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July 2, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Amberish K Diwanji

Avoid all-out war

Various people -- army generals serving and retired, defence analysts, diplomats, politicians, etc -- have spoken of crossing the Line of Control and the Indo-Pakistan border to attack Pakistan all along. The aim is to "teach Pakistan a lesson, once and for all" and settle the Kashmir issue forever. Many have suggested that India must use this god-sent opportunity to settle the Kashmir dispute in its favour, and humble Pakistan so that it never raises its head again.

Today we hold the advantage. World opinion is on our side, which will not change unless we do something stupid, while Pakistan is in a bind (it can bluff about using nuclear weapons, but frankly that would mean the end of Pakistan). Our casualties after a month of war is less than 200 (remarkable, that!) and, most important, we have had some amazing success. All of that stands to be ruined if New Delhi seeks an all-out war.

No doubt it is tempting to cross the border and attack Pakistan. The argument for it could go thus: why, after all, is India always reacting to Pakistan's provocation? Why not make a move that has Islamabad reacting, such as a thrust towards Lahore (in 1965, Indian troops were on the outskirts of Lahore) or in the Sikri region, cutting Pakistani Punjab from Sind?

With Pakistan facing a threat in its Punjab, its own efforts in the Kargil mountains would perforce reduce and India could then retake the mountains with ease and in a short time rather that spend months in Kargil.

If only it were that simple. First, why spoil our slow but steady success in the mountains? Mountain wars by their very nature are slow. A few soldiers on top of a hill, provided with logistics support -- arms, ammunition, food, etc -- can hold back an entire company of over 100 troops.

Again, the terrain lower down -- steep slopes, narrow gorges, small valleys and depressions, ridges -- means that too many troops cannot simply flood the areas below the peaks. Hence, in the present war, while Indian troops are deployed in sufficient numbers, some reports say up to 40,000, they can advance but slowly. Unlike 1971, we are not invading the flat plains of Bangladesh!

Thus the entire Kargil operation will take time, perhaps till September (even the army can't be too sure). Moreover, since India is committed to keeping the casualties as low as possible, there is really no overriding hurry save that the Srinagar-Leh road and Siachen not be threatened (which risks have perceptibly come down!). Thus, we are already achieving our main objectives, and will sooner or later clear the entire area with minimum casualties. That will be a great victory!

However, opening fronts in Punjab, Rajasthan and Kutch will only mean increased casualties. India will, no doubt win the war, but it will be an expensive war, in terms of men and material. It will also take a very long time because for years, India has slowly whittled down its defence preparedness and expenditure.

To turn the nation's slow moving economy into a war economy producing guns, ammunitions, spares, and all the other needs of the armed forces will take months to achieve. Just one example: the Indian army has a shortfall of 14,000 officers at the operational level of captain and majors. Recruiting and then training youngsters to fill up the vacancies for an all-out war with Pakistan will take a lot of time (a year or more) and money.

Let us not forget that in 1971, India could beat the hell out of Pakistan in just 14 days because the country had been preparing for war ever since 1962. Thus, by 1971, our soldiers and officers, arms and equipment, were all fighting fit and raring to go.

After 1971, since India faced no overt military threat, our forces were reduced, and rightly so. One can argue that even Pakistan is not too prepared (facing similar problems like India), and which is precisely why both the armies will be bogged down for a long time till the superior economic and military might of India slowly asserts itself.

Moreover, since we are not at all certain of a quick victory, you can bet your last rupee that this will allow the Americans and others to poke their noses in. Kashmir will then become a dispute where the US might decide to play judge, jury and executioner, to India's disadvantage. An India fighting Pakistan and worried about Chinese help to Islamabad will be in no position to resist Washington DC.

There is another very important factor. Every war must have a specific purpose. What will be our purpose? Right now the clear objective is to evict the intruders from the Kargil mountains. Do we need an all-out war when our limited war is achieving that, albeit slowly. The danger is that if we have an all-out war and the casualties mount, then public opinion will harden and seek more and more gains in a snowballing effect. You can't lose thousands of men for only the Kargil peaks. Defensive governments (on both sides) might seek bigger objectives, which will only worsen the conflict and cause more casualties and losses.

Regarding a final objective, some say we should recapture Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, others say dismember Pakistan, still others say that smash Pakistan so that it never again challenges India. It is this utter confusion of our final aim that goes against waging an all-out war. One reason for our amazing success in 1971 was the absolute clarity in terms of goal: liberate Bangladesh, and having done that, declare ceasefire. And that is precisely what happened.

Liberating PoK is easier said than done. First and foremost, unlike the Bangladeshis in 1971, the people here have not taken up arms against their rulers. Our troops will go in to find no welcome awaiting them among the local people. India's experience in Sri Lanka clearly showed how expensive and costly a war becomes when the local people are against you. In Sri Lanka, with both the Sinhalese and Tamils against the IPKF, the latter had to exit not very honourably.

Soldiers always fight harder on their own territory (and for their own country), and our losses across the border will be much higher. While the fear of losing PoK forever "might" force Pakistan to use nuclear arms, trying to dismember Pakistan will "certainly" involve nuclear arms.

Simply because while the Pakistani generals just might let go of PoK, there is simply no way they will let Pakistan break up. Not without using each and every weapon at their disposal. Let us be honest, the world will not sit back and watch nuclear weapons being hurled around. They will interfere, and that will be India's loss.

The problem of teaching Pakistan a lesson is, what exactly constitutes the lesson? Who'll decide this far and no further? Wanting to teach Islamabad a lesson is risky for all the above reasons: unclear objective, fighting Pakistan in Pakistan, etc, etc. Seeking to smash the Pakistan army completely once and for all will involve a long-drawn out war, with all the above mentioned problems.

Let no one fool himself that Pakistanis would relish being united with India again. If they are so hesitant for a South Asian federation, Akhand Bharat is out of the question. It is in light of these factors that our honourable prime minister has asked the army and air force to stay on our side of the LoC unless provoked to do otherwise. This is the right approach and it is to the utter credit of our prime minister that he has stayed firm so far. One hopes he remains so despite the warmongers' pressure. Cross the LoC only if it becomes too expensive not to do so, not for political gains or emotional reasons.

If ever Pakistan becomes a fascist, Talibanised country (which sadly seems to be happening), then one day India may have to fight a long-drawn war with that country. That war will not be for Kargil or Kashmir but to protect our values and way of life. That, however, is another article.

Amberish K Diwanji

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