A few months ago, when our soldiers were engaged in a clash with the Chinese army at the Galwan border resulting in the death of 20 Indian officers, and social media was crammed with civilians berating the military for not “responding in kind” to their Chinese counterparts, one could not help but notice the stark similarity between the current one and the situation 18 years ago, when the military was rebuked for not retaliating to Pakistan, our favourite and most frequent hostile neighbour.
December 13th, 2001, one of the most horrific terrorist attacks by Pakistan, sparked fear in every citizen’s heart not because of its enormity, but because of the previously unforeseen possibility of truculent bulldozing into the country’s heartland, its capital, attacking one of its most heavily guarded buildings, the Parliament.
Indian Parliament under attack, 2001. Source: India Today
As was necessary, swift action was taken and a Parliamentary Committee stipulated the launch of an Operation- Operation Parakram. Since the 1971 India-Pakistan War, the nation had not witnessed a full scale military mobilisation until January 2002. During the 10 month long Operation, around 5,00,000 troops with armored vehicles from the Indian side were mobilized and 3,00,000 troops from Pakistan’s side were assembled.
Alongside, the Indian government issued a warning- it wanted Pakistan to ban its two most heavily-backed terrorist organizations, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), end infiltration of insurgents into disputed territory of Kashmir and lastly, extradite 20 Pakistani citizens accused of terrorism. Pakistan was already under pressure by the U.S. for the recent 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, and could not afford to worsen their standing in the international community. Fearing the onslaught of a war, U.S.A. President Mr. George Bush announced in a statement the country’s allegiance with India and warned Pakistan that inaction on their side by continuing to support militant groups would be equivalent to supporting terrorism.
Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf felt himself backed into a corner and therefore banned 6 terrorist organizations- LeT, JeM, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jangvi (LeJ), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami (HuJI) and the Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HuM). A few training camps of the LeT were closed, insurgency into the Kashmir territory controlled by India reduced, JeM founder Mualana Masood Azhar arrested and LeT chief Hafiz Saeed was placed under house arrest for nearly a year. Subsequently, the U.S. also froze the assets of the LeT, placing a severe restriction on their activities. Another important step taken by the Indian authorities included testing a new missile which could deliver a nuclear warhead within a 400-mile range, which former Indian Army Chief of Staff, General Ved Prakash Malik stated was a “part of the strategy”. To warn Pakistan of what would happen if their demands weren’t met, the Indian Air Force's No. 1 Tiger Squadron of Mirage-2000 H used a laser-guided bomb to destroy a bunker at Pokhran in Rajasthan.
Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Source: The Indian Express
Meanwhile, the troops continued to be deployed at the borders. India appeared to be in a favourable position strategically and diplomatically, when on 12th May 2002, three suicide-bombers from Pakistan attacked an Army camp at Kaluchak in Jammu and Kashmir, killing 34 people and injuring at least 50, with the majority being wives and children of Indian Army soldiers.
Attack at Kaluchak, May 2002. Source: Outlook India
The political leadership and military leaders met more frequently than ever in the following days, and chalked out detailed plans on retaliation. Defence supplies were quickly ordered from Israel, and all branches of the military were prepared. By the end of the month, both countries had fully mobilized their troops which made the borders look like a battlefield. To worsen the situation, ballistic missiles were installed by both sides, igniting the fear of a nuclear threat. During this highly tense period, clashes between both sides broke, killing one Indian soldier, and six Pakistani soldiers. On 29th July 2002, the Indian Air Force’s Eight Mirage 2000 dropped guided bombs destroying bunkers occupied by Pakistan. In retaliation, Pakistan started shelling at India’s posts at the Line of Control. On 2nd August, Mirage 2000 with Laser Guided Bombs, led by Flight Lieutenant Rajiv Mishra launched a surprise air raid on Pakistan's bunkers located at Kel in Kupwara sector following which Indian Army launched a ground assault which killed the remaining Pakistani soldiers around the bunkers.
War Committee comprising Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Home Minister LK Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes. Source: Alam
Once again, the international community intervened, and tightened the strings on Pakistan funded terrorist organizations. Diplomats from the U.S.A, Russia, Britain and France went back and forth between the two countries, succeeding in pulling the plug on the war which, until then, seemed inevitable. Troops remained deployed till October, following which demobilization began by both sides simultaneously, and a ceasefire was signed. Most civilians remained unaware of the diplomatic steps being undertaken and remembered only the infiltrations and attacks by the enemy. With morale at an all-time high, citizens woke up everyday expecting to be greeted by the news of a declaration of war, or, at the very least, a cross border fight, resulting in the death of a few dozen Pakistani soldiers. However, they were disappointed, and chose to direct their emotions by pointing their fingers at the soldiers and accusing them of not taking action.
What they failed to realize was that the Operation was a strategy of coercive diplomacy, as a result of which Pakistan was forced into banning six terrorist organisations. When the then army chief Gen S. Padmanabhan was asked whether the deployment was aimed at attacking Pakistan, he replied affirmatively, “There were many aims, which were fulfilled.”
Chief of Army Staff General S. Padmanabhan. Source: Wikipedia
The Operation is popularly conceived at having failed, and having been a victim of an unsure military and slow mobilisation of the forces. The bigger picture of the mobilisation appears to ignored by the public, whereby international pressure was directed at Pakistan through sanctions, and the intensity of terrorism across LoC was significantly reduced.
The next time one sees and hears the revered Armed Forces being lambasted for not taking action, 2002 must serve as a reminder that simply deploying the forces can produce the desired result, without the loss of precious lives and the drain in governmental finances (which are already strained owing to the COVID-19 pandemic). The competence of the military cannot be measured by the fact that disputes have ended with just diplomatic resolutions.
The military is not composed of mere pawns who can be sent off to kill the enemy using brute force. Our soldiers are ready to lay down their lives for our safety, but this is not the Stone Age, where killing and physical fights are the first and only way to resolve disputes. Diplomatic steps are being undertaken every day, and in the off chance they fail, we can sleep peacefully with the firm assurance that our formidable draconian Army stands as tall as the Himalayas, shielding us from the enemy.