Lean and Mean
New command boundaries against Pakistan give sharper teeth to the army
By Pravin Sawhney
The government’s approval of the army’s South Western command to be headquartered at Jaipur and a new 9 corps near Jammu are aimed at providing credible conventional weapons’ deterrence against Pakistan, something that was not available during Operation Parakram, the 10-month military stand-off with Pakistan between December 2001 and October 2002. In military terms, the Indian Army has attempted to score over the Pakistan Army at the operational level of war for an all-out war expected to be limited in time. The new raisings and the accompanying re-drawing of command boundaries and re-allocation of assets have enhanced India’s offensive options, especially in the desert and semi-desert sectors. The army commands now will be more compact with an organic offensive punch. Much, however, will depend upon the crucial consolidation phase, which coincides with the three-year term of the new Army Chief, General J.J. Singh.

Irrespective of what else Operation Parakram may or may not have achieved, it certainly demonstrated that the Indian Army was not well-prepared for a war that was to be different from previous ones for three reasons: the nuclear factor, insurgency within Jammu and Kashmir, and increased force levels, especially mechanised forces with both countries. Under such circumstances, probably the army leadership itself was not sure about what was sought to be achieved in a war with Pakistan. After the attack on Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001 that followed the terrorist strike on the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly on October 1, the political leadership was under pressure to do something bold to send a strong message to Pakistan. The then army chief, General S. Padmanabhan knew that very little could be achieved militarily in Jammu and Kashmir where over time both sides have built strong defences along the Line of Control (LoC). Even the few command objectives like Lipa Valley, Bugina bulge, Haji Pir, and areas south of the Pir Panjal would have produced mixed results with an enormous effort if the war had been joined. The answer lay in the gamble: with a corps worth of troops committed in the US-led Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Pakistan could be coerced militarily if India undertook total army mobilisation against Pakistan. With this as the objective, the India Army’s top leadership ordered mobilisation with coercion rather than war in mind. An indicator of this was the sudden removal of Lt Gen. Kapil Vij, GOC 2 corps, who had moved his troops too close to the Pakistan line in January 2002 which rang alarm bells in the US that India probably wanted a war.

Unfortunately for India, the gamble boomeranged. While on US’ insistence, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf declared that he was against terrorism and terrorist using Pakistan’s soil for their activities, he struck a deal with the US to distinguish between bad terrorist like al Qaeda and good terrorists like the so-called freedom fighters in Kashmir. Even as the war was averted in January 2002, the Indian Army knew that it would have to do more to coerce Pakistan. To begin with, the concept of a war limited in space confined to J&K theatre had to be abandoned, as it could not result in military coercion. This concept was enunciated after the 1999 Kargil war by then army chief, General V.P. Malik. Lauded by the strategic community in India, it was not realised that the Pakistan military had not overtly joined the war. Moreover, with multifarious tasking, especially the protection of interior lines of communications in J&K, the Northern command had too much on its platter. Therefore, the military options for coercion lay outside the J&K theatre. It dawned on the army that it may have to take initiative to cross the international border, something that Pakistan had done in the 1965 and 1971 wars. This triggered the debate within the army whether the war should start simultaneously on all fronts, or should it initially remain confined to the J&K theatre.
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