The military dynamics

Print edition : June 08, 2002

The Indian military is evidently eager to seize the opportunity and "call Pakistan's bluff". A look at strategy and state of play.

INDIA and Pakistan are now on the sixth rung of an eight-point conflict escalation ladder, before they cross the nuclear threshold, and Indian military officers predicting imminent hostilities claim that it is only a matter of time before war is thrust upon the country.

Motor guns positioned under camouflage netting near Jammu.-AIJAZ RAHI/ AP

Senior Army officers claim that the "war genie" has been let loose and it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the beleaguered Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party leadership to bottle it again, fully aware as it is that it would face oblivion if it even tried to do so, or blinked this time round.

"If we do not attack now, we never will," a military officer in the Jammu sector said. To wait once again after nearly six months of deployment and acts of intense provocation like the Kalu Chak garrison strike will be counter-productive, he said. "It's like training for the World Cup without knowing when the matches will be called," a senior General who participated in the 1965 and 1971 wars said. The Army has gone through its paces, trained for the offensive, laid minefields and erected defences but now impatiently awaits orders, he added. "We will lose face if we do not fight after such a build-up and withdraw," another officer said. It would only give Pakistan and the world the message that India merely postures and does not follow it up with action, he added.

An internal Army analysis has said that the nuclear-armed rivals, following an "established" pattern, had long crossed the five stages of no-war-no-peace that included daily artillery and mortar duels across the Line of Control (LoC) and the build-up of a crisis over militant strikes followed by political, diplomatic and economic pressure. The next step, already crossed, was a show of force and significant troop mobilisation backed by the naval deployment on the western seaboard within "striking distance" of Karachi harbour through which 90 per cent of Pakistan's oil supplies pass.

Three-dimensional battle groups including frigates, destroyers and submarines from both the Western and Eastern fleets have been deployed off the Pakistan coast, while amphibious units of the Army and the Indian Navy have been shifted from the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago for a sea-borne landing, ready for war. "Karachi is Pakistan's jugular vein and we are poised to choke it," a senior naval officer said. Strangulation at sea, he added, is slow but deadly, and realising that this was imminent, Pakistan had ended the Kargil War by signing an agreement in Washington to withdraw its Army in June 1999.

The rungs that remain to be ascended are border "incidents", a euphemism for military raids into enemy territory, and limited or "surgical" strikes by one or the other side following the breakdown of international diplomatic and political initiatives that are currently under way. This, in turn, would trigger a full-blown conventional war, whose outcome would eventually determine the nuclear, apocalyptic option the world dreads. "We are close to war," said a senior Army officer, declining to be named, adding that the military was as ready as it ever would be.

Some officers indicate that bold plans are in place to launch air strikes - which are being practised - inside Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) in mid-June, before the monsoon sets in over the region, in order to isolate the disputed area from the rest of Pakistan. This would be followed by the Army advancing, in keeping with battle plans honed at the time of the Kargil conflict, to "take over" - and eventually hold - the area from where Kashmir's "proxy war" has raged for 13 years.

According to reports from Almaty, a determined Vajpayee, attending a regional security summit there, told Washington that India would not be "trapped" into a situation that might end up being nothing but a replay of what was witnessed after General Pervez Musharraf's January speech. Then cross-border terrorism declined temporarily, before picking up a few weeks later to levels higher than in previous years. Vajpayee reportedly does not want to neutralise India's offensive "window" with the onset of the monsoon by stepping back, knowing that a "good war" is an election winner.

According to existing operational plans - mooted by the Indian Air Force (IAF) immediately after last December's suicide attack on Parliament House, but shot down by the Army on the grounds that it was premature (see box) - Delhi needs a "two-week attack window" in June.

The daily drill, in preparation for war.-AMAN SHARMA/ AP

The tactic is to execute degrading air strikes that will induce Pakistan into extending the conflict by opening up a wider front. Experience has shown that in an India-Pakistan war, the attacker invariably takes the larger number of casualties as its "do or die" thrust for swift gains stands to weaken its overall fighting potential. India's military, steadily hemorrhaging for 13 years from Pakistan's "proxy war", plans to reverse Islamabad's military capability by at least 30 years and to push it back into the "dark ages", an officer said. "We will call Pakistan's nuclear bluff. It (the nuclear factor) cannot deter us any more," he declared.

The IAF is also delighted that Pakistan will be fighting under an Army General who even more than his Indian counterpart has an insufficient understanding of the Air Force. The Pakistani Army has enjoyed untrammelled political power since Independence, even during the brief democratic experiment in the 1990s, and it has treated the Air Force - and the Navy - like poor cousins. Besides, the IAF feels that the Pakistan Air Force, with around 350 fighter aircraft that include Mirage 5, Mirage III and 28 of 32 operable F-16 fighters, is no match for its 730 combat planes. These include varied fighter planes in the Russian MiG series, Jaguars, Mirage 2000Hs and the upgraded multi-role SU 30 MkIs, 10 of 40 for which orders have been placed will arrive soon.

Military officers hinted that the BJP leadership, having categorically opted to exercise the military option irrespective of Washington's ongoing diplomatic initiative, has embarked on a massive "deception ruse" comparable to the secrecy and duplicity involved in the 1998 nuclear tests. The subterfuge and sheer effrontery surrounding the two rounds of nuclear tests fooled even the ubiquitous Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

"The U.S.-led move to shift non-essential diplomatic staff and their families out of Delhi indicates that Washington has been informed of India's intentions of hitting Pakistan and is taking them seriously," a military officer involved in planning the offensive declared. He also indicated that India had assured Washington that in the event of war it would give the American bases at Jacobabad, Pasni and Dalbandin close to the Afghan border a wide berth. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh declared at a press conference last month that American presence in Pakistan was not an inhibiting factor in India's military policy determination. Senior Army officers seconded that stand. Reciprocal visits by Indian and U.S. military officials to Delhi and Washington have also helped clarify India's position.

Security sources also hinted that Washington, broadly aware of India's military plans, had slowly begun shifting its military personnel out of Pakistan, with contingency plans for a swift withdrawal. The U.S. is believed to have assured India that despite Pakistan's nuclear belligerence, Washington will ensure that the nuclear threshold is not crossed. Casual but chilling statements by Gen. Musharraf and his United Nations envoy Munir Akram about using nuclear weapons against a conventionally superior India, which sent alarm bells ringing in world capitals, were significantly toned down in the Pakistani President's June 1 interview to CNN television.

"India should not have the licence to kill with conventional weapons while Pakistan's hands are tied regarding other means to defend itself," Munir Akram said two days after being appointed his country's envoy to the U.N. in New York towards the end of May. Islamabad has to rely on the nuclear means it possessed to deter Indian aggression, he said in a statement obviously cleared by Gen. Musharraf.

Under pressure from Washington, Gen. Musharraf allayed concerns over a nuclear war. He toned down his belligerence, declaring on CNN that neither side was "irresponsible" enough to go to the limit of using weapons of mass destruction. "I would even go to the extent of saying one shouldn't even be discussing these things, because any sane individual cannot even think of going into this unconventional (nuclear) war, whatever the pressures," Gen. Musharraf said. He also reiterated Pakistan's desire for a no-war pact with India.

Military officers in Delhi, however, warn that if the present opportunity is not seized, the onset of the monsoon would cause the postponement of the campaign to September or later, and perhaps even indefinitely. This would come as a major disappointment to the now impatient military - jawans and officers alike - which is incensed by the May 14 attack at the Kalu Chak garrison in which soldiers' families were killed. "The militants can attack us, but not our women and children," a soldier in Jammu's Raghbir Singh Pura said. Another soldier at a border post nearby said India must not waste the military build-up now and should "sort" out Pakistan once and for all.

In such an operation "casualties in terms of men and machines will be high and the military has firmly told the politicians to prepare the nation for losses and delayed results as the fighting will be fierce," an Army officer said. According to him, Pakistan has concentrated the majority of its forces in and around PoK and would unleash its Chinese M-9 and M-11 missiles. Most officers anticipate that the conflict would not last more than a week, before the U.S. and other Western countries ensured that it ended, neutralising even the slimmest chance of a nuclear exchange.

MEANWHILE, there is a certain collective arrogance displayed by India's military and political establishment and the media that are of the view that India merely has to declare war on Pakistan for it to capitulate. According to Army assessments, India's edge over Pakistan in terms of conventional weapons has been steadily closing, and stands today at 1:1.4, giving Delhi the slight advantage. While the Indian Army has one of the highest teeth-to-tail ratios of 1:3 or one fighting man for a three-man support group - in the Kargil War this went up to 1:5 because of the harsh terrain - Pakistan has force-multipliers such as its numerous paramilitary forces and thousands of lashkars (militants) who would play a major role during war. Innumerable Pakistani paramilitary units, such as the Sutlej, Thar Sindh and Cholistan Rangers, have traditionally trained alongside the Army in peacetime manoeuvres to enhance its war-fighting capacity.

Pakistan also has the advantage over India of terrain, operating on an "interior line" or relatively shorter lines of communication with the ability to shift forces swiftly from one theatre to the other. Pakistan can "penny packet" its defences, confident that these can be reinforced quickly from an adjoining sector. Pakistan's 1 Strike Corps, also known as Army Reserve North, for instance, can simultaneously tackle the threat to Lahore, Sialkot and Gujranwala. This is Pakistan's only structured strike corps; it comprises two infantry divisions, one armoured division, one independent armoured brigade and one artillery division.

The Indian Army, on the other hand, operating on exterior or longer lines of communication, is forced by the topography to deploy 'stand alone corps' across Jammu and Kashmir and in sensitive areas such as Pathankot and Amritsar and all along the Rajasthan and Gujarat border, each one aware that back-up would be scarce or non-existent. And though the Army's fundamentals - such as jawans and junior officers - are strong, the top leadership does not inspire confidence in the former in the higher management of war. The snafus in the Kargil War do not bear repetition, but the levels of confidence the junior officers have in the top army brass is questionable.

A novel "caste system" governing promotions to the Army's higher ranks that was arbitrarily instituted by the former Chief of the Army Staff, General Ved Prakash Malik, and has been continued by his successor Gen. S. Padmanabhan, is causing widespread resentment amongst officers, who feel that the service has been effectively "Mandalised". Army officers said that such "narrow" promotion policies reversed over 50 years of established practice under which merit was the sole criterion for promotion, irrespective of the arm to which an officer belonged. "The general cadre's aim is to provide able leadership to the Army on merit and not fall prey to a self-defeating system of affirmative action," said one officer. Promotions to higher ranks, he added, had become all the more crucial after the Kargil conflict during which the quality of generalship had seriously come under question from within the force.

The Army also fears that a "Fifth Column" of around 3,000 insurgents across Jammu and Kashmir State will severely degrade its fighting ability in the event of war. Military officers in Jammu recently said that the Pakistan-backed armed guerillas were poised to disrupt the Army's supply lines and sabotage its rear-area security by blowing up bridges and rail lines, attacking soldier convoys and laying siege to National Highway 1A, which is the State's lifeline.

Interdicting Highway 1A has been Pakistan's military objective during the three wars and the Kargil conflict, with the aim of cutting off the Jammu region from the rest of Kashmir. Blowing up a handful of bridges close to Jammu would block quick access to the strategic Rajouri and Poonch. Despite the importance of this area, no alternative routes have been built for over half a century, and the rear area security grid has thinned out as personnel from the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), tasked with protecting the Army's communication lines, have reverted to their parent arms.

Local Kashmiris, strongly opposed to the Army's presence for the last 13 years that the Islamic insurgency has raged in the State, are also likely to try to dilute the military's capabilities during hostilities, an intelligence officer said. "Anticipating war, this brigade strength of armed, trained and highly motivated lashkars are repositioning themselves in key locations in Kashmir waiting to strike," a senior military officer said, declining to be named. A reserve infantry brigade deployed on counter-insurgency operations has recently been withdrawn and relocated to deal with the anticipated threat posed by these "fifth columnists", he added.

According to Military Intelligence, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has specially trained groups of six to ten terrorists each for "hit and run" raids on Indian Army units. Besides in ambushing the security forces, these guerillas are experts in laying mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at key locations. "Their strategy is to keep the Army under constant threat," a senior military officer said. Security officers said their weaponry had also been upgraded to include anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers, heat-activated missiles and anti-tank mines.

Around 45 attacks by fidayeen or suicide militant squads on Army bases in Kashmir over the past two years killing scores of soldiers, have demoralised the Army and, revealed to the enemy that India's military simply did not have the numbers to fight and protect itself from internal attacks. Intelligence officers said a Pakistani Army mountain division recently conducted exercises across the LoC alongside some 3,000 insurgents drawn from various militant groups that are fighting Kashmir's war. They said the Army aimed at infiltrating these "irregulars" drawn from the 14-party Unified Jehad Council based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, to join their tanzeems (militant groups) across the border in order to harass the Indian Army.

Meanwhile, military officers argue that the dynamics of Pakistan's jehadi organisations, nurtured by the military establishment, are such that if not deployed in Kashmir they are likely to turn inwards, leading to heightened violence and turmoil in that country. This is one of the reasons why the Indian military feels compelled to "degrade" Pakistan's military machine, convinced that this alone would end cross-border terrorism and the security threat on its flanks that is severely draining the economy and claiming thousands of lives each year.

According to intelligence estimates, over 30,000 Islamic mercenaries, trained in guerilla warfare and armed with sophisticated weapons, are in Pakistan today, waiting to be transported to the next jehad. And, if Kashmir is taken away from them, the Pakistani junta is in trouble; not only are the insurgents trained in urban guerilla warfare, but they are wholly familiar with the inner workings of the Pakistani military and the ISI. The jehadis are also an ace up Gen. Musharraf's sleeve that is played dexterously in his dealings with the U.S. "The U.S. realises that the fight against terrorism cannot be engaged effectively without dealing with its source inside Pakistan. And it now plans to use its newfound 'proxy', India, to deal with this menace while it doles out placebos to Gen. Musharraf," said an Army officer. It is a case of the strategic interests of India and the U.S. intersecting, he added.

Already there are signs inside Pakistan of proliferating sectarian tensions and unrest, alongside the steady "Islamisation" of society that even the military junta finds incapable of controlling. In his January speech decrying terrorism, Gen. Musharraf said groups such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and the Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan (TJFP), representing the Sunni and Shia sects respectively, were in a state of constant strife. This strife claimed over 400 lives across Pakistan last year.

Pakistan's highly Islamised military is also unwilling to abandon the Kashmir struggle. The Pakistan Army's "Islamisation", which is the key to the continuing jehad in Kashmir, began after 1977 when Gen. Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq overthrew Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and it has steadily grown. After launching the jehad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Gen. Zia set out to legitimise his regime in the name of Islam by creating a Muslim theocracy and nurturing Muslim fundamentalist groups.

Under Gen. Zia, the extremist Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) took firm roots within the Army and the ISI. The JeI, like the militant groups it spawned, decrees that Islam is not only a way of life but a complete system of politics, economics and culture. It is virulently opposed to Western secular democracy and socialist doctrines and believes that the Sharia, or Islamic law, is an "organic" set of regulations that govern all aspects of life. The JeI also advocates jehad in order to achieve an Islamic state, and Qazi Hussain Ahmed, its head, has long been articulating the concept of an Islamic Caliphate spreading from Kashmir to Central Asia, including Afghanistan, with Pakistan as its pivot.

Encouraged by the JeI, newly commissioned defence personnel consider themselves to be soldiers not only of the state but also of Islam. And, by making Moscow's eviction from Kabul part of a jehad, Gen. Zia found it easier to receive financial assistance from Saudi Arabia and attract volunteers from other Muslim states such as Egypt, Algeria, Yemen and Sudan, many of whom were members or sympathisers of the extremist, Egypt-based Akhwan-ul-Musalmeen (Muslim Brotherhood). "Gen. Zia officially sanctified the Islamisation of the Pakistani Army, an indoctrination that has got progressively worse, and its consequences are now being felt in Kashmir," said Kalim Bahadur, a Pakistan specialist at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Supported by the CIA, Gen. Zia and the ISI permitted the Islamic parties to recruit serving and retired service personnel to train their cadre in the madrassas and supplied them American weaponry for use against the Soviets. He also inducted religious teachers into the Education Department and recognised madrassa certificates as equivalent to regular university degrees for recruitment to government service. This, in turn, led to increased "Islamisation" of the lower and middle ranks of the defence services and the emergence of a parallel, "freelance" armed force comprising the military-trained and equipped madrassa graduates or an "army within an army". In the early 1990s they began their "death of a thousands cuts" operation in Kashmir, and in the mid-1990s emerged as the Taliban.

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