OP Parakram, launched in the wake of the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack by Kashmiri militants on India’s Parliament, was the first full-scale military mobilisation against Pakistan since the 1971 India-Pakistan war. It began on December 19, 2001 and was completed by January 13, 2002. It finally ended on October 16, 2002 when India’s Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) belatedly recognised that the law of diminishing returns had been operative for many months already, and in a face-saving move, the CCNS declared that India’s mobilised military personnel were being ‘strategically relocated’, and constant vigil would be maintained.
In the aftermath of OP Parakram—hailed as being India’s first venture in offensive defence—several well-thought-out evaluations (see http://ipcs.org/seminar/indo-pak/coercive-diplomacy-operation-parakram-an-evaluation-577.html & http://ipcs.org/seminar/indo-pak/operation-parakram-670.html) concluded that the full-scale military mobilisation was a total disaster and uncalled for due to India’s failure to think through the end-game, due to lack of political will, due to the inability to calibrate coercion, due to the lack of politico-military synergy, and due to the absence of an exit strategy, all of which resulted in the futile threat of war being made to persist for a period long beyond its relevance. The operation emphatically illustrated the fact that India was not in a position to overwhelm Pakistan through exercises in coercive diplomacy, and that India’s capability of engaging in coercive diplomacy was a myth and is not India’s cup-of-tea (as she then lacked the three essential components required, namely, i) political will, ii) war preparedness, and iii) strategic vision), and this still remains so, since India lacks the essential ‘killer instinct’ to carry out such tasks, as the facts will reveal in the following narrative. It will also disclose that India’s military plans for undertaking a successful short duration, limited war under the nuclear threshold through punitive action and surgical strikes in January 2002, and an all-out war in June 2002, have eventually turned out to be nothing but voluminous disinformation.
During the CCNS meeting on December 19, 2001 in which the three armed services chiefs (COAS Gen Sundarajan ‘Paddy’ Padmanabhan, CAS Anil Yeshwant Tipnis and CNS Admiral Sushil Kumar) attended, none of them were even consulted about the available military options. Furthermore, the verbal order for full tri-services mobilisation was given NOT by the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee (who was silent throughout the meeting), but by his alter-ego, Brajesh Mishra, the then National Security Adviser & Principal Secretary to the PM. When the armed services chiefs asked Mishra what exactly were the higher directions of war (i.e. what was to be achieved, in what kind of time-frame) and what would be the rules of engagement (ROE) on land, at sea and in the air, they were blandly told “wo sab baadmein bataaenge” (all that will be revealed later). While the service chiefs clearly found this to be totally bizarre, they decided not to question the CCNS’ decision, hoping that by the time mobilisation was almost 80% complete (within the next fortnight), the higher directions of war and related ROEs would be clearly spelt out in writing. This, as we all now know never happened, since the NDA government of the day never had the stomach for either limited high-intensity conflict or for full-scale hostilities against Pakistan. Instead, it has been falsely propagated—thanks to disingenuous political naivety—that international pressure, especially the US, had dissuaded the NDA government from initiating hostilities against Pakistan. Yet another piece of disinformation was put out on February 17, 2003 by none other than the then President of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, who stated this in Parliament: “After the December 13, 2001 attack on our Parliament by Pakistan-based terrorists, we were constrained to deploy our troops along the international border. This decision achieved its purpose by showing both our firmness and our self-restraint in dealing with our hostile neighbour”.
The truth, however, is absolutely devastating, and it clearly emerges from the book “No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington” by former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice, who wrote that back in early January 2002 it was Brajesh Mishra who was pleading with Dr Rice to do something, anything, that would subdue the ‘for-war lobby’ that was gaining strength within India (meaning the NDA government-in-power never wanted to go to war with Pakistan). According to Dr Rice’s recollections, the US by early January 2002 had already been resigned to a war between India and Pakistan when Brajesh Mishra frantically called her for help. “I cannot constraint the war lobby here without some help,” he had said. This led the then US President George Bush Jr to speak with Pakistan’s President-cum-COAS Gen Pervez Musharraf to persuade him to make the statement on January 12, 2002 that Pakistan’s soil would not be allowed to be used by terrorists (an ashen-faced Gen Musharraf made this commitment in a nationally telecast speech), the fig-leaf for India to not start a war. Brajesh Mishra, on the other hand, had indicated (i.e. lied) back in 2002 that it was because of India’s successful coercive diplomacy that had forced Gen Musharraf to make the January 12 statement.
Meanwhile as the military mobilisation was underway, India’s numerical advantage over Pakistan in main battle tanks (MBT) and infantry combat vehicles was 1.45:1, while the India-Pakistan fixed-wing combat aircraft ratio stood at 2.58:1. The ratio between India’s and Pakistan’s inventories of high-performance combat aircraft—which is a more telling indicator of the air imbalance than overall numbers—was approximately 3.03:1 in India’s favour. The ratio of India’s to Pakistan’s blue water naval vessels stood at 3.47:1. However, the Indian Army’s (IA) ineptness and its inability to wage sequential, estimates-based warfare (thanks to its doctrinal slumber, which prevailed even after OP Vijay in mid-1999) became evident in late December 2011 when the then GOC-in-C of the IA’s HQ Northern Command, Lt Gen R K Nanavaty, clearly told Army HQ that his Command was not in a position to go to war and required more preparatory time, as it was suffering from critical shortages of equipment, stores and spares. There were several other shortages, which, if not overcome, would have made the IA a sitting duck in case the Pakistan Army went on the offensive. Take, for instance, the import of 26,000 rounds of 125mm ammunition worth US$27.17 million (Rs 116.83 crore) for T-72M1 MBTs that was approved by India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) in June 1999 from Israel Military Industries Ltd. Though procurement action for this contract had been initiated in August 1997 and user-trials of the ammunition had been conducted a year earlier in August 1996, contract signature took place only on July 2, 1999 and that too for the delivery of only 2,800 rounds within two months and another 7,000 within six months (the actual delivery of the first 2,800 rounds, however, took place only on December 14, 1999). Similar shortages existed in early 2002 for ammunition like 12.7mm cartridges, plus 130mm and 155mm artillery rounds, which prevented the IA from even waging a series of contact battles, leave alone multi-pronged armoured thrusts deep into enemy territory.
The same was the case with the Indian Navy (IN), whose warship-related spares inventories were down by 50%, thanks to on-going investigations against corruption involving several spares-supply procurement plans, due to which the IN’s Directorate of Logistics was paralysed. To break this logjam, the IN’s then CNS Admiral Madhvendra ‘Madhu’ Singh obtained special clearance from the MoD to authorise the IN’s then Chief of Naval Materials, Vice Admiral Pramod C Bhasin, to immediately begin placing bulk orders for warship-related spares worth Rs 250 crores.
By December 24, in an effort to attain numerical superiority, IA HQ began redeploying to Jammu nearly two-and-a-half Divisions—elements of 20 Mountain Division, 27 Mountain Divisions 57 Mountain Division—to the west from the east facing Mainland China. This was made possible after Brajesh Mishra reportedly briefed Beijing about India’s so-called coercive diplomacy objectives (i.e. stating that India had no plans for invading Pakistan), which in turn enabled China to assure India that in the prevailing geo-strategic environment, China would not openly support Pakistan. 20 Mountain Division, 27 Mountain Divisions 57 Mountain Division, which have a dual-tasking role against both China and Pakistan, had never been switched before for two reasons: A) India had feared that China could open up a military front during an on-going India-Pakistan war in order to relieve pressure on Pakistan, and B) these Mountain Divisions from the east would require at least three months of re-orientation training to face the threat from Pakistan. It was thus felt that in a war with Pakistan so much preparation time would not be available, and hence, the dual-tasking role of these Mountain Divisions had remained largely on paper. OP Parakram, however, provided this opportunity to the IA and consequently, between January and June 2002, the IA had enough time for training and re-equipping these formations for an operational role in the militarily vulnerable Jammu corridor, especially the Shakargarh Bulge.
In late December 2001, while the IA’s Pivot Corps were ready for battle in 72 to 96 hours from the word ‘go’, the three strike corps—I ‘Vajra’ Corps (Mathura), II ‘Kharga’ Corps (Ambala) and XXI ‘Sudarshan Chakra’ Corps (Bhopal)—took 22 days to reach their wartime locations, following which on January 11, 2002, Gen Padmanabhan publicly declared that a limited war was a truism and went on to say in a televised press-conference that “there is scope for a limited conventional war” between India and Pakistan. However, the US knew very well about the IA’s acute hardware deficiencies and therefore never expected the IA to go on an all-out offensive over the next six months (this was precisely the reason why the US never issued any advisory to its nationals to leave India and Pakistan immediately, and instead issued such an advisory only in May 2002). Pakistan was at that time obtaining paid-for overhead recce satellite imagery showing forward-deployed Indian military dispositions NOT from China (which never has a SAR-equipped satellite at that time) but from Canada’s RADARSAT-1 SAR-equipped satellite, owned by RADARSAT International (RSI).
By January 7, 2002, while the IA had no options to launch offensive operations across the LoC in the snow-bound areas of Jammu & Kashmir, in the plains of Punjab and Rajasthan the climatic conditions were ideal for surgical operations backed up by punitive air-strikes (i.e. high-intensity conventional war with tactically limited objectives). Despite all this being communicated by Gen Padmanabhan (who by then was also the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, or COSC) to the CCNS, the Govt of India (GoI), through the CCNS, never spelt out any war-waging directives and related ROEs to either Gen Padmanabhan, or to Admiral Madhvendra Singh or to Air Chief Marshal Srinivasapuram Krishnaswamy. This in turn resulted in the armed services chiefs being subjected to severe psychological stress, since their respective theatre and fleet commanders were constantly badgering them for seeking approvals for activating their OP-PLANs. The IA’s Western Command (HQed in Chandimandir, Punjab) was then the most important theatre command as far as Pakistan went and held extensive strike power. II ‘Kharga’ Corps was then the most important offensive formation (possessing 50% of the IA’s offensive capabilities) and was tasked to tear through the Thar/Cholistan Desert at/near Rahimyar Khan and race towards Jacobabad, thereby cutting Pakistan into two.
Lt Gen Kapil Vij, the then GOC of II ‘Kharga’ Corps, was unaware of all that was happening back at Army HQ and the shenanigans within the civilian corridors of power in Delhi, and therefore proceeded to unveill the operational art dictating his OP-PLAN on the premise that the “law of the initial advantage of the aggressor” assumes critical importance, as it is the aggressor who generally sets the pattern which operations will take. Since no further operational instructions were emanating from either HQ Western Command (since IA HQ had not been issued any directives regarding the higher directions of war and related ROEs from the GoI), Lt Gen Vij decided to take the initiative with perfectly honourable intentions and by mid-January 2002 ordered a third of his warfighting armoured and mechanised infantry formations along with supporting field artillery assets—all located about 150km away from the international boundary (IB)—to be forward-deployed just 40km away from the IB, ready for the initial contact battles. The rest of his warfighting strength (follow-on forces for waging the breakthrough battles), including operational reserves, were positioned in a three-arrowhead formation along three probable routes-of-advance (a deployment done just prior to initiating the offensive). This was immediately picked up by US overhead recce satellites and was viewed by the US as an escalation, since it violated the India-Pakistan confidence-building measures (CBM)—formalised in the late 1980s after EX BRASS TACKS—that called for all land-based warfighting assets (men and material) of both countries to be kept 10km away from the IB and working boundary (WB), while the airspace of both countries would be no-fly-zones for combat aircraft and military helicopters 10km on either side of the IB and WB during peacetime. Therefore, it was not Pakistan that alerted the US about this, but the US itself saw all this through its overhead recce satellites and then reportedly confronted Brajesh Mishra with the evidence and bluntly asked him whether the GoI really wanted a full-scale war, or did it sincerely want the US to lean over Pakistan and prevent it from taking the Indian military’s bait, which in turn would serve to subdue the ‘war-mongerers’ within the GoI and the three armed services. Consequently, a highly embarrassed Brajesh Mishra, in order to save his face and credibility in front of the US, allegedly directed the MoD under the then Defence Minister George Fernandes to force Army HQ to relieve Lt Gen Kapil Vij of his command of II ‘Kharga’ Corps (he was replaced by his junior Maj Gen Bhupinder Singh Thakur by January 21, 2002) as proof of Mishra’s ‘sincere’ intentions about averting a full-scale war. Subsequently, the MoD mischievously began giving off-the-record briefings in which it was said that Lt Gen Vij had either “gone on leave on personal grounds”, or had been relieved of his command for committing tactical errors.
Against this backdrop, OP Parakram’s military aims were changed drastically between mid-February and June 2002. During this period, the IA remained focussed on how to regain the element of operational surprise. The initial military aim (of launching surgical AirLand joint operations backed up by punitive air-strikes against some 75 select transportation nodes/hubs) no longer looked attractive because Pakistan had taken adequate counter-measures to neutralise probable Indian land offensives in both West Punjab and Cholistan. It was therefore decided by IA HQ and Indian Air Force (IAF) HQ by early February 2002 that India ought to utilise its three military advantages: its three Strike Corps as against two of the Pakistan Army’s, the IAF’s edge over the Pakistan Air Force, and the fact that the three redeployed Mountain Divisions would, from March 2002, be operationally re-oriented and ready for war.
However, before deciding to formulate new OP-PLANs, all three armed services chiefs approached the CCNS and asked for ironclad proof of the capabilities of India’s minimum credible nuclear deterrent, and consequently, for the very first time in India’s history, approval was accorded for all three armed services chiefs to be given a series of no-holds-barred and on-site briefings by both the Dept of Atomic Energy and the Defence Research & Development Organisation at locations in Trombay and Hyderabad, which included visual inspections of both the fabricated weapons-grade plutonium cores and the triggering mechanisms of four types of nuclear devices—these being fission-based and boosted fission-based unitary warheads capable of being launched by ballistic missiles or NLOS-BSMs; and fission-based and boosted fission-based unitary warheads encased within aircraft-launched gravity bombs.
Fully satisfied with such presentations and briefings, the IA, between mid-March and mid-April 2002, as part of an audacious theatre-level OP-PLAN (that had never been war-gamed before), had deployed all its three Strike Corps in the Thar Desert, with the military thinking being that once the balloon went up, the IA would cross the border boldly in Thar/Cholistan, and the subsequent series of attrition battles lasting between four to six weeks would end with India's advantage. This was in consonance with the IA’s then prevailing warfighting doctrine of strategic defence with operational-level offensives, which stated that: “The Indian Army believes in fighting the war in enemy territory. If forced into a war, the aim of our offensives would be to apply a sledgehammer blow to the enemy”. Thus, the IA’s newly-formulated warfighting strategy was manoeuvre-and-attrition combined in the Thar/Cholistan deserts. This strategy, if implemented, would have given India two advantages: the Pakistan Army’s centre of gravity, which are its two Strike Corps, would have been destroyed in detail, and land captured in Cholistan would have yielded some advantage on the negotiating table after the war. It would also have called Pakistan’s bluff about using nuclear weapons early in a conventional war with India (contrary to India’s declared retaliatory-strike policy on nuclear weapons employment, Pakistan has stuck to the attitude of ambiguity regarding the usage of nuclear weapons, which in turn has led the US to believe that that a full-scale war between India and Pakistan would easily escalate into a nuclear exchange, something the IA disagrees with till this day).
By late April 2002, overhead recce satellite imagery obtained by India’s Defence Intelligence Agency through Israel had detected the movement of a convoy of 15 TELs of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s 2nd Artillery Corps and escorted by a Motorised Infantry Brigade, which had moved out of storage areas located within the Chengdu Military Region’s Sivhuan province, and was headed westwards towards the Tibet Autonomous Region. Persistent surveillance of this convoy’s movement revealed that it had entered Pakistan through the Northern Areas. By late May 2002, while Gen Musharraf on one hand said that Pakistan could not be expected to fight India with both its hands tied, Gen Padmanabhan on the other hand stated that he had credible reports about Pakistan’s possession of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) that are optimised for use against hostile battlefield formations, are limited in their destructive power, have localised radioactive fallout, and which do not inflict widespread devastation upon areas that are thickly populated with civilians. It is widely believed that it was this news about the arrival in Pakistan of China-supplied TNWs that deterred the NDA government from issuing politico-military directives to the three armed services chiefs for execution even after the May 14, 2002 terrorist attack that killed 34 Indian soldiers and their relatives near Jammu. The US, on the other hand, in an unprecedented act, decided to pull out more than 60,000 US citizens from India in mid-May 2002, prompting several other countries and the United Nations to do the same.
By June 9, 2002 the element of surprise was lost and in operational terms, the continued deployment of the IA along the IB and WB was reduced to a futile effort. By late July 2002, troops of the Pakistan Army had ventured into Point 3260, a relatively low feature having little tactical significance in the Gurez-Machal sector in Jammu & Kashmir, and had occupied Loonda Post, located approximately 800 metres inside India’s side of the Line of Control and overlooking the Neelam Valley in the Northern Areas. The intruders were spotted on July 26, following which a joint IA-IAF operation was launched on August 2 to evict them. In this operation, 12 IAF combat aircraft participated, of which four were Mirage 2000s that dropped laser-guided bombs over Loonda Post as part of actions taken to successfully evict the intruders.
It was only in August 2002 that the CCNS directed the COAS-cum-Chairman of COSC to draft a directive to extricate the three armed forces from the imbroglio. Therefore, put into perspective, ordering full mobilisation of the three armed services was a knee-jerk reaction of the NDA government in the vain hope that Pakistan would get coerced. Instead, here was a government which, instead of coercing, got coerced, while the three armed services got fully mobilised without even knowing what they were supposed to do and achieve. Throughout the 10-month period of OP Parakram, the NDA government kept the three armed services on the fringes of national security policy-making, since neither understood one another. All this, obviously, greatly pissed off everyone, especially Gen Padmanabhan, who subsequently aired his views in public on November 9, 2002, which can be read at:
The world would well have bought the NDA government’s ‘coercive diplomacy’ argument as a well-meaning one had Mishra from the very outset taken the three armed service chiefs into confidence and stated that an all-out war as never an option meant to be exercised. Instead, the idea was just to raise a lot of dust, heat and noise throughout the IB, WB and LoC, all of which would compel the international community to ratchet up the heat on Pakistan. If only all this had been communicated by Mishra to the three armed services chiefs on December 19, 2001, then everyone would have been on the same page, the IA’s, IAF’s and IN’s top-brass would not have been required to persistently try to refine their respective war-plans (especially the Army’s audacious deployment of all its three Strike Corps in the Thar Desert), and consequently Beijing would not have felt the urgent need to send a detachment of the 2nd Artillery Corps equipped with TNWs to Pakistan. Instead, what happened was that the NDA government kept India’s armed forces insulated from the national security decision-making loop, which consequently resulted in the IA upping the ante by trying to retain the operational initiative between March and May 2002, which in turn compelled China to not trust India’s earlier word (about not forcing an all-out war on Pakistan) and rush to Pakistan’s assistance in a last-ditch effort to prevent both India and Pakistan from dangerously climbing the escalatory ladder to war any further. In China’s eyes, therefore, India could not, once again, be trusted to keep her word. The consequences of such a folly on India’s part are bound to be enormous.
If such a travesty of national security could not be further imagined, one had only to wait for what transpired within the corridors of power in Delhi in the immediate aftermath of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Here’s what reportedly transpired, based on the recollections of one of the armed services chiefs who was a first-hand witness to all the proceedings. Between November 26 and 29, 2008 as the 10 Pakistan-origin terrorists were creating mayhem in Mumbai, the GoI was in a tailspin, with the political decision-makers not bothering to contact the three armed services chiefs through the offices of the COSC, and the three armed services chiefs in turn not bothering to consult one another, leave alone approach the PMO or the then National Security Adviser (NSA) Mayankote Kelath Narayanan through the COSC channel. It was only on November 30 that Narayanan called the three armed services chiefs for a meeting with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, in which the Director of IB and the Secretary of R & AW were—strangely—not present. The mood in the PMO was tense and all those present agreed that Pakistan should not be allowed to go unpunished for this audacious act of terrorism. When asked for his opinion, the then COAS, Gen Deepak Kapoor, suggested that long-range artillery fire assaults and raids by special operations forces across the LoC be conducted. The IAF’s CAS, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, suggested that punitive air-strikes be conducted inside Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir/Azad Kashmir against terrorist camps, to which Gen Kapoor added that this would certainly lead to full-scale war and the same would have happened had the IAF crossed the LoC in mid-1999 during OP Safed Sagar. There was disagreement between the COAS and CAS over whether the Pakistan Army would climb the escalatory ladder if the IAF launched a few punitive air-strikes across the LoC. The then CNS, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, kept his views to himself since he was neither asked much nor did he offer any advice. There was absolutely no talk about the prevailing nuclear balance-of-power, and most of the time was spent on debating the most insane issue: Pakistan’s motives behind the 26/11 terror carnage (NSA Narayanan reportedly asked—rather innocently—whether Pakistan would stop sponsoring further spectacular terror attacks in future if the Indian Army shelved its ‘Cold Start’ warfighting doctrine). The overarching sense, it seemed, was to explore retaliatory military options that would not lead to full-scale war. As none existed, the meeting concluded after the PM told the three armed services chiefs to prepare for war. However, Gen Kapoor was explicitly told by NSA Narayanan not to recall any Army personnel from leave nor move any warfighting formations to their forward staging areas till further orders, as this would surely alert Pakistan. On December 1, 2008, Minister of Defence, Arackaparambil Kurien Antony, held a meeting with the three armed services chiefs and senior bureaucrats of the MoD to discuss a single point: the need to procure on a fast-track basis all the critical war-waging hardware required by the three armed services. Thereafter, nothing else happened for a week and the three services chiefs never heard anything from the PMO during this period, after which NSA Narayanan informed them that India would not initiate any form of military campaign against Pakistan. Therefore, the only two conclusions of this single meeting between the PM and the three armed services chiefs are that A) no one in India’s officialdom wanted war and all of them hoped that the crisis would blow over quickly, and B) no one wanted to talk about the nuclear weapons factor, as there are still several unresolved issues. The three armed services sought to make use of this crisis to make emergency purchases of critical military hardware (something the IA never quite seems able to do in peacetime).
Few countries would have let 164 people die in vain as India did after 26/11 without seeking retribution for the aggressor. The terror strikes of 26/11, which had the rest of the world worried about another military showdown between two traditional rivals, thus became a non-event for India and her armed forces. Regrettably, nothing has changed since then, and till this day the three armed services are condemned to second-guessing the intentions of the country’s civilian political masters and their inability to have the stomach for going to war with India’s adversaries should the need ever arise. Maybe that is why till this day, there does not exist any formalised or codified national warfighting doctrine, and consequently none of India’s three armed services have clear-cut and fully integrated OP-PLANS and related rules of engagement. Therefore, Cold Start, Pro-Active Strategy, Two-Front War and Transformation all remain mere notional/still-born concepts.