The India Today article has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way!!!!!
Two issues have prompted this article. The first being the anniversary of Operation Parakram - the 10-month mobilisation by the Army which falls on December 19 - and second the voluminous disinformation regarding India's military plans for war in June. Prime Minister Vajpayee has already informed the nation that India was close to war with Pakistan on two occasions, in January and later in June. What he did not say is that the Army's offensive plans in June were so audacious that they had never been war-gamed before. The importance of revealing these plans is that the Army top brass was not deterred by Pakistani nukes.
With war clouds hovering on the horizon after the May 14 terrorist attack in Kaluchak in Jammu, leading analysts spoke of a "salami-slicing" of POK by Indian Armed forces. It was suggested that the Army would seek a shallow penetration all along the Line of Control to capture known terrorist infiltration routes in POK. The military action would be limited to POK with a shallow ingress to ensure that Pakistan's nuclear threshold is not crossed. Similarly, the recent issue of the weekly India Today magazine in its cover story has said the same thing a bit differently. According to the magazine, India's offensive 1 corps would engage Pakistan's offensive Army Reserve North (ARN) around southern Kashmir and Jammu area in an attrition battle. The "real offensive would be in POK by strike formations moved in from the east and tasked to capture strategic points used by Pakistan to push in terrorists." Nothing is further from the truth.
But, first a few facts. India has three offensive strike corps, 1, 2 and 21. Pakistan, on the other hand, has two strike corps, 1 and 2. Pakistan's ARN centres around 1 corps based in Mangla/Kharian, and has two holding corps under it, 30 corps in Gujranwala and 4 corps in Lahore. Pakistan's Army Reverse South (ARS) comprises of 2 corps based in Multan and has two holding corps, 31 corps in Bahawalpur and 5 corps in Karachi. There are unconfirmed reports in the Western media that Pakistan has independent armour worth a division around Karachi. It could actually be less.
India had moved nearly two-and-a-half divisions from the east facing China to the Jammu region in January. These divisions which have a dual-tasking role - against both China and Pakistan - have never been switched before for two reasons. India had feared that China could open up a military front simultaneous with an India-Pakistan war to relieve pressure on Pakistan. This time around, it was assessed that in the obtained geo-strategic environment, China would not openly support Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons to safeguard its vital interests.
The second reason was that these divisions from the east need, at least, two to three months of re-orientation training to face the threat from Pakistan. It was felt that in a war with Pakistan so much preparation time would not be available. Hence, the dual-tasking role of these formations had remained largely on paper. Operation Parakram, however, provided this opportunity to the Army. Between January and June, the Army had enough time for training and re-equipping these formations for an operational role in Jammu division.
India's Jammu corridor is considered militarily vulnerable. Because Pakistan's 1 corps has traditionally been used here in the Shakargarh bulge, India's 1 corps has remained in this politically sensitive area to counter any Pakistani offensive. In short, India's 1 corps is meant to counter Pakistan's 1 corps in the Jammu and northern Punjab region, while India's 2 and 21 corps threaten Pakistan's 2 corps in the Rajasthan sector.
Against this backdrop, Operation Parakram's military aims were changed drastically from January to June. In January, Operation Parakram was meant to support offensive actions in POK, and to be prepared for a full scale war if Pakistan chose to escalate the conflict outside J&K. From then until May, the Army was focussed on how to regain the element of surprise. The initial military aim no longer looked attractive because Pakistan had taken adequate counter-measures to meet India's threat in POK.
It was decided that India should utilise its three military advantages: Its three strike corps as against two with Pakistan, the Indian Air Force's edge over the Pakistan Air Force, and the fact that the mountain divisions moved from the Chinese front were operationally re-oriented and ready for war. Sometime in March, 1 corps was moved to Rajasthan. The Indian Army had all its three strike corps poised in the Rajasthan desert. The military thinking was that once the balloon went up, instead of seeking multiple thrusts in POK, the Army would cross the border boldly in the Thar. Sooner rather than later, Pakistan would move its Army Reserve South to check the Indian advance. Considering India had all three strike corps in Rajasthan, Pakistan would have little option but to move its Army Reserve North also southwards to meet the growing Indian threat. An ensuing attrition battle would end with India's advantage.
In consonance with the Army doctrine which states that: "The Indian Army believes in fighting the war in enemy territory. If forced into a war, the aim of our offensive(s) would be to apply a sledgehammer blow to the enemy," the Army strategy would have been manoeuvre and attrition combined in the desert. This strategy would have given India two advantages: Pakistan's military centre of gravity, which are its two strike corps, would have been destroyed in details, and land captured in the Thar would have yielded some advantage on the negotiating table after the war. The earlier military aim of Operation Parakram, therefore, stood modified.
Both the US and Pakistan got wind that India had moved its 1 corps between its 2 and 21 corps in Rajasthan. This explains why unlike in January, the US in May issued advisory to its nationals to leave India and Pakistan immediately. It has been the US thinking that a full scale war between India and Pakistan would easily escalate into a nuclear exchange. Pakistan, meanwhile, test-fired two nuclear capable ballistic missiles in May. This was meant as a warning to India to apply brakes to its most ambitious military plans ever made.
In hindsight, three observations can be made about India's June plans: One, the Army does not believe in the concept of a limited conventional war. Two, the Army believes that Pakistan will not use its nukes early in a war, and most importantly, it appears that the Indian political leadership was deterred by Pakistan's nukes more than Pakistan was by India's putative nuclear second strike capability.
(The writer is co-author with Lt General (retd) VK Sood of the forthcoming book Operation Parakram: The War Gone Wrong)