sadly, the lessons of 1965 were not learnt. An internal army inquiry was set up, but it was very tightly restricted to improvements in the intelligence-gathering infrastructure. As one can see, this was so small a scope that no lesson could seriously have been learnt. I quote Col. S. G. Mehdi, MC Commandant, Pakistan SSG till just before the 1965 war, "had our Government initiated a probe into concept, conduct and consequences of 1965 War', and raised the curtain from the acts of gross omission or that of the criminal commission, the ignominy of 1971 could have been avoided." Some more quotes on this war are pretty much conclusive evidence that there were no serious attempts to understand the issue.


On the other hand, it was pitched as a victory and Pakistan even now does victory dances around this war effort. Maj (Retd) Agha Humayun Amin, "The Grand Slam and Gibraltar controversy instead of being handled like a military failure unfortunately degenerated into a highly personalised affair. As a result instead of dispassionate and constructive analysis, the real reasons for failure of the 1965 war were substituted for analysis of minor tactics and in settling personal scores." The good Major talks about massive intelligence failure, command breakdown, no concentration of resources, inter service rivalries, failure to create strategic dislocation, bad deployment, and use of armour, organisational failures, etc.


Needless to say, the even higher-level issue of military rule, which itself was the biggest problem, is not addressed. Brig. (Retd) Shaukat Qadir saying that the 1965 war was a comedy of errors on both sides has also addressed these military issues. One can easily get scores of such reports from retired Pakistani Army officers, who are banging on and on about the 1965 war and the litany of errors. One general theme, which one will notice, if one peruses these Pakistani memories of these wars, is how uni-dimensional they are. I mean, gosh, each and every one of these generals and colonels are pitching themselves as paragons of military thought (move over Clausewitz), and they have been betrayed by (take your pick here), the USA, the civilians, the politicians, the venal Hindu Bania's, brother officers, etc. etc. This is what I would call as CYA books (and no, I am not going to tell you what CYA stands for, this is a family publication). Strangely enough, another country with such a marked phenomena of officers trying to paint themselves in glory is Egypt (perhaps the commonality is the startling difference between the loud bombastic words and military defeats?) As they say, you can take a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink and these horses do not seem to have learnt from their mistakes, with the result, that they keep on getting their liver eaten by Garuda. After 1965, 1971 was a defeat. General Zia Ul Haq was a smart cookie and avoided any issue with India (who can forget his Cricket diplomacy?) Say what you wish about him, he was a smart fellow.


As rumoured, he was presented with the Kargil plan and he scotched it firmly. Then again came Siachin and they again got their liver handed back to them on a plate. Then came Kargil and despite achieving initial surprise, they again got their posterior regions paddled back across the LoC and the aforementioned liver was again gnawed upon by Garuda. And if you look now at the pathetic performance of the Pakistani Army against the irregular warfare in Baluchistan, Swat and other NWFP regions, it is clear that none of the lessons have been learnt. Despite getting armaments by the shiploads and massive support from the USA, the performance of the military has been dire! They have lost control over their own territory; have been surrendering without a fight, letting militants go even after losing their own soldiers to capture them, starting to be a target for suicide bombing, and so on and so forth.


You may well ask me, will the Pakistani Military ever learn by themselves, instead of being forced to learn by the Chinese or Americans? The answer is no. The current Kakul Military Academy's syllabus is a case in point. A critical strategic analysis of the previous wars is apparently frowned upon and tactical aspects are emphasised. Like Jack Higgins wrote in his book, The Eagle Has Landed, tactics can only take you so far. When the officer corps is being trained without having a good idea about why they lost their wars, it is not surprising that they keep on making the same mistakes, again and again and again. They did not learn the lessons of 1948, so they made the same mistakes again in 1965, and then again in 1971. Then they lost more territory and yet more of their reputation.


The same thing was repeated again in 1999. No land lost thankfully, but the reputation lost again. Now in 2007, land is lost and reputation is also lost again. I guess they will keep on going till the only bit of Pakistan left is the Army cantonment in Punjab! Lots of liver to go yet.


All this to be taken with a piquant grain of salt!