|Part of Siachen Conflict|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Major Varinder Singh||Subedar Ataullah Mohammed|
|8th Battalion, Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry||Shaheen Company, 3rd commando battalion, Special Services Group|
|Casualties and losses|
|4 dead||6 bodies recovered|
Operation Rajiv was an Indian Army operation to capture the highest peak in the Siachen area in 1987. The Pakistan Army had established a post (called the Quaid Post) on the top of the strategically located peak, threatening the Indian movement in the area. An Indian task force, led by Major Varinder Singh, launched multiple attacks to capture the Post. After three unsuccessful attempts, a team led by Naib Subedar Bana Singh captured the Post. The peak was renamed Bana Top in honour of Bana Singh, who was awarded India's highest military award Param Vir Chakra for his courage.
The operation was named after Second Lieutenant Rajiv Pande, who had been killed during an earlier attempt to capture the peak.
The Siachen area, which lies in a territory disputed by India and Pakistan, is the highest battleground on earth. In 1984, India captured the area during Operation Meghdoot. Later, Pakistan launched an assault in the area, gaining control of the highest peak in the area, which is located to the south of Bilafond La. In April 1986, the Pakistanis established a military post on the peak. Prior to the Pakistani capture, the Indians called this peak as the "Left Shoulder" of the Bilafond La. The Pakistanis named the peak "Quaid Post" in honour of their leader Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Quaid Post was manned by soldiers of the Shaheen Company (3rd commando battalion), a part of Pakistan's Special Services Group. It was commanded by Subedar Ataullah Mohammed.
Pakistani troops' position at the peak gave them a clear view of the Indian movement in the Saltoro-Siachen area. The Siachen glacier, located about 15 km away, could be seen from this peak with the naked eye. The Indian posts in the Bilafond La area, such as Amar and Sonam, were accessible only by air. Amar was located to the south of the Quaid Post, while Sonam was located to its north-west. Pakistan's control of the Quaid Post allowed them to dominate these posts, and prevent supplies to them.
The Quaid Post was located at an altitude of 6447 m (21,153 feet). It was extremely difficult to attack, as it was surrounded by 457 m high ice walls. It had an inclination of 80° to 85° on three sides, and a little less on the fourth side. It was very difficult for the attackers to climb up the peak without getting noticed by the Pakistani soldiers stationed at the top. The scarcity of oxygen made walking long distances difficult, as the troops had to halt every few meters to regain their breath. There were also frequent blizzards, and taking advantage of poor visibility at night was difficult due to the wind chill factor. The minimum temperatures in the area were as low as -50 °C at that time.
On 18 April 1987, the Pakistani troops at Quaid Post fired on the Indian soldiers at Sonam (6,400 m), killing two of them. The Indian Army then launched a plan to evict the Pakistanis from the Quaid Post. The 8th Battalion of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (8th JAK LI) was given the task of capturing the Quaid Post. On May 29, a 13-member JAK LI patrol led by Second Lieutenant Rajiv Pande was asked to identify the best approach route to the Post, and mark it with ropes. The group started climbing the ice wall leading to the Quaid Post, but was detected by the Pakistani soldiers, when it was just 30 m from the top. The Pakistanis opened fire with a heavy machine gun, killing 10 Indian soldiers, including Second Lieutenant Rajiv Pande. Before they were killed, the Indian soldiers managed to establish a number of footholds on the vertical ice wall with a pick axe, and had laid a rope to the top.
Indian task force assembled
Over the next few days, the JAK LI assembled a new task force led by Major Varinder Singh to capture the Quaid Post. Captain Anil Sharma was assigned as Singh's deputy. The task force included 62 people, including 2 officers, 3 JCOs and 57 jawans. The assignment, launched on 23 June 1987, was code-named Operation Rajiv in honour of Second Lieutenant Rajiv Pande.
The task force established a base in the Bilafond La area. The 8th JAK LI had taken over the area from 5th Bihar just over a month back, and its soldiers were still in the process of getting to know the area. Because of the frequent blizzards and limited capacity of the HAL Cheetah helicopters, it took 20 days and 200 helicopter trips for the assault team to gather at Bilafond La. To ferry two people and their supplies, a minimum of 2-4 helicopter trips were required. Each helicopter trip cost ₹ 35,000.
During the rehearsals, some artillery observers had to be evacuated due to altitude sickness. A 10-man team led by Captain Ram Prakash was placed at the Sonam Post. He established an observation post ahead of Sonam.
On the evening of 23 June, a platoon led by Varinder Singh set out to find the rope fixed by Pande's patrol. The bad weather slowed down the group: it could travel only 1 km in four hours, in waist-deep snow. Due to heavy snowfall, the team could not find the rope, and retreated to the base.
Harnam Singh's team
On the night of 24 June, a 10-men team led by Subedar Harnam Singh was sent out. Another team led by Subedar Sansar Chand followed it at a distance. A third team led by Naib Subedar Bana Singh was kept as a reserve force to be deployed in case the first assault team was stalled due to enemy fire. Harnam singh's team managed to find the rope and the dead bodies of Pande's patrol. The Indian soldiers started climbing the ice wall. They had barely covered a distance of 50 m, when their scout Naik Tara Chand noticed some movement in the front. Alerted by Tara Chand, the Indian soldiers started moving down. But before they could take up the firing positions, the Pakistanis opened fire with medium machine guns. Tara Chand and two others were killed instantaneously. The troops following them were unable to fire back as their weapons had jammed in the -25 °C temperature. Later, the Indians found that the Pakistanis were heating their weapons with a kerosene stove kept below the weapon. Harnam Singh's men first took shelter behind icicles, and then hurriedly dug shallow trenches in the ice. The Indian artillery designated to cover them could not be used to full extent, as there was danger of them being hurt. Ulltimately, the attack had to be abandoned.
The wounded soldiers were later brought to the base, and evacuated via helicopters. Their reliefs were dispatched promptly. The Indians also heard helicopters making regular trips on the Pakistani side. While bringing the bodies of their two dead colleagues to the base, the Indians also discovered the bodies of Rajiv Pande and Naib Subedar Hem Raj. Although the two had been killed a month earlier, their bodies had been preserved in the ice.
Sansar Chand's team
On the night of 25–26 June, Subedar Sansar Chand's team led the attack on the Quaid Post, with the remainder of the force following at a distance. The team advanced towards the Post, supported by the medium machine gun fire from the Garden post and rocket launcher fire from the post established by Ram Prakash ahead of the Sonam post. Other support teams with light machine guns had also been deployed to facilitate the advance of Sansar Chand's men. However, these guns jammed due to cold weather. The Pakistani side also continuously used machine gun and rocket fire to stop the Indian advance.
Sansar Chand reached near the top of the Quaid Post, and wanted additional troops to rush in immediately. However, the battery of his radio set died, and he could not communicate with his Commander, who was located just 100 m behind him. He then asked Havildar Ram Dutt to move down and reach out to the rest of the Indian team. However, Ram Dutt got hit by the Pakistani fire while moving down, and fell almost 500 feet to death. His body could never be recovered. Once again, the attack had to be abandoned in absence of additional fire support.
Final assault by Bana Singh's team
By the morning of 26 June, both Indian and Pakistani soldiers had nearly run out of supplies, having spent three nights in extremely cold weather. The Quaid Post was held by 7-to-17 Pakistani soldiers at the time. The Pakistani troops seemed to be running low on ammunition, as firing from their side had reduced considerably. By this time, the weather had also improved, with the temperatures just below 0 °C. The Indians' weapons had started working.
Realizing that the supplies would not last till night, Varinder decided to launch a decisive daytime attack from two sides. The first team comprised 8 men, and was led by Varinder Singh. The second team comprised 5 men, and was led by Naib Subedar Bana Singh. The brigade commander Brigadier Chandan Nugyal contacted Varinder over radio, and promised him fire support from every Indian artillery gun in the range. After a massive artillery barrage, Varinder's team outflanked Quaid from below.
The team led by Bana Singh launched the final assault at 1330 hours on 26 June 1987. Beside Bana Singh, the group included Riflemen Chuni Lal, Laxman Das, Om Raj and Kashmir Chand. This team approached the Quaid Post from an unexpected direction, using a longer and more difficult approach. There was a blizzard, resulting in poor visibility, which gave cover to the Indian soldiers. Bana Singh's team reached the top of the peak, and found that there was a single Pakistani bunker. They approached the bunker from behind, but realized that their rifles were jammed. Bana Singh then lobbed a grenade into the bunker and closed the door, killing those inside. The two sides also got involved in a hand-to-hand combat, in which the Indian soldiers bayoneted some of the Pakistani soldiers outside the bunker. A few Pakistani soldiers jumped off the peak. Later, the Indians found six dead bodies of Pakistani soldiers.
The Indian Army finally gained control of the post. Varinder Singh was severely wounded by an artillery shell after the post was captured.
The Indian Army handed over the bodies of Pakistani soldiers to the Pakistani authorities during a flag meet in Kargil.
Bana Singh was awarded Param Vir Chakra in 1988 for his courage during the Operation. The highest peak in the Siachen area was named Bana Top in his honour. Rifleman Chuni Lal, and Rifleman Om Raj who accompanied him during the final assault, was awarded Sena Medal. Harnam Singh was awarded Mahavir Chakra. 7 others, including Major Varinder Singh, 2nd Lt. Rajiv Pande were awarded Vir Chakra.
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