Given its somewhat outmoded notions of national security the Army is largely impervious and definitely allergic to outside scrutiny. However with respect to safeguarding its operational plans, it cannot be faulted for being secretive. Therefore it is not possible to figure out what may have transpired had the political leadership given the ‘go ahead’ last year, during the subcontinent’s brush with ‘war’ -- Op Parakram. In the absence of any other credible sources of information, turning to a book authored by a retired Vice Chief, Lt Gen VK Sood, and Pravin Swahney is well in order. The book in question is ‘Operation Parakram: The War Unfinished’, published by Sage Publications early this year. This article is not a book review, but the book itself recommended reading for those seeking an insight into the ‘military mind’ and its pathology.

The authors inform us that there were two versions to Op Parakram. One was the January 2002 version pursuant to the hasty mobilization order of late 2001 in wake of the dastardly terrorist attack on Parliament. The second was as a consequence of the equally cowardly killings by terrorist of families on army personnel at Kalu Chak in mid May, the following year. It is the manner in which the two versions were to unfold that would have no doubt tested the Pakistani nuclear redline. The authors reveal that this was not troubling for the military planners who remained convinced that Pakistan would not choose nuclear ‘first use’ as an option in meeting India’s military challenge.

Nevertheless, the civilian leadership was suitably convinced and did not order crossing of the rubicon, the Line of Control and the IB. The authors faulting the politicians for taking this sane line is dangerous. Look at the likely outcome had the Army been permitted to take matters into its own hands. Not only is ‘war is too serious a matter to be left to generals alone’ but it would be an abdication of responsibility of citizenship of a democratic state should matters of war and peace be left solely to the security establishment.

In the January version Indian Army planned a series of ‘multiple offensive shallow thrusts’ across the LOC into POK in order to gain terrorist launching bases. The remainder of the Army was mobilized in order to deter Pakistan from expanding the theater of war from that chosen by India. The authors indicate that this could have proved a long drawn affair involving division sized attacks on prepared defenses. The authors also take the explanation of Maj Gen Qureishi, President Musharraf’s spin doctor, at face value in which he had clarified that Gen Musharraf had indeed been referring to the use of mujahedeen by Pakistan when he had said that Pakistan would meet India’s military challenge ‘unconventionally’.

So far this has been taken to be veiled nuclear threat but even the hundred thousand mujahedeen who were to fight alongside Pakistan Army had the potential of ensuring that the ensuing battles expanded in scope and dimension, enough to ensure that it was no longer a ‘limited war’ as envisaged being fought but an ‘all out conventional war’ fought unaffordably under a nuclear Damocles sword. The Kargil War precedent indicates that fighting in mountains is bloody business. Added to this would have been the pin pricks by mujahedeen in civil clothes, complicating Indian obligations as an occupying power towards civilians in occupied areas under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Given its record in Kashmir, it is unlikely India would have been restrained. This could only have resulted in the pressure mounting on Pakistani leadership to expand the conflict. Thus, despite India’s best intent, there was likelihood of the war spilling onto the IB and thereafter nudging the nuclear threshold.

The sanguine approach the Indian Army appears to prefer according the Pakistani nuclear deterrent is a misplaced one. Happily, the politicians appeared to have been more in tune with the reality.
The June version of India’s operational plan would have proved even more traumatic. The authors have rendered an unintended service to the nation in their ‘scoop’ that the war plan aimed at the destruction of Pakistani armoured might in the Thar desert so as to render Pakistan defenseless and thereby more amicable. This involved shifting of all three of India’s ‘strike corps’ to Rajasthan with the intent of launching them into Pakistan so as to draw out and ‘defeat in detail’ its two strike corps. Were this plan have been followed to its logical conclusion, it being the defeat of Pakistan’s conventional military might given the forces imbalance against it, it would unambiguously have violently pushed the nuclear threshold.

Pakistan has given out its nuclear triggers as being the decimation of its army, gross destabilization of the state, economic strangulation and massive territorial losses. India’s military success was aimed at the first and could have eventuated in the other three as a consequence. Thus India’s very military success is its worst enemy in that it is a success India can only rue at leisure in the aftermath of nuclear fallout. Evidence from Indian cities handling their monsoon showers, suggests that Mumbai and Delhi, which are the likely principal nuclear targets, are simply not geared up for a nuclear exchange. The sanguine approach the Indian Army appears to prefer according the Pakistani nuclear deterrent is therefore deflated comprehensively. Happily, the politicians appeared to have been more in tune with this Indian reality than its army confined to its operations rooms and cantonments.

It is perhaps possible that the Army had read the mind of the political leadership correctly and reckoned that a war was not in the offing. This alone can explain the ambitious plans from a leadership otherwise reputed to be suffering from a ‘no mistake syndrome’. However, the authors are categorical that the political leadership had given no firm instructions to the Army. They in fact opine that the Army was calling the shots based on urging of its Northern Command. This is dangerously a case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’. Equally relevant is that India’s is a professional military, cautious one with respect to the decision on going to war, but whose preference is to gain decisive victory, brought out by the authors quoting an Army in-house publication thus: “The Indian Army believes in fighting the war on enemy territory. If forced into a war, the aim of our offensive(s) would be to apply a sledgehammer blow to the enemy.”

That the war was not launched indicates that political control over the military does exist to a certain extent, but clearly there is a case for more firm political control.

For a concerned citizen, the point is to expand this control, lest the nation be held hostage to the well-known limitations of the proverbial ‘military mind’. For this, the notion that the politicians once again stabbed the military in the back by going weak in the knees when push came to shove, must be refuted. This flawed notion is likely to gather momentum once the peace initiative currently underway comes under pressure from political compulsions arising from approaching national elections and from the repeated terrorist strikes in J&K and elsewhere in the country. The peace agenda should now be to see that the dangers with which the nation flirted over after the attack on Parliament are revealed in all their contours so that recourse to ‘war’ in any of its avatars including ‘limited war’ is rendered inert as an option.

This will ensure that the presently privileged political approach acquires immediacy in the absence of alternatives. For its part the army in keeping with its professionalism worth will undoubtedly continue to provide military options. It is for the peace movement to gather enough momentum to defang these. Operation Parakram must remain a ‘war’ ‘half started’ and ‘unfinished’, despite the authors pressing for a different conclusion.