A strike staunched

Print edition : June 08, 2002

PRIME MINISTER Atal Behari Vajpayee's recent impatient outburst that India ought to have given a "befitting reply" to Pakistan immediately after the suicide attack on Parliament building, could well have stemmed from frustration over a missed military opportunity.

"World leaders told India to keep patience while condemning the December 13 attack. But India won't follow the same advice now. The world should understand there is a limit to India's patience," Vajpayee said at a public meeting during his vacation at Manali on May 27.

Military sources revealed that two weeks after the December 13 attack, the Indian Air Force (IAF) was poised to execute, under a strategy developed over the years, strikes at 50 to 75 militant bases in addition to four to six well-defined targets in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). These included a major bridge across the Karakoram highway connecting China to PoK and at least three others linking the Kashmir region to Pakistan proper - bridges that had taken nearly 11 years to build. Destroying these bridges would not only prevent Pakistan's military and nuclear ally China from replenishing its weaponry, but would also staunch Islamabad's supply line to forward units concentrated in PoK.

Precision Guided Munitions (PMGs) and other sophisticated ordnance were loaded onto some 20 Mirage 2000H and MiG-27 'Flogger' attack aircraft, and the fighters were ready to take off for bombing raids from various bases in northern and western India, awaiting political clearance.

The first wave of air strikes lasting 15 minutes was to have been followed by a raid on militant training camps by helicopter-borne Special Forces in a multi-tiered operation that involved IAF fighters as escorts. The commando raids were to last less than 45 minutes, after which the Russian Mi-35 gunships would ferry the troops back across the border. The entire operation was timed to be completed within an hour.

Vajpayee, enraged by the Parliament building attack, reportedly favoured the air strikes but senior members of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) cautioned against such action on the advice of the Army that claimed that it was unprepared to meet the retaliation by Pakistan that was bound to follow. The Army was reported to have said that it lacked adequate equipment to deal with a full-blown conflict. It claimed that its armoured columns - that would have to bear the brunt of a counter-thrust into Punjab and possibly Rajasthan's desert region - were not equipped with night-vision devices (NVDs) and hence were "blind" after dark and at the mercy of a better-equipped nocturnal enemy.

"Had we struck then, Pakistan would have been roundly ambushed," an IAF officer said, adding that the attacks would have significantly degraded the enemy's war fighting capability and capacity to retaliate. International opinion too would have been supportive of India, as it was three months after the September 11 suicide attacks in New York and Washington and just nine weeks after the United States-led war against the Taliban was launched.

"The world was enraged enough to have backed India and pressured Pakistan into making a climbdown," said the IAF officer. India lost a golden opportunity that will not present itself again, he added. Apart from the opportunity factor, loading and then unloading the PGMs and other special munitions from the fighters also reduced by half their shelf life, merely enhancing the massive costs inflicted on India by Pakistan through its proxy war.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor