India’s Intentions and Pakistan’s Challenge

India’s Intentions and Pakistan’s Challenge
Since India’s illegal decision to annex the occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir, that country’s government has issued maps that not only depict the unlawful act of August 5, but also show Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan as part of India.

Both areas have a history of rebellion and war of independence from the Dogra maharaja and India’s irredentism has no grounding in facts. But that’s not the issue for this space since that is settled and recognised.

What’s important is to understand India’s intentions behind declaring AJK and GB as irredenta that need to be restored to India. That involves signalling at different levels, cartographic aggression being just one. The issue in this space relates to military signalling.

Several leaders of the reigning Bharatiya Janata Party government — backed by the rightwing, supremacist ideology of its parent, paramilitary organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — have declared the intention to take AJK and GB back from Pakistan. Recently, the serving Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of the Indian Army, General Bipin Rawat, made political comments with reference both to the revocation of article 370 and AJK-GB, declaring that the Indian Army was ready to capture the territory if the political government gave it a nod.

These statements are not only highly destabilising, given the possession by India and Pakistan of nuclear weapons capabilities, but are also ample warnings to Pakistan about India’s intentions. (We shall come to the capabilities aspect shortly.) One doesn’t need to belabour the point about why the rest of the world should take such statements and their potential fallout seriously, especially if India chooses to use the military option against Pakistan.

There is a view that India’s August 5 move has, among other legal provisions, violated the Simla Agreement. The fact is that India has violated the agreement and the Line of Control several times before its legislature penned the latest illegality. Siachen is one example; other examples of aggression along the LoC are less known but have happened.

In his book, The Line on Fire, Indian scholar, Happymon Jacob, opens with a revelation about a highly-classified operation planned by the Indian Army in the early summer of 2001. Codenamed Operation Kabaddi, the plan envisaged altering the geography of the LoC.

“Around 25-30 Pakistani army posts from the Batalik sector of the Ladakh region of J&K right down to Chamb-Jaurian in the Jammu sector were earmarked by the Indian Army’s Northern Command for capture: around one-two posts per brigade. They were to be captured in a surprise operation judiciously divided into multiple phases, overrunning the Pakistani defences. It had to be a limited operation — no one wanted a full-scale war with Pakistan.”

The book gives other details and names of officers involved in drawing up the plan. There is ambivalence about whether the plan had the backing of the political government. But details aside, given paucity of space, what’s important to note is that such an audacious operation was indeed thought about and planned. It couldn’t be executed because with the Twin Towers attack, the geopolitics of the region underwent a change.

Remember, this was 2001. The plan was to be executed in September when Al Qaeda attacked the US mainland. Within three months, the Indian parliament was attacked and that led to full-scale mobilisation and a 10-month-long standoff under Op Parakram.

Now India is being helmed by a second-term BJP-RSS government. Its politico-military objectives can be listed as: to build a new normal a la the so-called ‘surgical strikes’; build it through an aggressive narrative and peddle it through social and mainstream media, focusing on TV channels; target domestic political audiences, especially the Hindutva voter; gain politically through real or perceived actions on the ground and then declare victory for the consumption of domestic politics.

A good, empirical evidence of that is the use of Indian Air Force on the morning of February 26. Even though the IAF could not achieve its mission objective and the Pakistan Air Force worsted the IAF the very next day when it executed Op Swift Retort, Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, worked the decision to ingress into AJK airspace to his political advantage and was returned to Parliament with an even bigger headcount.

Corollary: Modi and his cohorts know that aggression against Pakistan sells; it has worked to the BJP’s advantage. Corollary 2: he will do it again, especially when he finds himself in a bind at home. With the economy slipping, that is likely to happen sooner than later.

Now, a word about capabilities. Here the story goes back to the Twin Peaks crisis and Op Parakram. This story is important for understanding the evolving military thought in India and the reorganisation that has since taken place.

The Twin Peaks mobilisation was a disaster. India, according to its own official figures, spent over $2 billion and lost 800 soldiers without a single bullet exchanged with Pakistan. Why?

The mobilisation brought into sharp focus a number of issues.

Indian Army’s holding (pivot) corps did not have offensive capabilities. Its three Strike Corps (1, 2, and 21), based respectively in Mathura, Ambala and Bhopal, couldn’t be mobilised expeditiously because of longer interior lines. While the Holding Corps could be readied in 72 to 96 hours, it took the Strike Corps about three weeks to get into place.

In an interview to The Hindu on February 6, 2004, General Sundararajan Padmanabhan, then-Indian COAS, had this to say: “You could certainly question why we are so dependent on our strike formations and why my holding Corps don’t have the capability to do the same tasks from a cold start. This is something I have worked on while in office. Perhaps, in time, it will be our military doctrine.”

This is echoed by former brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal in an article written on December 11, 2011: “Perhaps the most important lesson emerging from the standoff was the inordinately long time that strike corps needed to mobilise for war. The lack of coherent politico-military decision-making was clearly evident. It is not at all clear whether any military objectives were actually assigned by the political leadership.”

Two questions arose for Indian Army from the Twin Peaks standoff: how to find the space under the nuclear overhang to punish Pakistan; and how to achieve operational surprise. These questions essentially meant: How to gain time ascendancy and how to operate from a cold start.

This resulted in rethinking the role of holding corps and a forward-leaning posture for strike corps — for the latter, how to reduce preparation/mobilisation and employment time from roughly three weeks to four-five days. The second rethink was how to manage short, sharp, shallow thrusts into Pakistani territory to punish it and, if the territory is captured across the LoC, to use it to bargain.

The result: reorganisation of holding corps for less dependency on strike corps in the initial days while simultaneously shortening the mobilisation and employment time for the strike corps. Result: holding corps should be able to undertake offensive ops. Every holding corps now has a mechanised brigade. As for shortening the mobilisation and employment time for the strike corps, the Indian Army undertook infrastructure development for a forward-leaning posture and forward-leaning logistics.

Simultaneously, it worked on what it called CSD — Cold Start Doctrine. The CSD envisaged eight IBGs (Independent Battle Groups) with their offensive and supporting elements for short, sharp, shallow thrusts. Interestingly, the Indians kept denying the existence of CSD until, shortly after assuming charge, the current COAS, Rawat, in an interview conceded that the IA has been working on the concept and has held various exercises to validate it!

Rawat was criticised by many experts (the details can be ignored here). At a press conference in New Delhi, he tried to downplay “his acknowledgment of Cold Start.” As reported by, he said: “[We] know that the future wars will be short and intense and, when short and intense wars are the future forms of combat, you have to be prepared to move fast. Now this is something which you can term in whatever way you want.” He also “clarified that publicly acknowledging Cold Start was a signal to the army to be prepared for that eventuality. ‘The other reason for coming out with this was, to communicate to the rank and file and field commanders the kind of preparations they have to carry out for future combat. That is the messaging that was meant to that statement that I made.’”

The Indian Army’s plans to that end are ongoing. In addition to changing the op-thought and concepts in relation to Pakistan, as part of its two-front war preparation, India has also raised a mountain corps to tackle any potential threat from China.

Pakistan has watched these developments closely and has undertaken its own responses to them, the details of which this article will eschew. Enough to say that many man-hours went into conceptualising and operationalising those responses to deny India any strategic surprises it wants to achieve through time ascendancy. Moreover, the idea is to not allow India’s numbers advantage by keeping any technological asymmetry to the minimum.

The real issue is India’s intentions. It is also working on its capabilities to start arming with some aim rather than arming without aiming (the latter phrase is the title of a 2010 book by the late Stephen P Cohen and Dr Sunil Dasgupta). Pakistan’s challenge is to be prepared both in view of India’s clearly-stated intentions and its drive towards wedding its intentions to its capabilities.

A former GOC-in-C Northern Command, Lieutenant General HS Panag said this about Op Parakaram in a January 3, 2019 article: “[India] could not go to war due to a combination of international pressure, lack of strategic vision, political dithering, slow mobilisation and an unsure military. ‘Coercive diplomacy’ was a mere fig leaf to cover a strategic fiasco. We probably lost the last opportunity for a decisive conventional war to achieve our political aims.”

The Pakistani planners have to ensure that former LTG Panag’s last sentence in the above quote remains true and the ‘probably’ in that sentence is changed to ‘certainly’.

Clearly, that means remaining vigilant.

There’s much else that needs to be discussed but that shall follow this article.

The writer is a former News Editor of The Friday Times. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He reluctantly tweets @ejazhaider

The writer has an abiding interest in foreign and security policies and life’s ironies.