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Major General AJS Sandhu

Major General AJS Sandhu

Major General AJS Sandhu

What led to the India Pakistan War of 1971?

This was a war that needn’’t have been. The reason is that the war of 1971 was not a consequence of any territorial dispute between the two countries. Also, unlike in 1947 and 1965, Kashmir was not the cause of this conflict.
Quite interestingly, its origins can actually be traced to the results of Pakistan’s first ever independent general elections held on 7 December 1970, which resulted in a landslide victory of the Awami League led by Mujib-ur-Rahman, and set into motion a series of events, the unintended consequence of which the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War.

Did former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi jump the gun by declaring a unilateral ceasefire in the western sector in 1971?

This question continues to be debated till today. Although I will not say that she ‘jumped the gun’, however, in my view, the decision was ‘premature’. Whereas the Indian Army had comprehensively defeated the Pakistani Forces in East Pakistan, the situation on the ‘western front’ was somewhat different, with both sides having made some territorial gains and losses. Perhaps Mrs Gandhi could have prolonged the war for just a few more days, so that we could have retaken our lost territories. To make matters worse, the return of lost territories was not even made pre-condition for the repatriation of 92000 Pakistani POWs in our custody, as a part of the Simla Agreement signed by Mrs Indira Gandhi and Mr ZA Bhutto in July 1972.

Do you think Military History has got enough representation at various platforms across the country?

The short answer is NO. Unfortunately, there is not much interest in Military History in India, as it is in the USA, Europe etc. Much more needs to be done to promote this subject.

How can we inspire more youngsters to join the defence forces?

This has to start at the School and College level, where the students should be made aware of the Role of the Armed Forces in nation building. NCC should be made compulsory, and visits organized to nearby defence units of the Army, Navy and Air Force to familiarize the youth with the defence forces.

You are going to feature in the session Battlefield Tourism and Staff Rides.What are you looking forward to in the session?

Whereas Battlefield Tourism and Staff Rides do share some similarities, they are actually quite different in conduct. Battlefield Tourism, as the name suggests, is basically tourism of sites where historic battles were fought in the past. On the other hand, the concept of Staff Ride, though popular in the west, is relatively new to India. This involves conducting a battlefield study ‘on site’ with a view of conducting an in-depth analysis in order to draw relevant lessons for the future.

Kindly tell us a bit about your book ‘BATTLEGROUND CHHAMB : The Indo – Pakistan War of 1971’.

I was granted a fellowship by the Centre of Armed Forces Historical Research (CAFHR) of the United Services Institution (USI) to research on and write a detailed account of this battle ,which was perhaps the toughest, bloodiest and the most intensely fought battle of that war. Due to its geo-strategic location, Chhamb is the one place where Pakistan has attacked in all the wars. In fact Pakistan’s biggest land offensive in 1971 came into the Chhamb Sector, for which it amassed a very large force of infantry, armour and artillery. To put this in perspective, the strength of artillery employed to support this offensive was far more than Pakistan had to defend itself in the whole of East Pakistan! Pakistan suffered very high casualties in Chhamb, including their General Officer Commanding (GOC) of this force who was killed in this battle. This battle continues to hold many lessons for us even today, and should be studied by all those interested in Military History.

The first edition of Valley of Words was a huge success. What were your favourite moments from the festival?

It is difficult to pin-point specific ‘favourite’ moments. I enjoyed all the sessions that I attended. There were diverse subjects being discussed, so I could pick-and-choose those of interest to me.

How can we improve upon the first edition?

I think a reduction of venues could be considered. Due to ‘simultaneous’ sessions at multiple venues, you may miss out on an interesting discussion.


About the Interviewee: Major General AJS Sandhu, VSM (Retired), did his schooling from The Lawrence School, Sanawar after which he joined the National Defence Academy at Khadakvasla. He was commissioned into 2 Field Regiment (SP) in June 1967, becoming the third generation of a martial family. In an illustrious career spanning over 37 years he has held varied command, staff and instructional appointments including overseas service, and has done all the important courses.The General is a recipient of the Vishisht Seva Medal as well as the Chief of Army Staff and Northern Army Commander’s Commendations. Prior to his retirement on 31st August 2004, he was Additional Director General Artillery at the Army HQ, New Delhi for over three years.