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Policy to declassify war histories & operations


In a significant development that will help set the record straight on India’s military history, defence minister approved a new policy to declassify war histories and records of other military operations in a time-bound manner to give the country an accurate account of events, provide authentic material for research and counter unfounded rumours.


GS-I: History, GS-II: Governance, GS-III: Internal Security Challenges

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the policy to declassify war histories & operations
  2. Important operations from the perspective of the policy implementation
  3. Challenges in implementing the policy

About the policy to declassify war histories & operations

  • The policy on “archiving, declassification and compilation of war and operations histories” mandates the setting up of a committee headed by a joint secretary in the defence ministry and consisting of representatives of the armed forces, external affairs ministry, home ministry and prominent military historians.
  • The development is significant as the military has faced uncomfortable questions about several events including the sinking of an Indian warship in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the 1999 Kargil war and contentious war accounts authored by veterans.
  • The responsibility for declassification of records rests with the respective organisations as specified in the Public Records Act 1993 and Public Record Rules 1997.
  • According to the policy, records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years. Records older than 25 years should be appraised by archival experts and transferred to the National Archives of India once the war/operations histories have been compiled.
  • The ministry’s History Division, set up in 1953, will be responsible for coordination with various departments for compiling, seeking approval and publishing war and operations histories.
  • All organisations under the ministry will transfer the records, including war diaries, letters of proceedings and operational record books to the History Division for upkeep, archival and writing the histories.
  • The new policy lays down timelines for compilation and publication of war and operations histories.
  • The history of wars and operations compiled within five years will be for internal consumption first and later the committee may decide to publicly release whole or parts of it, considering the sensitivity of the subject.

Important operations from the perspective of the policy implementation

  1. Exercise Brasstacks (1986-87) – Heavy mobilisation of Indian troops along Rajasthan border led to crisis between India and Pakistan. Government of India maintained that the core objective of Operation Brasstacks was to test new concepts of mechanization, mobility, and air support devised by Indian army. The scale of the operation was bigger than any North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise and the biggest land exercise since World War II. Initially, around 600,000–800,000 troops were mobilized and stationed on Rajasthan state’s western border, less than 100 miles away from Pakistan.
  2. Operation Meghdoot (Siachen) – Operation Meghdoot was the codename for the Indian Armed Forces’ operation to seize control of the Siachen Glacier in Kashmir, precipitating the Siachen conflict. Executed in the morning of 13 April 1984 in the highest battlefield in the world, Meghdoot was the first military offensive of its kind. Operation Meghdoot, was in support of the Indian Army and paramilitary forces in Northern Ladakh, to secure control of the heights predominating the Siachen glacier, also referred to as the world’s third pole and potentially a dangerous flash point on the disputed Northern borders.
  3. Operation Falcon – This is the conflict that developed in the Sumdorong Chu region, north of Tawang in 1986, and led to a major military push, Operation Falcon. Both Sumdorong Chu and Namka Chu flowed into this north-south flowing river, the former from the east and the latter from the west. The team camped there through summer and went back in winter. They did so in 1984 and 1985, but when they went back in 1986, they found the Chinese there in force. The Indians protested in June 1986, but the Chinese insisted that the area was north of the McMahon Line.
  4. Operation Pawan – Operation Pawan was the code name assigned to the operation by the Indian Peace Keeping Force to take control of Jaffna from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in late 1987 to enforce the disarmament of the LTTE as a part of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. In support of nearly 100,000 troops and paramilitary forces, Indian Air Force maintained a continuous air-link from air bases in Southern India to Divisional headquarters at Palaly (Jaffna), Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa, transporting men, equipment, rations and evacuating casualties on the outbound flights.

Challenges in implementing the policy

Conversion of the policy into actual deliverables will face the following challenges:

  1. Fusion of political directives and strategic decision making with the operational and tactical happenings on ground.
  2. Compilation and reconciling and analysis of events at multiple levels such as headquarters, commands and field formations.
  3. Putting together a team of dedicated researchers and historians with a mix of academics and practitioners with access to records and files.   
  4. Putting together a concurrent oral history and digitisation of all archival compilations associated with this initiative.      

-Source: The Hindu

June 2024