The results, released yesterday, of the UK government’s investigation into its involvement in the 1984 Operation Blue Star confirm that, at Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s request for advice, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did send to Delhi a Special Air Services military officer, who recommended a paramilitary attack at Darbar Sahib using helicopters.
The report attempts to minimize Great Britain’s role in the attack by explaining that the military advice from the SAS officer had “limited impact in practice” because the actual Indian army operation was a ground assault rather than a surprise attack by troops dropped from helicopters.
The apparent similarity between the two strategies was in the field of operation, which was not mentioned in the report. As with the SAS recommendation, the army attacked from all areas of the complex rather than initiating from the south side, as the Indians had originally planned.
But while UK officials are splitting hairs on the technicalities and mechanics of the operation, to downplay its actions 30 years ago, Sikhs are expressing outrage that Thatcher agreed to such a request from Indian officials.
“Why would we want to say attack it, in any way whatsoever?” said Harmander Singh, a spokesman for the social-policy think tank, Sikhs in England.
He was among 30 Sikh who met Tuesday with Jeremy Heywood, the prime minister’s cabinet secretary, and Hugo Swire, a minister of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and other officials, to discuss the report.
The Sikhs were unanimous in conveying their dissatisfaction with the scope of the investigation and conclusion of the report, said Harmander Singh, who also is marathon runner Fauja Singh’s coach.
“The Sikhs thought it was not comprehensive,” he told SikhNN.
The report is very limited in that it only looks at the run up to the attack, said Jas Singh, spokesman for the political pressure group, the Sikh Federation, UK, who also was at the Tuesday meeting. It is a summary of the facts on the advice that the Indians did not act upon.
“They haven’t actually shared what the advice was,” he told SikhNN. “(But) What is absolutely clear, and the foreign secretary admitted it, is that the government was involved.
“What we want to know is the complete involvement of the British government, not only in the run up to June 1984, but the military advice they provided and what was the ongoing relationship between the British and Indian governments after the horrific attack in June.”
The army operation against the largely civilian population at Darbar Sahib resulted in the deaths of thousands of men, women and children. The Jan. 4 report shows the UK government played an ancillary role in a barbaric operation that led to further political turmoil and human rights abuses, including Gandhi’s assassination; the anti-Sikh state-sponsored pogroms; the covert decade-long government policy of subjugating the Sikhs by converting Punjab into a police state and engaging in mass extrajudicial killings; and the disappearance of dissidents and persecution of political prisoners, which is still happening today.
The Thatcher-Gandhi connection was revealed on Jan. 13 when two top-secret letters from 1984 were released as part of the British government’s 30-year rule that requires secret documents be disclosed to the public after that period of time has passed. The UK report says the documents were “inadvertently” released, but it does not offer a compelling government interest that could have exempted them from the Freedom of Information Act, to have them hidden from the public.
On the same day the report was released, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered Heywood to conduct a fact-finding inquiry to determine the extent of the British involvement in the army operation at Darbar Sahib, also called Harmandir Sahib, and known to the West as the Golden Temple.
Heywood studied 200 files with about 23,000 documents from various agencies, except those from the defense ministry that were destroyed in 2007, when its secret files on 1984 were released under the ministry’s 25-year rule.
The UK report shows the following:
On Jan. 30, 1984, the “Indian Intelligence Coordinator” made an urgent request to the British government for expert military advice on contingency plans for potential action against those occupying the Darbar Sahib complex, the report says.
By Feb. 6, 1984, Thatcher agreed to the request “on advice from the British High Commission that it would be good for the bilateral relationship, whereas refusal would not be understood by the Indian Prime Minister, Mrs. Gandhi,” the report says.
Between Feb. 8 and Feb. 17, 1984, a British SAS military officer was in India advising Indian counterterrorist team commanders on operation concepts that they already were working on, including tactics and techniques. No other forms of assistance for the operation, such as equipment, tactical intelligence or manpower were offered, the report says.
The SAS officer also conducted a ground reconnaissance at the Darbar Sahib with the Indian Special Operations Group during that time, the report says. The reconnaissance effort was mentioned in a 2007 book by Bahukutumbi Raman, a former member of India’s intelligence, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
On Feb. 13, 1984, the SAS officer gave the Indian authorities the following recommendation: Simultaneously assault all critical areas of the Darbar Sahib complex using a sufficient number of helicopters, with and the capability to insert troops by helicopter, to assure surprise and momentum. He also advised on command-and-control arrangements, and night-time co-ordination of paramilitary forces with special-operations forces, the report says.
The SAS officer “also made clear that this type of operation should only be put into effect as a last resort when all other courses of negotiation had failed,” the report says.
On Feb. 21, 1984, the SAS officer filed a detailed report on his visit and high-level recommendations. His report will not be released to the public for national security reasons.
On Feb. 23, 1984, a summary of the SAS officer’s report was included in a formal Foreign and Commonwealth Office report sent to Thatcher’s office. It stated that the SAS officer had “drawn up a plan, which has been approved by Mrs. Gandhi.”
Heywood disavowed recent Indian media stories that the SAS officer’s plan was called Operation Sundown, designed to detain Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
“There is no mention of Operation Sundown in UK files,” Heywood writes. “Nor do those interviewed recall that name. Nor was the UK military adviser’s report of February focused on a “snatch” operation. The plan it focused on was designed to re-establish control over the temple complex,” the report says.
The British requested from the Indians a prior warning of any operation, so that they could make security arrangements in London. The Indians never sent a warning, the report says.
Between June 4 and June 7, 1984, Gandhi executed the final Operation Blue Star plan, which had morphed from a paramilitary operation into a full army assault at Darbar Sahib, with heavy constraint of other historical gurdwaras of Punjab. The entire state was cut off from the rest of the world.
On June 13, 1984, the official Indian account states that the invasion of Darbar Sahib involved armor and light artillery to support the methodic clearance of dissidents by army troops from the ground, not from helicopters, the report says. But it did not state that helicopters were not used at all.
Around that time, an undated letter between the Indian Intelligence Coordinator and a UK official indicates that some time after the SAS officer left India, the Indian army took over lead responsibility for the operation, the report says.
“The main concept behind the operation changed, and a frontal assault was attempted,” the report says.
On June 14, 1984, Gandhi sent a letter to Thatcher justifying her decision to use the army. The Indian paramilitary forces were insufficient in number so the army had to be sent, she said, according to the report.
In July 1984, a former British officer recalled being told by an Indian intelligence official that the Indian Special Operations Group and the army did not have the helicopter capabilities for a simultaneous assault, the report says.
The simultaneous assault took place on the ground, instead, with Indian army soldiers.
_________________________From Sikh News Network archives.