The proxy war waged by Pakistan against India had escalated exponentially after the Kargil war and was at peak especially after Lt Gen Musharraf had seized power in Pakistan. The Jammu region was as badly affected as Kashmir in 2001-02. However, the armywas able to not only defeat terrorism but rolled it back from the Jammu region. Three major events that took place during this period, when I was at the helm in Nagrota, in the Jammu Sector,that need recollection are described in the succeeding paragraphs.
It had been recognized that Pakistan needed to be punished and chastened for using terrorism as a state policy. This realization had existed in the army since the Punjab problem but all governments had been reluctant to take such a decision. We had followed a policy of “Reactive Counter Terrorism” instead of “Proactive Counter Terrorism”. No insurgency or terrorism can be defeated that enjoys inviolate sanctuary. The sanctuaries, training area, launch bases and routes of ingress have to be hit hard. Even though the attrition rate of terrorists was very high but Pakistan continued to pour more and more of them. Obviously the cost of attrition was bearable to them. Our soft approach emboldened Pakistan and terrorism continued to escalate. Terrorism was all time high after General Musharraf had seized power in Pakistan.
Something bold had to be done to make Pakistan pay for intransience. It was hoped that the BJP government would support an army plan of action after its bitter experience of war in Kargil. Sometime in June 2001 after consulting the Northern Command a decision at Army Headquarters’ (AHQ) was taken for punitive action against Pakistan. The aim was to put an end to infiltration and demonstrate the high cost of waging proxy war. We had always supported this plan and assured Lt Gen RK Nanavatty, the Army Commander that shallow intrusions in selected areas were possible to capture tactically important areas across the LOC to improve our operational posture.
Like the period preceding 1965 War, when Indian army had captured the Hajipir and other areas that were used by Pakistan for Operation Gibraltar, we could do the same on a broad front from Chhamb to Poonch. A similar operational situation as August 1965 existed and we had a reason to retaliate. Some successful raids on enemy posts in Chhamb, Akhnoor, Mendher, Kotli and Poonch areas had been carried out between January and August 2000 to prove our capability. It was also an opportunity to do a Kargil on Musharraf. Battalion and brigade size actions from Chhamb to Poonch would not lead to an all-out war as these were within the threshold levels. Such local actions were manageable within our resources.
Maintenance of speed and surprise was possible in all these actions that were most essential for success. Units and formations from the inactive Counter Insurgency (CI) grid were pulled out and put on training for these tasks. All operational requirements were coordinated without divulging the actual date and tasks and timings to maintain secrecy. Reconnaissance and briefings had also been completed on strictly need to know basis by end of August. Artillery ammunition had been dumped secretly and Fire Direction Centre’s (FDCs)had been activated. We were sure orders would be received after the failure of Agra talks between Mr Bajpai and Mussaraf in July 2001. Month of September was expected period of these operations. Unfortunately the orders never came. It was a big disappointment to all of us.
The Government, particularly Mr Jaswant Singh, the Foreign Minister (FM) felt that in spite of all setbacks suffered by India at Lahore, Kargil, and Agra and knowing full well that Pakistan was engineering terrorism; diplomatic efforts for peace had to continue. It is believed that 9/11 airstrikes against Twin Towers in US by Al Quaida were given the reasons for abandonment of these plans. My belief is that the Government did not give it political clearance because of the fear of annoying US. Thus Operation Kabaddii was consigned to archives and a great opportunity to punish Pakistan missed. India expected US to restrain Pakistan in its proxy war with India. This did not happen as the US did not consider Pakistan’s terror against India as part of its fight against international terror in Afghanistan. Pakistan thus continued blatantly to bleed India. The attacks on Kashmir Assembly followed by attack on Parliament and then Kaluchak on 14 May 2002 are some of the high profile terrorist acts that took place under direct supervision of ISI without retaliation on our part.
Terrorist Attack on Kaluchak
Since Kaluchak fell in our area of responsibility it needs to be described in some detail. Our anti-terror operations had succeeded beyond expectations and the punishment through cross border firing had a telling affect especially in the International Border (IB) Sector. This forced Pakistan to launch a terror attack thatwould put the Kashmir issue on centre stage through shock and publicity. The target chosen was a thinly guarded military station. They managed to infiltrate three terrorists who were staged through Zaffarwal and infiltrated across the IB near Vijaynagar.
These terrorists were dressed in army combat dress thus remained unsuspected and merged with the locals easily. The Garrison of Kaluchak was then thinly guarded due to mobilization for Operation Parakram with only the families left behind. The terrorists boarded a Himachal Pradesh bus travelling to Jammu. As they reached Kaluchak the driver and bus conductor were shot dead and indiscriminate firing killed another 7 passengers and wounded 15. The army guards of the Kaluchak Military Garrison that is located on the main road near the bus stand fired at the terrorists who retaliated and managed to enter the garrison.
In the ensuing fire fight the terrorists ran helter skelter into the family lines and moved from quarter to quarter killing who ever came in their way. They killed 18 family members including 10 children who were getting ready to go to school and 12 were wounded. Children who were hiding under their beds and in bathrooms were killed in cold blood. The pleas of wailing mothers went unheeded to these ruthless blood thirsty murderers. Ultimately all the three were killed by our troops. Three army personnel were also killed and 12 wounded in the fire fight. A total of 31 people were killed and 47 were wounded. The terrorists were Pakistan nationals, identified as Abu Suhail of Faisalabad, Abu Murshed (MohdMunir) of Salamatpura, Gujranwala and Abu Javed (Amzad Salam Bin Mohd Gisha) of Guda Girya, Gujranwala. This carnage was condemned and was publicised worldwide. Pakistan had achieved their aim.
Mr Bajpai, the PM, called it “most inhuman and brutal’. MrJaswant Singh, the FM, mentions in his book that this terror act brought the two countries to nearly a war. Mr. George Fernandes the Defense Minister/Raksha Mantri (RM) visited Kaluchak and the Military Hospital to paycondolences to the families and interact with those wounded on 15 May 2002. He mentioned to the public and press that Pakistan will not go unpunished for this dastardly act. He evaded if punishment meant war. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi from the opposition followed suit after a day. She was visibly upset. This was one opportunity that should have been used for crossing border to punish Pakistan as a legitimate response. We were already deployed and it was possible to do so. However, the government did not show courage and they were ever obliging the US to even accept shame of attack on Parliament and an army Garrison to go unpunished.
The most important event of my tenure was Operation Parakram. People also call it the ‘War unfinished’ or ‘A War Gone Wrong’. 27 persons were killed when terrorists attacked the J&K Assembly on 01 October 2001. Pakistan Rangers also increased firing on our border fence construction in the IB Sector. Our response was swift and furious. We also blew up their civilian assets in area opposite our posts and shelled the suburbs of Sialkot extensively on 12 and 13 October.
This action was covered widely by the media as it was on a day penultimate to the visit by Gen Collin Powell, the Secretary of State for defense US. After the attack on J&K Assembly, Mr Bajpai, the PM, had written to Mr Bush, the President of US that India’s patience was running out and Pakistan must be reined in. Mr. Powell’s visit to Pakistan and India may have been in that context. Musharraf statements during Powell’s visit to Pakistan did not indicate that Pakistan would stop terrorism in Kashmir as the US did not group terrorists operating in J&K with those operating in Afghanistan. Powell’s statements in Pakistan also did not indicate that Indian perspective and concerns on terrorism were US priority. To them Pakistan support for Operation Enduring Freedom was more important than India’s security concerns.
Yet India relied on the US. I was called up by the Army HQ that my actions may affect the talks with Mr. Powell during his visit from 14 October 2001 and as such I was counseled and asked not to escalate. I replied that my military actions were in response to Pakistan terror attacks and they will continue as I had a responsibility to my command. The media projected my actions as retaliations by India and that India will not hesitate to take strong measures if Pakistan persisted with terrorism in future. Perhaps this message may have sunk in the US visiting team as well and it appears that my military actions helped the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) during their discussions that India’s patience was indeed running out. I was informed the next day that I was free to act the way I considered militarily correct.
However, Mr Jaswant Singh, the Foreign Minister announced that India would do nothing to put Pakistan under military pressure. In hindsight, Gen Collin Powell managed to win over the Indians, lulled them with vague assurances and succeeded in his agenda to keep Musharraf on board in war against Afghanistan and keep India engaged with various vague allurements. Then the attack on Indian Parliament came on 13 December 2001 when it was in session.
The Government had to do something for domestic political reasons and to send a message to Pakistan and international community. It was a huge embarrassment to the Government and was forced to act. The Indian Army was mobilized on 18 December 2001. It did not take us long to be in our battle locations and be ready. The offensive formations were also in our area by end of December. We were to provide them the firm base and launch subsidiary operations along with their operations. We had coordinated all actions with them and the Indian Air Force (IAF) by first week of January but the orders did not come.
The first indication of hesitancy on part of the government came on 5/6 January 2002 when one of the offensive formations was halted in its tracks while moving in the forward assembly area. The next indication came on 11 January 2002 when Gen S Padmanabhan, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), announced to the media that the Indian Army was ready but awaiting for political clearance. We had thus missed another opportunity to punish Pakistan a second time within six months. It transpires that on 17 December, Gen Musharraf had held a meeting of his Corps Commander and Mr Bajpai had called a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on the same day where the three Chiefs were present. No decision was taken then.
However, on 17 and 18 December there was very heavy cross border firing in Naushera and Rajouri Sectors from both sides and civilians had to be evacuated as a precautionary measure against Pakistan artillery fire in depth areas by us. This escalation seems to have prompted the PM to call the Chiefs again on 18 December and ordered the mobilization. It is understood that no written directive was issued or political /military aim given out even orally.
Mr Jaswant Singh gives out his reasons quite clearly on Page 249 of his book “India at Risk” as why he was against the war and how he managed to convince his political colleagues, the three Service Chiefs to exercise restraint and to carry country’s mood – to contain its belligerence, its desire for revenge and retaliation. After the mobilization there was no hold bar on us to fire on the entire front. Our focus had shifted to the IB Sector where it hurt the Pakistanis most. Our artillery fire set on fire the standing crops and destroyed villages in the Shakargarh area. Pakistan was forced to vacate all these villages. Since this was part of Punjab it hurt her badly politically and economically. We also evacuated our civilians to safe camps but our loss was not much compared to theirs.
We also blew up all defense structures that were visible with our direct firing. Our snipers were very effective both during day and night and many Pakistan soldiers were killed or wounded as a result of this. We were released the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and they were employed very aggressively all along the front during day and night. We had a complete picture of Pakistan build up opposite us, deployment of their guns, tanks and even missiles. Live pictures were available at the Brigade command posts. Our Air Defense Centre was fully operational and fully coordinated with the IAF.
The entire front was covered with our radars at all altitudes and it was not easy for the enemy aircrafts to intrude.On many occasions the enemy fighter aircrafts werescrambled against our UAVs but we were able to complete our missions without any harm. We did not lose even one UAV to enemy action. The Pakistanis launched their fighters against my helicopter reconnaissance along the border also a number of times but we managed to evade their tracking radar by Lo-Lo and nap of the earth flying. Many a times we landed in fields to dodge them.
Gen S Padmanabhan also visited the formations for final check. We flew over the operational area and discussed our plans. He wasassured that we were capable of attaining all our objectives. He was extremely pleased when assured that the mistake made by Indian Army in 1947 and 1965 will be redeemed.
After our mobilization, the US and the West were worried and a number of visits including that of British PM, Mr. Tony Blair on 05 January 2002 took place to cool down the Indian temper. India was asked to await speech to the nation by Gen Musharraf on 12 January 2002. Pakistan did announce some cosmetic measures against the terrorists on that day but it fell well short of our expectations. Gen Powell was again in India on 17 January as part of his mission as to how to avoid war between the two countries. Such visits and vague promises lulled India time and again.
India should have realized that she had to fight her own war and there was no escaping from it. We were naïve to believe that the US and west would now be on our side to fight international terrorism and share our perception on good and bad terrorists. While India called Pakistan an epicenter of terrorism, the West considered them an ally and a victim. Musharraf had won the confidence of US and western alliance as such he did nothing to stop the terrorists.
Gen Musharraf as a military man had better equation with Gen Powell than Jaswant Singh who had also been an army major. So things went the way Pakistan and US wanted. Mr Robert D. Blackwell the US Ambassador with a military teamalso visited my HQ in this context on 20 January. I am sure he would have warned the US that Indian Army was ready for war and will cause great damage to Pakistan if it came. Mr George Fernandes, the RM, visited us on 06 April and he saw some live firing in Mendher Sector.
The Pakistanis damaged our transformer and planted some mines that damaged a tractor in the Chicken Neck area. They also continued to disturb our fence construction with firing. We retaliated violently to these actions and the entire area opposite our posts was laid waste by artillery fire. The period up to 14 May 2002 passed off with diminishing hopes of any war but the attack by Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) terrorists on Army Camp at Kaluchak on that day changed the scenario once again. The attack has been described by me in detail in the preceding paragraphs. It was an act that could not be ignored.
Gen Padmanabhan who was on a visit to Nepal, said that the time for action had come. Even the parliament allowed the government to take action as deemed fit. Mr. Bajpai, the PM, on visit to Kupwara on 22 May asked the army to prepare for a decisive action. We were sure that the D Day will be announced soon and remained ready to be launched at 24 hours notice. Having realized the gravity of situation President Bush, Collin Powell and Musharraf were in confabulations and so were they with the Indian leadership.
This time India had made only one demand on Pakistan to stop infiltration. The US was able to come to some secret understanding that if Pakistan agreed to this demand from India then they will ask India to consider the core issue of Kashmir seriously. It is said in some circles that India was afraid of war escalating to nuclear level and the Indian leadership was also afraid of annoying the US. This created a hesitation in issuing the final order to the defense forces. Pakistan had once again played the nuclear blackmail card successfully that worked. On the contrary we were prepared for this eventuality and knew the Pakistan nuclear threshold well. Our Pritivi Missiles had been deployed in their hides and we would have also retaliated if required. Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) suites had been selectively distributed. We witnessed the Indian political mind set in a meeting with the PM on 23 May at Srinagar.
The PM after his visit to Kupwara where he told the troops to be ready for a decisive battle held a meeting of the Unified HQ at the SKICC on the Dal Lake. Besides the Governor, the Chief Minister (CM), the Home Minister (HM) and RM were also present. The complete intelligence set up headed by Intelligence Bureau (IB) Chief Mr KN Singh, all heads of CPFO and DGP J&K were also called. Important bureaucrats headed by the Chief Secretary (CS) were also in attendance. The army hierarchy consisting of the Army Commander and the three Corps Commanders completed the list. We were told that the PM will take a decision on war with Pakistan after inputs given by all of us and as such it was a very crucial meeting. To me it looked very unusual that a meeting of such a large number of people of them some were of ADG level in a convention centre was either a deception or a method of conveying some message to the enemy and the US. It was certainly not a place and forum to give orders for war.
The proceedings started with the CM addressing the gathering and expressing his views on the internal situation, some demands and some vague points irrelevant to the war situation were made by him. The ADG and Commissioner IB both gave out their assessment of the terrorist activities followed by ADG CID (J&K). Nothing new that was not known to all of us was given out. The DG BSF and DGP J&K were next. They also talked on the same lines. The Governor, Mr. GC Saxena, spoke in non specific terms about the prevailing situation and added that holding of elections in October would bring about improvement in the security situation.
The RM wanted the Security Forces (SF) to find an answer to unending infiltration. Enrolment of more personnel from J&K in the army and some other issues unrelated to mobilization or war were made by him. The HM asked the SF to raise the cost of terrorism for Pakistan. The PM addressed us in the end. He talked of development projects in J&K and that people had to be won over in this fight against terror as we had done in Punjab. He also praised the SF and asked them to defeat terrorism and find ways of fending against Faiydeen attacks. From his talk, tone and tenor during the entire meeting it was obvious that war with Pakistan was not on his mind.
The Army Commander may have briefed him separately but we were not asked for our views. As soon as the PM stopped speaking, we all knew that there would be no war and threats of action against Pakistan by the PM were hallow and empty. We returned to our HQs very disappointed. As soon as Musharraf knew that chances of war had receded his speech on 27 May was belligerent and once again made it clear that he was in no mood to relent. Pakistan also test fired their nuclear capable missiles to indicate nuclear threat- nuclear black mail as in the past. A number of visits from US to India and Pakistan took place in June and July to avert war. During this period MrJaswant Singh was replaced as the FM as he had failed to get the requisite US support against Pakistan sponsored terrorism and fallen prey to duplicity on their part. His policy of coercive diplomacy against Pakistan had totally failed. However, India finally got a firm assurance on 16 June from Mr Armitage that Pakistan had agreed to stop cross border terrorism permanently and will close down all terrorist camps in POK.
In reciprocity, India immediately recalled its naval ships and opened the airspace for Pakistani aircrafts. India also agreed to demobilize after elections in J&K in October as a quid pro quo. Thus the high drama of war with Pakistan ended with a whimper. The Election Commission visited us in July and they were assured that elections were possible in October without any violence or fear with a high voter turnout. The results proved us right and it was hailed as the fairest election.Thus a sterile mobilization ended after 10 months of deployment after the J&K elections in October. It cost the nation INR 8000 crores, extensive wear and tear to equipment and allied administrative and operational problems. INR 300 Crores were paid to civilians evacuated from border areas as compensation.
The mobilization resulted in some gains to us. Our mobilization drills were practiced. Operational and administrative plans were validated. Coordination between various formations and services was achieved. Most of the equipment deficiencies were made up. India’s nuclear doctrine became credible and Nuclear Command Post was established. New technology weapons, missiles and deep penetration bombers were acquired. Satellite surveillance, air surveillance and UAVs were given importance. Air Defence cover was strengthened and the number of Special Forces units was increased.
India also achieved some advantages at political and international level as stated by Mr George Fernandes in the Parliament on 20 November 2002 that the mobilization forced Gen Musharraf to call off support to terrorists, banned some terrorist organizations and closed terrorist camps in POK. The mobilization also focused the attention of international community on Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism. Elections could be held peacefully in J&K.
However, Operation Parakram is also described as a failure and a futile exercise that exposed the weakness in decision making, political will to fight war, excessive dependence on US and knee jerk military actions by the defense forces without obtaining war directive from the government or political and operational aims. India lacked political courage was to take the mobilization to its logical conclusion. The demobilization was ordered after a presentation made by the NSAB on 16 October 2002. It was called strategic relocation instead of withdrawal. Thus an eventful period came to an end.