New Delhi: The “Forward Policy” of the government under late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then army leadership has been blamed for India’s humiliating defeat in 1962 war against China in a top secret report accessed by an Australian journalist.
The Henderson Brooks report, which still remains officially classified, has found serious faults with the “Forward Policy” and the army for carrying it out without the necessary wherewithal, according to defence journal Indian Defence Review, which has put on its website some portions of the report first released by Journalist Neville Maxwell.
Maxwell, who had reported on the war extensively, had released some contents of the Henderson Brooks report on his website. There has been no official reaction to the disclosed contents.
The Henderson report has criticised the then government, military and intelligence agencies for basing their assumptions on the belief that the Chinese would not escalate hostilities whereas militarily they should have thought “exactly opposite”.
The Forward Policy, which had sought the raising of military outposts in areas claimed by Chinese and launching of aggressive patrols, increased the chances of conflict, the report has said, suggesting that India was not militarily in a position to implement this.
“This review is not concerned with the probability of conflict with or without the Forward Policy but with its introduction the chances of a conflict certainly increased. What is pertinent here is whether we were militarily in a position to implement this,” the report said.
Referring to various high-level meetings, one of which was attended by Nehru, the report says the Army Headquarters and the then Intelligence Bureau Director were of the view that China was unlikely to use force against Indian posts even if they were in a position to do so.
The army leadership had also overruled the concerns raised by the Western Command, which said it was ill-prepared to implement the policy and we would be “defeated in detail” in case of hostilities, the report said.
The Western Command’s position was realistic, it said, but Army Headquarters apparently stuck to their belief that the Chinese would not resort to any large-scale hostilities, a presumption belied by its attack as its army ran through Arunachal Pradesh and captured large parts of Ladakh.
“The General Staff Branch Army Headquarters not taking note of this warning of Western Command could only be attributed to an incorrect assessment of Chinese reactions, together with a sense of complacency that nothing would happen,” it said.
Concerned over its military weakness on the ground as the Forward Policy was being executed, the Western Command had submitted to the Army Headquarters a “Reappraisal of the situation on ground as on August 15, 1962”, setting forth long-term and short-term recommendations which were brushed aside.
“The review was undertaken as Forward Policy was primarily introduced to baulk the Chinese claims in Ladakh. Had the developments stemming out of it been correctly apprised by the Army Headquarters and correlated to NEFA (Arunachal), it is possible we would not have precipitated matters till we were better prepared in both theatres,” the report said.
“We acted, it said, on a military ‘unsound’ basis of not relying on our strength but rather on believed lack of reaction from the Chinese.
“Militarily, it is unthinkable that the General Staff did not advise the government on our weakness and inability to implement the Forward Policy,” it said, questioning the actions of Lt Gen B M Kaul, the then Chief of General Staff, who played a key role in shaping the Policy and resigned following the debacle.
The reports said the Defence Ministry might have put on pressure but it was the General Staff’s duty to point out the “unsoundness” of the Forward policy without the means to implement it, which was brought out forcibly by the Western Command.
The report authored by the then Lt Gen Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P S Bhagat was commissioned by the Army following its crushing defeat by the Chinese but the government has refrained from releasing its findings which, it said, were “extremely sensitive” and of “current operational value”.