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Gen. Padmanabhan mulls over lessons of Operation Parakram

Gen. Padmanabhan mulls over lessons of Operation Parakram

Author: Praveen Swami
Publication: The Hindu
Date: February 6, 2004
URL: http://www.hindu.com/2004/02/06/stories/2004020604461200.htm

Problems with India's military doctrine, and a lack of clarity within the Union Cabinet and on its war objectives may have undermined Operation Parakram at the very outset.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu , the former Chief of the Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan, has thrown new light on the reasons for the failure of Operation Parakram, the massive build-up ordered in the wake of the December 13, 2001, terrorist attack on Parliament House. He was responding to criticism that a slow mobilisation of the troops "gifted" Pakistan time to prepare its defences - and eventually meant that the Operation had to be called off.

Gen. Padmanabhan argues that significant military gains could have been achieved in January 2002, had politicians made the decision to go to war. These objectives, he says, could have included "degradation of the other force, and perhaps the capture of disputed territory in Jammu and Kashmir. They were more achievable in January, less achievable in February, and even less achievable in March. By then, the balance of forces had gradually changed."

Critics of Gen. Padmanabhan's management of Operation Parakram have argued that air strikes against terror training camps could have been carried out within days the December 13 outrage. The Army, in turn, said that it needed time to prepare for the escalatory consequences of such attacks. Pakistan, Army planners believed, had an interest in taking the conflict towards a nuclear flash-point as soon as possible. The Army believed the best prospects of avoiding such a situation was having forces in place that could rapidly secure war objectives.

According to Gen. Padmanabhan, the kinds of limited strikes some were pushing for would have been "totally futile." "If you really want to punish someone for something very terrible he has done," he said, "you smash him. You destroy his weapons and capture his territory." "War is a serious business," he continues, "and you don't go just like that. When December 13 happened, my strike formations were at peace locations. At that point, I did not have the capability to mobilise large forces to go across."

Military doctrine - problems

Part of the problem appears to have been India's defence- oriented military doctrine, which assigns most formations to hold ground against enemy attack. Offensive roles are largely assigned to three strike formations, the Mathura- based 1 Corps, the Ambala-based 2 Corps and the Bhopal- based 21 Corps. Unlike these strike formations, most other Corps can at best carry out very limited offensive tasks. India, Gen. Padmanabhan's remarks suggest, could have ended up starting a war from which it would have gained very little, and that too at great cost.

Doctrinal baggage, he accepts, crippled India's early options in 2002. "You could certainly question why we are so dependent on our strike formations," he said, and "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." Gen. Padmanabhan's new book, "The Writing on the Wall - India Checkmates America 2017," among other things, describes a fictional war in which India retakes the Haji Pir pass in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

Correctives being taken

Efforts are now under way to rectify some of these problems in doctrine identified in the course of Operation Parakram. The present Army Chief, Gen. Nirmal C. Vij, has pushed through an ambitious modernisation of India's ground forces. New weapons systems are now being introduced which will allow each Corps a limited offensive capability of its own, reducing dependence on the strike formations. India's Special Forces are also being re- equipped to improve their ability to operate behind enemy lines for considerable lengths of time, and could play a key role in a future war.

It remains unclear, however, just why the politicians who ordered the build-up finally chose not to use the military machine they had assembled. "Everyone seems to feel that the U.S. held us back," Gen. Padmanabhan says. "Perhaps they did; perhaps they didn't. I don't know anything specific on this. I do know that that there was great consternation on the other side, Pakistan, because of the huge Indian build-up. Finally, it was a decision that had to be made by our political masters."

There are no answers, either, to the evident confusion in policy-making that underpinned Operation Parakram. Gen. Padmanabhan's account of decision-making suggests that India's security establishment had not planned exactly how it would respond to a major terrorist attack.

Nor, it would appear, did the political leadership clearly understand the military options available, just how long they would take to execute, and what their potential consequences could be.

Just as important, few within the Army seemed to have planned and prepared for a short, sharp conflict with Pakistan, suggesting the lessons of the Kargil war remained unlearned.
 


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