On 13 December 2001, the world’s largest democracy came to a standstill, when five militants, armed with AK47 rifles and grenades, stormed into the Indian Parliament. In an attempt to inflict maximum damage, the militants went on a shooting spree and killed nine security personnel, but failed to penetrate the building’s security. The terrorists failed to execute their hegemonic designs, but successfully triggered a chain reaction that brought the two nuclear neighbours on the brink of an all-out war. India responded by mobilising its mighty military machine, the largest military mobilisation since World War II. Pakistan, in turn, moved its own troops in response to Indian mobilisation, thus starting a ten month long, intense military standoff between the nuclear neighbours.
Over 500000 Indian troops were mobilised in the first stage of deployment. Indian Navy and Air Force were put on high alert and the army was prepared to strike ’high value’ targets inside Pakistan.
On 14th Dec 2001, in a speech delivered at the platinum jubilee celebrations of the Union Public Service Commission, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee labelled the attack as an act of war against the Indian State and promised to take ‘decisive’ action. “Yesterday’s terrorist attack on our Parliament was unprecedented not only in the history of India, but also in the annals of democracy in the world”, Prime minister said while inaugurating the UPSC silver jubilee celebration.
Later that day, Foreign Secretary Chokila Iyer summoned Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, and called for action against the extremist outfits operating from Pakistan’s territory. India demanded that Pakistan stop all support and disband the extremist outfits involved in the attack on the Indian parliament, seize all financial assets belonging to the groups and hand over the perpetrators to India. The Indian government, shocked by security and intelligence failure, blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad for the attack on Indian parliament and claimed that it had evidence to suggest that these groups were backed by Pakistan’s ISI.
Coercive diplomacy and escalation of tensions
As the crisis became graver, the winter session of the Indian parliament was adjourned, and for the first time since the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, India recalled its High Commissioner to Pakistan and severed all air, rail and bus communications with Pakistan and banned overflights. Agitated by Pakistan’s unwillingness to act against the terrorist outfits that it had breaded for decades, India decided to mobilise its troops for deployment in Punjab and Kashmir. On 15th
December 2001, the Cabinet Committee on Security met with the military chiefs and approved the mobilisation of troops. The deployment that followed put into motion the largest military mobilisation since World War II. Over 500000 Indian troops were mobilised in the first stage of deployment. Indian Navy and Air Force were put on high alert and the army was prepared to strike ’high value’ targets inside Pakistan.
…under immense international pressure, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf agreed to take action against extremist outfits operating from Pakistan’s territory but rejected India’s demands to hand over the perpetrators of parliament attack.
The mobilisation of troops was completed by 11th January 2002 and the army waited for the final nod. On 12th January 2002, under immense international pressure, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf agreed to take action against extremist outfits operating from Pakistan’s territory but rejected India’s demands to hand over the perpetrators of parliament attack. In a televised address to the nation, Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf said, “We have been taking measures against terrorism from the beginning, not because of any outside pressure. We will continue to extend our moral, political and diplomatic support to Kashmiris. We will never budge from our principled stand on Kashmir”.
Not convinced by Musharraf’s speech, India remained sceptical of his intentions and the government refused to withdraw troops from the border with Pakistan. In the days that followed, Musharraf’s real intentions became clear, as no substantive action was taken against extremist outfits and they continued to operate with impunity under ISI’s umbrella. On 5th January 2002, Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf met on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit held in Kathmandu. The meeting, believed to have been organised by Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, ended without a solution. Confusion and uncertainty prevailed.
On 14th May 2002, three Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, disguised as Indian soldiers, attacked a tourist bus and an army camp in the Indian town of Kaluchak and killed 34 people including 3 Army personnel, 18 Army family members and 10 civilians. The attack outraged Indian leadership. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee termed the massacre “the most inhuman and brutal carnage”. The Indian government expelled Pakistani High Commissioner to India, renewed the preparations for war, and warned Pakistan of the possible consequences.
Pakistan responded to Vajpayee’s warnings by reminding New Delhi of its nuclear capabilities. What followed was a series of statements from various office bearers in the military and ISI about Pakistan’s willingness to make use of its nuclear capabilities in the event of an all-out war with India. While India remained largely unmoved by Pakistan’s nuclear posture, the United State and other western countries issued warnings for their citizens travelling to India and Pakistan and evacuated the non-essential staff from their embassy. A nuclear war seemed imminent.
The United States wanted to avert all possible crises that could engage Pakistan on the eastern front with India and render it unstable and inefficient.
America’s shuttle diplomacy
By the end of April 2002, Pakistan had deployed over 300000 troops to its eastern border with India. On 24th May 2002, amidst rising tensions, Pakistan began conducting a series of missile tests and iterated its willingness to use nuclear weapons. Tensions simmered as the international community undertook diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the crisis. Beginning in December 2001, the United States made continuous efforts to de-escalate tensions between the two nuclear powers, but without any success. Pakistan, along with the United States, was involved in the fight against Taliban on the western front. The United States wanted to avert all possible crises that could engage Pakistan on the eastern front with India and render it unstable and inefficient.
On 6th June 2002, after several failed attempts to de-escalate the crisis, United States Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrived in Pakistan to hold talks with President Parvez Musharraf. With the objective of finding an immediate formula to de-escalate the crisis, Armitage reminded Musharraf of the dual nature of ‘non-state’ actors, and the consequences of arming religious extremists. Having convinced Musharraf of halting jihadist infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir, Armitage flew to New Delhi on 7th June 2002 and informed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about Musharraf’s commitment and his willingness to crack down on the extremist outfits.
Armitage successfully convinced the Indian leadership to respond to ‘positive signals’ emanating from Islamabad. In the days that followed, India decided to recall its navy vessels deployed in the Arabian Sea to peace-time positions and lifted air-embargo on Pakistan. Troops remained in place on the International Border and the Line of Control, and a withdrawal was announced on 16th October 2002 following successful elections in Jammu and Kashmir on 14th October 2002.
Unlike 1999, the Indian leadership in 2002 was better prepared to deal with a nuclear Pakistan.
The nuclear dimension
In 2002, India’s conventional superiority over Pakistan was as established as it is in 2016. To forestall its conventional vulnerabilities, Pakistan repeatedly demonstrated its readiness to escalate the crisis to a nuclear scale. In Pakistan, development of nuclear weapons has been regarded as the only guarantee against Indian aggression. It has, time and again, taken pride in demonstrating its nuclear capabilities and has not moved away from stating that its nuclear weapons program is entirely ‘India-centric’. As the crisis intensified, Pakistan used all tools at its disposal, from missile tests to nuclear war mongering, in order to deter any possible Indian attack. On 5th June 2002, in a statement given to Irish Examiner, Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf refused to renounce Pakistan’s right to use nuclear weapons first. By not denouncing the right to first use, Pakistan reserved the right to escalate the crisis to a nuclear level, if the nuclear threshold was crossed.
India faced a similar situation in 1999, during the Kargil conflict, when it decided to not cross the International Border between the two countries and limit the crisis to Kashmir. As the world admired India’s decision to show restraint, a much different view prevailed in Islamabad. GHQ, Rawalpindi defined India’s decision as one taken under pressure to avoid a nuclear retaliation from Pakistan. Therefore, the principle aim of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program was realised. Pakistan, as it claimed, had deterred an Indian retaliation across the International Border to the crisis in Kargil, and the nuclear war mongering was considered to have worked in Pakistan’s favour.
Unlike 1999, the Indian leadership in 2002 was better prepared to deal with a nuclear Pakistan. In a press rare conference held on 11th January 2002, Army Chief Gen. S. Padmanabhan warned Pakistan against a nuclear strike on India. “Let me assure you of one thing as surely as I’m alive. Should a nuclear weapon be used against India, Indian forces, our assets at sea, economic, human or other targets, the perpetrators of that outrage shall be punished so severely that their continuation thereafter in any form or fray will be doubtful,” the general said. India remained unmoved by Pakistan’s nuclear posture, and coercive diplomacy seemed to have worked.