By Rakesh Krishnan Simha
One of the earliest recorded attacks on India was by queen Semiramis, who ruled the Assyrian Empire during the years 811-806 BCE – or nearly 500 years before the invasion of Alexander of Macedon. According to the accounts of ancient Greek historians Diodorus and Ctesias, the warrior queen “resolved to subjugate the Indians on hearing that they were the most numerous of all nations, and possessed the largest and most beautiful country in the world”.
For two years preparations were made throughout her whole kingdom, which comprised modern day Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and parts of Central Asia. In the third year she collected three million foot soldiers, 500,000 horsemen and 100,000 chariots. Plus, 100,000 camels were covered with the sewn skins of black oxen and fitted with fake movable trunks in order to trick the Indians into believing that she had a large elephant corps as well.
According to Greeks accounts, Stabrobates, the king of the Indians, awaited the Assyrians on the bank of the Indus with an even larger force gathered from the whole of India. (Due to the peculiar Greek orthography we’ll probably never know his actual name. Perhaps he was Satyabrata. Indian records, if any, are lost.)
When Semiramis approached the borders of India, Stabrobates sent messengers to meet her with the complaint that she was making war upon him though he had done her no wrong. In his letter he reproached her licentious life, and calling the gods to witness, threatened to crucify her if victorious.
Semiramis read the letter, laughed, and said that the Indians would find out her virtue by her actions. The fleet of the Indians lay ready for battle on the Indus river. “Semiramis caused her ships to be put together, manned them with her bravest warriors, and, after a long and stubborn contest, the victory fell to her share. A thousand ships of the Indians were sunk and many prisoners taken.”
Stabrobates, pretending flight, led his army back from the Indus, but in reality he wished to induce the enemy to cross the river. When the massive Assyrian army passed over the Indus, Stabrobates wondered how they had procured so many elephants. The mystery was soon solved when some defectors from the enemy side told the Indians these were decoys.
In the ensuing battle, the soldiers of Semiramis resisted only a short time before the Indian elephants caused an immense slaughter. The Assyrians left their ranks and fled, and the king pressed forward against Semiramis. His arrow wounded her arm, and as she turned away, his javelin struck her on the back. The wounded Semiramis barely managed to escape over the pontoon bridge to the other side of the Indus.
The Assyrian queen had lost two-thirds of her army and the rest of her fleeing troops would have been easy pickings for the Indians. But in what would become a frustratingly maddening tendency of Hindu kings for the next 28 centuries, the defeated foe was not pursued and destroyed. The Assyrian army should have been chased back to where they came from, hunted down in their cities and villages in West Asia, but were instead allowed to escape. “The Indians were warned by signs from heaven and their interpretation by the seers not to cross the river.” After exchanging prisoners Semiramis returned. She never attacked India again.
Sindh: No Forward Policy
Exhorted by their prophet Mohammed, the Arabs had been trying to invade India since the year 638 CE. The newly converted Arabs had already seized control of Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon and destroyed their indigenous faiths and cultures. However, it took the Arabs nearly seven decades to defeat the small frontier kingdom of Sindh. Even that happened because of dissension in the Indian kingdom. Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad in his ‘Humanity at Death’s Door’ and Maulana Nadvi in ‘Indo-Arab Relations’, write that between 638 CE and 711 CE, the Arabs launched as many as 15 attacks against Sindh by land and via sea. The Chachnama, a history of Sindh, Iists seven major attempts by land and/or by sea during this period.
It is astounding that the Sindhi Rajputs were able to singlehandedly and repeatedly defeat the powerful Muslims armies that had steamrolled Arabia, Persia and Spain. This one relatively small kingdom by Indian standards defeated and massacred wave after wave of Arab armies despite massive amounts of wealth expended by the Caliphs of Baghdad and Damascus to fulfil the burning ambition of their prophet to complete Ghazwa-i-Hind (Conquest of India).
The defeats hurt Arab pride so much that the land they had previously described as flowing in “musk and honey” was now derided as “barren and dirty”. Khalifa Usman was so upset by the Arab defeats in Sindh during his term that he forbade any more attempts on Sindh, on the ground that “its water is dirty, its soil stony, and its fruit poisonous”. Clearly, a case of sour grapes.
The Caliph of Arabia Walid-I wrote: “The people (of that country) are cunning and the country itself is very distant. It will cost us very large sums of money to provide a sufficient number of men and arms and instruments of war. This affair will be a source of great anxiety, and so we must put it off; for every time the army goes (on such an expedition) vast numbers of Muslims are killed. So think no more of such a design.”
In the backdrop of these diabolic invasions spread over 70 years, it is incredible that the Indians did not launch raids into Arabia to destroy the virus at its source. The Rajputs of Sindhs, who had defeated these Arab armies, knew very well that these raids had a sole intent – loot, rape and the enslavement of defeated populations. The Muslim armies had been doing this in all their captured lands and the entire world knew this was happening, so it’s not that the Indians were blissfully unaware of the outcome of an Arab victory. Had they created a joint army purpose-raised to launch pre-emptive strikes into Arabia, Persia, Syria and Turkey – rather than wait for the enemy to knock down the gates of Debal, Alor, Sehwan Nerunkot (Hyderabad), Brahmanabad and Multan – the invasion of Mohammed Bin Qasim in 711 CE would never have succeeded.
The late law minister Ram Jethmalani writes about this lack of forward policy among Indians. About the invasion of Sindh, which again is a stark example of a victorious Indian kingdom refusing to eradicate the enemy before he came dangerously close, Jethmalani says that after Sindh finally fell to the Arabs – and despite the horrendous destruction that ensued – the Indian kingdoms to the east did not come together to free their Sindhi brethren:
“Rest of the Indians across the borders of Sindh were doubtless aware of the Arab conquest. It produced not a ripple on the quiet waters of their placid existence. Life went on as usual. There was neither a sense of territorial loss, nor an understanding of the nature of the new menace. The conquest of Sindh was dismissed as one more dacoity. Nearly 500 years elapsed before Mohammed Ghori and his marauding hordes descended on India in 1192. The whole of northern India was made a tributary to the Ghor Dynasty. Muslim power in India had come to stay. Five centuries went by, but the country did not wake up or prepare to do or die. It is a shameful and tragic tale.”
Not many Indians know that Dushala, the sister of the Mahabharata warrior Duryodhan, was married to Jayadratha, the king of Sindh. Seeing the backwardness of her new homeland, she requested her brother, who was at that time the emperor of India, to do something to raise Sindhi civilisation to the level of the rest of Aryavarta (the Land of Aryas, that is, India). To please his sister, Duryodhan asked 30,000 Vedic Brahmins from his empire to settle in Sindh and transform the place. It was these Brahmins who later formed the backbone of the furious Indian resistance to Alexander of Macedon in 326 BCE.
Kalidasa says in the Raghuvamsa that on the advice of his maternal uncle Yudhajat, Lord Rama conferred Sindh on his brother Bharata.
And let’s not forget that the great Chandragupta Maurya first won Sindh and Punjab. It was from these bases that he overthrew the Nandas, occupied Pataliputra and established the mighty Mauryan Empire.
You get the picture – Sindh was an integral part of India for thousands of years and yet after that one defeat, it was forgotten like a bad dream.
Tragedy at Tarain
Had the Indian kingdoms embraced a larger world view, they would have sent a united force into Central Asia, which was the home of the Turkic tribes. Before it was conquered by Islam, Central Asia was literally India’s backyard where Buddhism and Hinduism were equally at home as the indigenous pagan religions. They were adjuncts to Aryavarta – Land of the Aryas or the noble Sanskritised people. But once the Central Asians (belonging to places such as modern Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan) converted to Islam, these very same people were possessed with the zeal to destroy idol worshippers.
To the credits of our brave ancestors, after the fall of Sindh, the new frontier kingdoms continued to resist the Islamic armies for centuries. The Hindu Shahi dynasty of Afghanistan and Punjab kept the Islamic hordes at bay for five centuries – a level of resistance unparalleled in the world.
However, that was about to change. In 1191 CE, Mohammad Ghori, the Turkish ruler of Ghor in Afghanistan, invaded India but was utterly routed after a fierce battle in Tarain near Delhi by Prithviraj Chauhan the ruler of Ajmer. Ghori was captured and should have been put to death for bringing death and destruction to India but Prithviraj, against the advice of his leading commanders and ministers, magnanimously let him go.
The fleeing Turkish and Arab army should have been chased right through the narrow passes that foreign invaders took to enter and exit India. They should have been pursued into Ghor and the kingdom should have been razed to the ground in order to make the staging grounds of invasions into India unusable and unliveable.
The Afghan returned in 1192 with an even bigger army, but Prithviraj did not treat the matter as urgent. He refused to recall his main army, which was fighting in Bengal – a thousand miles to the east. The Indian king said he would lead his auxiliary army himself, instead of recalling his two leading commanders – who had defeated Ghori the previous year – from the military campaign in Bengal. This was the height of pride and stupidity – taking on a cunning and brutal enemy while your best forces are fighting elsewhere.
In the Second Battle of Tarain, Prithviraj initially had the upper hand but as per Hindu tradition he ordered his army to cease fighting after dusk. This saved the Muslim army from being slaughtered yet again, and they used the reprieve to launch a sneak attack at night. After defeating the Indians they captured and blinded Prithviraj, ending Hindu dominance over north-western India for the next 700 years.
1971 War: Gains Frittered Away
On December 16, 1971, India defeated Pakistan after a quick 14-day war, taking more than 93,000 Pakistan Army soldiers and officers as prisoners of war. These soldiers had surpassed the Nazis in killing efficiency. While it took the Germans 12 years to murder six million Jews, the Pakistan Army had in eight short but horrifying months of 1971 murdered more than 3 million Bengalis (80 per cent of them Hindus). It was a crackdown of such apocalyptic proportions that two-thirds of East Pakistan’s 66 million people had fled their homes and farms, and were constantly on the move in a bid to escape the butchers of the Pakistan Army. Ten million of them escaped to India.
The Pakistan Army raped 200,000 Bengali women. A 1973 article in the New York Times Magazine quotes the chair of the National Board of Bangladesh Women’s Rehabilitation Programme: “Dr Geoffrey Davis of the International Planned Parenthood Federation who travelled all over Bangladesh estimates that at least 400,000 women were (raped) by the Pakistanis.”
The Pakistani generals fixed rape quotas for their soldiers and porn movies were shown to stir up these Punjabi and Pathan troops.
Despite the Indian political leadership having knowledge of such horrific human rights abuses and mass murder, the extent of these crimes was covered up. These Pakistani monsters were housed, fed and protected from the anger of the Bengali people. A BBC newsreel shows 25,000 Pakistani soldiers in Dhaka being “guarded from possible Bengali vengeance by the men with whom less than a fortnight ago they were at war”.
Instead of being held accountable for their crimes before Bangladeshi tribunals, the Pakistani soldiers were transported in heavily guarded trains to India. “At every step they were protected by Indian soldiers, had it proved necessary. The Bengalis are not pleased to see their enemies go home apparently scot free.”
India’s top commander Sam Maneckshaw personally visited these POWs, enquiring about their welfare and comfort. When one of them hesitated to shake hands, saying he was a humble toilet cleaner, Manekshaw replied, “We are both soldiers,” and grabbed the Pakistani soldier’s hand. Can you imagine the top Russian or American commanders such as Zhukov and Eisenhower doing the same with captured Nazi soldiers?
The Indian political leadership committed a huge strategic blunder by letting the enemy off the hook without extracting a price. That 93,000 Pakistani troops were languishing in India was a huge dent to Pakistan’s pride. The Pakistani public was getting restive and were demanding their soldiers be brought back at any cost. It was the opportune time to settle the Kashmir issue in India’s favour. Just like Russia fixed post-war European boundaries in favour of its friends and allies by carving up Germany, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi should have told Pakistan to surrender all claims to Kashmir and failing that India should have grabbed Pakistan Occupied Kashmir by force.
According to former army chief General VK Singh, Pakistani prisoners were housed in Indian officers’ flats while the Indian officers and their families slept in tents in the bitter cold winter. After their surrender in Bangladesh, the defeated Pakistanis were allowed to keep their weapons – unprecedented in history. Former army chief General VK Singh writes in “Leadership in the Indian Army” that an Indian officer of colonel rank was shot dead by a Pakistan soldier when a scuffle broke out inside a POW camp. There is no evidence that the Pakistani soldier responsible was ever charged with murder.
Although they killed 3 million Bengalis, not one Pakistani was tried for war crimes. This was a case of the Indian Army completely abdicating its responsibility after winning the war. Compare this with the Nuremberg trials where the Russian and American commanders made sure most of the Nazi war criminals were either executed or given long sentences.
In fact, Indian generosity was misplaced and spurned. General VK Singh says many Indian POWs were beaten by their Pakistani captors. As the Indian Army fought its way into East Pakistan, they saw two Indian soldiers of the Rajput Regiment tied to a tree; both had been brutally beaten and their eyes had been gouged out.
According to Gen Singh, the fanaticism of the Pakistan Army had to be experienced first-hand to be believed. Virtually every Pakistani would tell his Indian captors that they would never forget this humiliation and that the Pakistani Army would one day take revenge.
Not only were the Pakistani POWs allowed to return home on vague assurances of peace by Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but 58 Indian soldiers believed to be in Pakistani POW camps were not repatriated. Islamabad, however, refuses to acknowledge these Indian soldiers were ever lodged in its jails.
Lack of Killer Instinct
With the war over in the east, the victorious Indian Army had started moving its elite armoured divisions to the western border to strike at the Pakistani heartland. This would have been India’s first foreign military expedition via the land route in over 1,200 years since King Lalitaditya of Kashmir stormed the Turkic kingdoms of Central Asia.
But it was not to be. Bangladeshi journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan writes that the Pakistan Army, which had boasted of marching all the way to Delhi, had fallen flat on its face in Dhaka. “The enemy, meanwhile, had penetrated deep into what remained of Pakistan. Frantic appeals by the Nixon administration in Washington to the Soviet leadership in Moscow to have Indira Gandhi stop her soldiers from making a havoc in West Pakistan helped. A shrunken Pakistan was saved from further degradation.”
The Bangladesh War was a golden opportunity to dismember the Pakistani core – Punjab, Sindh and NWFP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). India was protected by the 1970 Indo-Soviet Treaty, which had a secret clause that said Russia was duty bound to come to India’s defence if it was attacked by another country. Even without the knowledge of this clause, the Chinese had watched from the sidelines their vassal Pakistan get ripped apart by the Indian Army. Only the Americans were making noises and that was because of US President Richard Nixon’s personal hatred of Indians. But had the Indian political leadership been more resolute, they could have boldly entered West Pakistan and created four new countries, leaving Pakistani Punjab as a rump state. With Islamabad now having nuclear weapons, New Delhi’s task becomes many times more difficult; it will now have to break up Pakistan through subterfuge and sabotage, which could take decades.
The failure to deal the killer blow to Pakistan in 1971 can be attributed to the lack of killer instinct among India’s elites.
Walls of Attock
The only noteworthy Indian power that set its sights outside India’s land borders was the Maratha Empire. By the mid-1700s the Marathas had liberated vast swaths – at least 70 per cent – of India from Muslim rule. The Mughal emperor was a Maratha vassal and a small but strong Maratha detachment was stationed in Delhi to protect the emperor from his Muslim rivals. Maratha commanders with their guards were known to enter the Red Fort at will.
After Delhi the Marathas captured Lahore in 1758, which was followed by the incorporation of the whole of Punjab into the Maratha Empire. Muslim majority Punjab came under Hindu rule after a gap of 800 years. After the Marathas planted their flag on the walls of Attock, the redoubtable commander Raghunath Rao wrote this memorable line to his king, the Peshwa, in Pune: “Give me the freedom and I’ll leap across the walls of Attock.” And he added: “We have decided to extend our rule up to Kandahar.”
This was a significant statement because Attock was a frontier city, and the Marathas were contemplating the re-conquest of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, their grand plan could not take shape because of wars with the English, which ultimately extinguished the Maratha Empire in 1818. However, Raghunath Rao’s statement shows that Hindus are not entirely lacking in the will to expand their country’s land borders beyond the core of Aryavarta.
Needed, A New Way of War Fighting
Many Indians feel a sense of pride when they talk about Dharma Yuddha – the Hindu Code of War, which lays out strict rules of fighting for both sides. The ancient sages recommended and justified the cost of war for the preservation of good. The Rig Veda, the oldest text in the world, describes the fierce wars that the ancient kings of India fought against their enemies. However, unlike the Christian concept of crusade and its counterpart jehad in Islam, there is no justification in Hinduism for any war against foreigners or people of other faiths. Surya P. Subedi writes in The Concept In Hinduism Of ‘Just War’, Journal of Conflict & Security Law: “The concept of Dharma in its original sense means the maintenance of peace and security through the law and order within the larger cosmic order. Thus, the concept of just war in Hinduism is against the evil characters of the day, whether national or alien.” The Hindu code of war is thus based on right and wrong and on justice and injustice in the everyday life of all mortals, whether Hindus or non-Hindus.
Also, when it came to fighting a war, certain laws had to be observed. “A ruler or a king who did not observe the laws of war had no place in the galaxy of virtuous and victorious kings. As are the laws of war in modern international law, the laws of war in Hinduism were designed to make the conduct of war as humane as possible. The Hindu laws of war included rules to ensure that warfare was conducted in a fair manner and by open means.”
However, no law, however beautiful, can be for all times to come. The laws of Sat Yuga (Age of Righteousness) cannot be expected to work in Kali Yuga (Age of Quarrel and Strife). Our kings failed to accept the fact that Dharma Yuddha was unsuitable for fighting Islamic and Christian hordes that did not follow the same rules. The Abrahamic faiths had to be fought on their terms. Only a few Hindu rulers such as the Gupta emperors and Shivaji Maharaj understood this.
Kamandaka, who wrote the Nitisara around 300 BCE, says that in the real world, both Dharma Yuddha and Kuta Yuddha (crafty warfare) are desirable types of war. The Nitisara is supported by Bana’s Harshacharita, which developed a theory where depending on the situation, it could be judged necessary even for a righteous ruler to wage some form of Kuta Yuddha. In fact, Kamandaka says peace is an offshoot of war. How many tragedies and how much territorial loss India could have avoided had we internalised this truth.
Had our forefathers chased the Islamic hordes back to Baghdad, Syria and Samarkand, there was absolutely no chance India would have been conquered. These places just did not have the wealth or the numbers to mount frequent attacks on India. It was the plunder of India that helped them to stage invasion upon invasion. So by allowing the foreigners to raid India repeatedly, Indian rulers facilitated their own demise.
Now compare the way Indian rulers abided by their war code of not chasing the enemy with the British who constantly kept Afghanistan in a state of turmoil so that that country could never become strong enough to invade India – Britain’s most profitable colony. The British lost thousands of troops and many able generals during their invasions but they succeeded in destabilising Afghanistan. Each victory of the Afghans was pyrrhic because they had to spend the following decade rebuilding their destroyed towns and villages.
Against the European colonisers too, Indian rulers showed needless magnanimity in terms of truces signed when the foreigners were defeated. In each instance, the defeated army was allowed to retreat to its ‘factory’. This made it possible for the likes of the British to wait for reinforcements from England to fight another day.
This difference in fighting styles is the reason why a small and backward island conquered half the world while wealthy, valorous India became a conquered country.
Reintroduce Military Culture
The emasculation of India’s military culture began first under the Muslim invaders who made it punishable for Hindus, except some Rajput allies, to bear arms. When the British colonised India they introduced the Indian Penal Code, making it illegal for Indians to own guns. British Indologists then started the brainwashing of Indians by projecting India as a land of Buddha and Ahimsa or nonviolence. The elevation of Ashoka, who promoted Buddhism, as a “Great” emperor was designed to erase the importance of India’s warlike culture and depict the country as a land of peaceniks that could not compete with the aggressive western religions of Islam and Christianity. This strategy reached its acme with the projection of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as the apostle of peace.
The result of Gandhigiri was the missed opportunities to dismember Pakistan during the wars of 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999. It also led to the defeat against China in 1962 because Gandhi’s most ardent follower Jawaharlal Nehru refused to strengthen the military, saying that the police forces were enough to defend India. Nehru’s mindset was the polar opposite of what the ancient Tamil sage Thiruvalluvar wrote in his ‘Thirukkural’: “An army which is complete and conquers fearlessly is foremost among all a king’s possessions.”
The callous disregard for national security and the detachment of the military from the national ethos are the chief reasons why India is constantly faced with military aggression – by external enemies and internal separatists who perceive weakness in the Indian nation. This lacuna can be removed by introducing compulsory military training and inculcating a spirit of warfare in our youth. This was especially the case in ancient India when the military was an integral part of government.
It is well known that India attained the acme of its power and land area under the Mauryan Empire. But this mighty empire did not spring spontaneously in a vacuum; there was a pre-existing ecosystem that nurtured and groomed future military leaders and thinkers for the entire country. Referring to the 4th century BCE, just before the formation of the Mauryan Empire, Kaushik Roy writes in Warfare in Pre-British India: “In Taxila, there was a military academy where boys entered at the age of eight and graduated at the age of 16. More than 500 students (including about 100 royal princes) were inducted annually into the academy. When a student graduated from the academy, he received a sword, bow, arrow, a coat of mail and a diamond.”
The military should have a decisive say in how wars are to be fought and when. This is currently happening under the Narendra Modi government, which has delegated decisions on military action to the commanders. The success of the surgical strikes on Uri and Balakot in Pakistan and the successful outcome of the military standoff against China in Ladakh were the result of the military brass having a free hand.
One of the most influential works on statecraft is the ‘Shukra Nitisara’ by Shukracharya. A passage in this book requires that the commander-in-chief should only deploy one fourth to one-third of the force available to him at the commencement of the battle. Should it become necessary to commit half or more, the command should be taken over by the minister. When the entire force needs to be committed, the king should be in personal command of the army. Major General GS Sandhu comments in ‘A Military History of Ancient India’: “No successful battle can be fought in this fashion where a commander is not even sure of the duration of his authority.”
Such a defensive mindset can induce decision-making paralysis, as was evident in the 1965 War when Indian commanders hesitated in delivering the knockout blow after defeating the Pakistan Army in key battles. Instead of an outright victory, what resulted was a stalemate.
India’s war fighting strategy has since shifted to a more offensive nature, but it needs to be on a different level. We are the only major power in the world that has allowed the rise of regional powers whose raison d’etre is India’s destruction. Compare this policy of tolerance with Russia, China or the US who keep their rivals in a state of chaos.
A transformation of the military mindset cannot happen merely because the armed forces want it. “It also requires a strong commitment of the political elite to support such change, and ideally with the army as a partner in the process. And this process must commence with a clear enunciation of national objectives to enable the army to plan based on a definite end state,” says Colonel Vivek Chadha in ‘Even If It Ain’t Broke Yet, Do Fix It: Enhancing Effectiveness Through Military Change’.
India’s leadership must not wait for the enemy to start a war; we must defeat Pakistan within Pakistan and China in China. Here’s what the Roman general and censor Marcus Cato said about the need to destroy its prime rival Carthage: “The Carthaginians are already our enemies; for he who prepares everything against me, so that he can make war at whatever time he wishes, he is already my enemy even though he is not yet using arms.”
India cannot live in peace as long as Pakistan and China are around, and therefore we must plan and engineer their collapse. As Thiruvalluvar wrote, “Both efforts and enemies, if left unfinished, can destroy like an unextinguished fire.”
There is nothing wrong in planning the destruction of existential enemies. Our Gods have been offering this advice since Lord Krishna declared in the Mahabharata that if there is no alternative to war, it is an opportunity for the righteous to destroy their enemies.
Whether it is the Gita, Arthashastra, Nitisara, Thirukkural or the Sikh Gurus, our lawgivers have never shirked from war fighting. Says author Pathmarajah Nagalinkam: “The consciousness exemplified in the Thirukkural on war and statecraft is strategic, tactical, realistic and proactive or offensive. It is not a surprise that the most popular god among the Tamils is Lord Skanda Muruga, the God of War.”
–The writer is a globally cited defence analyst. His work has been published by leading think tanks, and quoted extensively in books on diplomacy, counter terrorism, warfare and economic development. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda