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COVER STORY
Defence of India
The spectre of two-and-three-half front war
By Pravin Sawhney
 
 
72 hours after the Pakistan Army-supported Lashkar terrorists struck Mumbai on 26 November 2008, the Indian military concluded that a swift war with Pakistan was worth the while. It would be a blitzkrieg; with the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the lead, the Indian Army (IA) was ready to cross the international border. In an operational surprise, for example, a nondescript, lightly-held Pakistani town, Fort Abbas in southern Punjab facing India’s Rajasthan desert, very close to the border could fall within days before the Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, a Punjabi, would wake up to the reality that Punjab land, however small, has been occupied by the IA. Considering the unsaid rule on both sides of the divide that not even an inch of Punjab can be lost, Kayani’s nemesis would stare him in the face.

In the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting attended by the three defence service chiefs on 29 November 2008, the chiefs unanimously told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Pakistan Army’s corps commanders would disallow Kayani from contemplating use of nuclear weapon; the loss of Fort Abbas would not be good enough reason to imperil the existence of Pakistan. The worst case scenario would be the use of ballistic missile with conventional warhead by Pakistan. If it fell in a built-up area, India could lose as many as 10,000 lives, but this will not affect the war for India. If anything, Pakistan would be shamed for massive collateral damage. Before the chiefs gave their assessment to the CCS, plenty of work was done by them on November 28 to decide how to run the war campaign against Pakistan.

Five terms of references were clear to the defence chiefs: the IAF and IA would need to work in close synergy for the Air-Land campaign; the war campaign must remain clear of nuclear red lines, and hence only shallow penetrations were doable; the war gains had to be achieved swiftly before Kayani could redirect his nearly 30 per cent army (his reserves) committed on the Afghanistan front to the Indian theatre; enormous US and global pressure would come within a week to halt the war; and most importantly, given the earlier experience of the 1999 Kargil conflict, the Chinese front had to be defended firmly. China would indulge in mischief to assist Pakistan war effort. Except for the Chinese issue, about which the political and military leadership were unsure, all other aspects were dovetailed in the war plan. A rough military appreciation could be as follows:
 
 
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