Friday, September 18, 2009



We landed around mid-day and were instructed to taxy into blast pens dispersed all around the airfield. A little later we were given a briefing in the underground operations room, where we met the crew from a number of other fighter squadrons who had also moved to this location, or were staging through. The local squadrons had not yet moved out and thus there was a problem with accommodating so many of us - the messes are designed only for normal strength of officers, Senior Non Commissioned Officers and airmen. Our bedding and clothing was already positioned in a barrack with a large number of emergency cots put in until we could be given some better accommodation. "No lights - black out" was enforced on the station and thus when we reached the barrack at night, we had to find our cot by dimmed torchlights. Hit the bed and went off to sleep - woke up a little afterward as one of the glass panes on the window behind me was broken and there was cold draft of air coming in....somehow managed for the night and were shifted to better accommodation on the next day. Fast forward 19 years.....

.....I now fly for an airline. "Where would you like to stay in Delhi - Meridian, Taj or Radisson". "Why do you ask?, any of these is good enough, the cheapest for the company would be best", I answer. "Some pilots are very fussy and prefer one to the others", I am told. I am reminded of my nights in less than perfect beds, (what to talk of five star comfort and the other frills and fancies) when serving in the Indian Air Force as a pilot.

Back to 1987.... the next few days are very hectic with 24 hour activity on this, and all other bases.. preparations - we are permitted to fly to operational limits and this is an indication that things are serious. What had actually happened?.. To give you an idea - read the following excerpt from a working paper by P R Chari of the Henry L Stimson Center of Washington D.C. published in August 2003.

This crisis arose from the Indian military exercise code-named “Brasstacks,” and could have precipitated a war between India and Pakistan since it led to an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between their armed forces. A tense situation developed in which even a minor clash could have triggered a major conflict. The Brasstacks exercise — comparable to the largest military exercises held by NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War years—involved 10 divisions of the Indian army, including its two strike corps. It was held in northern Rajasthan, which is the most likely ‘jump-off’ area for India in any future hostilities. This led Pakistan to continue deploying its troops that were holding their winter exercises, in their exercise locations. Later, these troops moved closer to the Indo-Pak border in a dangerous maneuver which threatened a salient in the Punjab and/or disrupted communications between Kashmir and the rest of India. A massive airlift and ground movement of troops was then undertaken by India to occupy their defensive positions along the border, resulting in a further escalation of tensions. A flurry of diplomatic activity ensued drawing in the United States and the Soviet Union. President Reagan is understood to have telephoned Rajiv Gandhi and President Zia, instructing leaders to “cool it.” A telephone conversation between the two antagonists finally defused the crisis.

A nuclear threat is believed to have been issued to India during the crisis on January 28, 1987 by Pakistan’s chief nuclear scientist, Dr. A.Q. Khan during the course of an interview to a prominent Indian journalist, Kuldip Nayar, in the presence of a well-known Pakistani journalist, Mushahid Hussain. Apparently, Khan informed the two journalists that Pakistan had enriched uranium to weapons-grade and
affirmed that a nuclear device could be tested by simulation techniques. He then added, “Nobody can undo Pakistan or take us for granted. We are here to stay and let it be clear that we shall use the bomb if our existence is threatened.”45 This course of events is extremely unusual, but its veracity remains shrouded in mystery, since Khan later denied its contents. Doubts in this regard have been strengthened
since “much of the interview, though not its most provocative passages, was an unattributed, nearly verbatim repetition of an article Khan had written six months earlier in the Karachi English newspaper, Dawn.”46 Moreover, the crisis had peaked on January 26 when Pakistan agreed to send an official delegation to New Delhi for negotiating the withdrawal of troops from the border.47

The deployments had the desired affect when in an unprecedented move, the Pakistani President General Zia-ul-Haq came down to witness the cricket match between India and Pakistan at Jaipur on 21 Feb 1987, almost uninvited - cricket diplomacy, as it is termed. The tensions started to come down thereafter but our deployment continued, although the rest of the government and defence establishments that interface with the public had gone back to 5 day week. Ours was still a 24 x 7 affair.

I was posted out to another squadron during this deployment; and we were still at this forward base until I left for my new unit in end of April 1987. Our families continued to manage on their own during this unexpected and sudden deployment, like always - they also served by not asking too many questions; managing the homes and children, and just waiting for their loved ones to come back home.