Using the pretext of the Dec 13, 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, India started moving the bulk of its Armed Forces within a fortnight thereafter to forward locations bordering Pakistan. Whatever part of its vast navy was in sea-worthy condition, our neighbour put out to sea in a posture menacing Pakistan’s coastline and sea-lanes. The Indian primary aim was far more camouflaged and far-reaching i.e. destroy Pakistan as a responsible, sovereign entity in the comity of nations, the rhetoric emanating from both Indian political and military leadership were in unison about the stated public objective, Pakistan would have to stop “cross-border terrorism” or India would take military action to force Pakistan to do so. To back up its threat, India arraigned its land and air forces in an attack mode all along Pakistan’s eastern borders. The moot point was whether India would confine adventure only across the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir only or whether it would launch an all-out war across the international border.
When India started the move of its mountain divisions facing China from its eastern sector in the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), the threat was upgraded from “bluff” to “real”, by end Dec 2001 Pakistan was facing a serious military situation. Pakistan’s Armed Forces managed a logistical feat in completing full deployment in the shortest possible time. With some of our forces committed on the western borders mopping up the consequences of the US action in Afghanistan against the Talibaan, our badly outnumbered forces had to face the Indian juggernaut. Geographical layout favours Pakistan inasfar as our forces are mostly located in the vicinity of their forward defensive location (FDLs), it also shows up Pakistan’s greatest weakness because the lack of depth means we cannot afford to give ground, every inch has to be defended in border cities such as Lahore, Sialkot, Rahimyar Khan etc. Since this paucity of space hinders the planning meaningful maneuvers during battle, our entire battle strategy is built on a concept of committing only part of our forces in the FDLs but maintaining strong mobile armour-heavy concentrations to counter attempted enemy penetration at any given location. It is not a military secret that both the Quetta and Peshawar Corps are an integral cog of our defenses being part of the crucial mobile reserves. Leaving portions of this force facing Afghanistan seriously undermines our defensive posture. To compound this, some airfields vital to our air defense are presently being used by US forces in total (or in part thereof) in the continuing battle in Afghanistan.
For most of the first half of 2002 India daily beat war drums with full fanfare and paraphernalia to keep Pakistan on the edge on a high state of alert, on the LOC itself artillery pressure was intensified by India to keep the threat at an enhanced level. The Indian media systematically built up war hysteria among the Indian public who did not doubt for a moment, war (and victory) was imminent. Since this was not reciprocated in Pakistan, the same war hysteria did not panic Pakistan’s populace. It was assumed that India would make a major symbolic strike to match their war rhetoric. Pakistan’s known response, expressed very publicly by Gen Musharraf, was that any action against its territory, whether in Azad Kashmir or across the international border, would be taken as an all-out war. This probably acted as the major deterrent.
Having subjected its Armed Forces to a year of intense discomfort while ratcheting up its rhetoric to make its population believe that they were about “to teach Pakistan a lesson”, why has India unilaterally decided to call off the belligerency? Despite the tall claims of the former Indian Army Chief, Gen Padmanabhan, and the rhetoric of the new incumbent, Gen Nirmal Chandra Vij, the rank and file of the Indian Armed Forces well knows that the whole year in the field in extreme conditions was a meaningless exercise, that frustration is being echoed publicly by the Indian masses. The Indian political and military leadership has gone into overdrive to dispel this notion, by claiming India has accomplished the objective of stopping “Pakistani” infiltration into Indian-occupied Kashmir. After 9/11, any Pakistani logistical support for Kashmiri militants operating in Indian-Held part of Kashmir necessarily had to be severely curtailed because of the emerging hometruth é the new international order had erased the fine line between freedom struggle and terrorism. So what was India up to by forcing a crisis that could have led to a nuclear exchange? First and foremost, India’s decade-long wooing of US of the early 90s faced a severe setback because Pakistan regained its on-off position as a key US ally in the region (instead of becoming the prime US target as India had calculated). Because of geo-political considerations Pakistan not only has a permanent role in the war in Afghanistan but also in the wider war against international terrorism because of the immediate threat of Al-Qaeda’s war without borders. India wanted to blackmail US (and the west) into recognizing India’s long-term hegemonistic ambitions in the region, another was to nail Pakistan’s coffin as a “terrorist state” internationally. For good order’s sake the Indian leadership fantasized they could defeat the Pakistan Armed Forces on the battlefield in the favourable military circumstances obtaining for India because of Pakistan’s pre-occupation in the areas bordering Afghanistan. Another extremely important Indian objective was to frustrate the democratic process in Pakistan, in the new world democratic environment, the continuing of a military dictatorship would have made Pakistan into an international pariah.
The Indian public started to feel the heat with the testing of a Pakistani missile capable of reaching Kolkata, it also created an exodus of the western expatriates in bulk from India.. While the war hysteria created by India turned into a domestic panic, the west did not relish the prospect of the imminent nuclear conflict. The Indian military leadership did their conventional sums and briefed their political leadership that a military conflict with Pakistan would bloody Pakistan and maul it economically but would not be able to achieve India’s war aims i.e. defeat of the Pakistan military machine in the battlefield. The bottom line was that the war aims would not be achieved and even then the cost would be very high. The Indians therefore revised their strategy to diplomatic initiatives and Sun Tze Tzu’s exhortation of “winning a war without bloodying swords”.
The key issue in this confrontation has been the nerves of the Pakistani military hierarchy, more particularly the nerves of the one man who mattered most, General Pervez Musharraf. Beset by economic and political crisis Pakistan had to face domestically because of decades of bad governance, he also had to cope with the immediate military crisis thrust on Pakistan. When India failed to achieve it’s aims despite the enormous logistics and related huge cost of the huge military deployment, it meant defeat. That failure is especially galling to India, because of the raised expectations of the Indian public, war hysteria (about imminent victory) was reduced to a psychotic fear of a nuclear holocaust. It was alright as long as those fried were Pakistani, the Indians had no stomach to be barbecued themselves. Give the Pakistan Armed Forces credit for forcing this humiliation on India while ensuring that our domestic agenda of political and economic process was not upset. If you force the enemy from the battlefield and thwart his stated aims, it is a success. To that end, Pakistan can claim victory.
Success has a hundred fathers, failure is an orphan. However years of skepticism have clouded our judgment in giving merit its due credit. In fact the real orphan in Pakistan is merit. If he had failed we would have pilloried Gen Pervez Musharraf from pillar to post, let us then give him his due for standing his ground and forcing India into the humiliation of retreating without achieving any success, i.e. winning the war without bloodying Pakistani swords.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).