Exercising the military
option: possible, but not feasible
By A. Vinod Kumar
since the Pakistan link in the Mumbai attacks was traced,
many strategic analysts have been rooting for punitive action
against Pakistan - also referred to as pre-emptive strikes
and hot pursuit. This is not the first time such suggestions
have been mooted. After the parliament attack in December
2001, India launched Operation Parakram to mobilize its troops
along the international border with the assumed intention
of a frontal response to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
pressure later forced India to withdraw its troops through
a costly de-mobilisation effort running into months. The fear
then was an Indian attack would force Pakistan to use nuclear
weapons in the event of a conventional defeat. Many believe
the operation was planned as a conflict escalation posture
short of actual war to pressure Pakistan on its terror infrastructure
and test its nuclear resolve.
unlike the scenario in 2001 when terror camps openly operated
in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), their current spread and
locations is unclear, which would directly inhibit scope for
are three modes of action on this front - pre-emption, prevention
and hot pursuit. A pre-emptive strike is undertaken based
on credible intelligence to preclude an adversary from launching
an imminent attack. Preventive action, on the other hand,
is anticipatory use of force to degrade the capability of
an adversary for future attacks. India has rarely planned
such operations for the fear of violating sovereignty of another
country and inviting global outrage. Security planners have
but considered the 'hot pursuit' method which entails pursuing
a terrorist group inside Pakistan after a major terror attack.
despite the clamour many a time, India has generally been
reluctant to rely on these methods due to fear of a nuclear
retaliation as Pakistan's redlines for a first-strike has
been ambiguous. After initially declaring that a major conventional
defeat with India would trigger its nuclear response, Pakistani
officials later elucidated a lowered threshold to include
economic strangulation or political destabilization. It is
this ambiguity on Pakistan postures that has consistently
inhibited an Indian response to Pakistan's proxy war and restrained
India from crossing the Line of Control (LoC).
status quo prevails even today, thereby rendering an Indian
action militarily possible but politically not feasible. By
all means, even a single sortie by an Indian aircraft would
be sufficient to provoke a Pakistani response as Islamabad
would be under severe domestic pressure to respond to an Indian
aggression, which may not necessarily be limited to a low-intensity
conflict like in Kargil.
there is a strong possibility of a military coup in the guise
of a 'weak' government unable to deal with the Indian threat.
It would be suicidal to give an opportunity for the Pakistani
Army to assume charge again and rejuvenate its proxy war campaign
against India. Strengthening the hands of a civilian government
in Pakistan, though not at India's expense, seems a better
option considering that the Zardari-Gilani regime is the only
visible hope for the peace process.
by embarking on a military strike, India would be playing
into the hands of the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine, which yearns
for an India-Pakistan war in order to neutralize the military
pressure in Pakistan's northern frontier, where U.S. forces
have initiated drone and missile attacks on these groups.
An India-Pakistan conflict would force Washington to shift
its focus towards the region and also encourage the Obama
presidency to meddle in Kashmiri affairs.
these impediments, the real challenge lies in the Indian Army
preparedness for a conventional war with Pakistan. Even a
supposedly low-intensity conflict in Kargil heavily bled the
Indian forces, which were short in not just men and machines
but also suitable strategies. Though the Indian Army would
project its Cold Start doctrine and its swiftly-mobile strike
missions for surgical strikes, even such missions need backup
through heavy mobilisation on the lines of Operation Parakram
so as to absorb the aftermath of the surgical strikes, when
a full-fledged conventional war is likely to erupt.
it is unlikely that any political leadership will risk such
responses as India's military capabilities are tailor-made
for posturing and power projection.
aspiring to be a great power, India has a traditional reticence
to use military power even when critical national security
interests are threatened. A preventive action against Pakistan
was reportedly planned in 1982 when none other than Indira
Gandhi considered and rejected a plan to stop Pakistan's budding
nuclear programme by striking the Kahuta facility, on the
lines of the Israeli attack on Iraq's Osirak facility. Had
India shown such belligerence then, the nuclear blackmail
by Pakistan might not have been so acute.
genesis of our current predicament lies in such lost opportunities
and lack of political resolve for punitive strikes, especially
during the 1990s when glaring evidences existed on militant
camps in PoK. Neither then nor after the parliament attack
has India gathered the courage to embark on such adventures.
The biggest stumble always was Washington's refusal to heed
Indian calls on Pakistan's terror sponsorships until 9/11
happened. The change of heart in Washington on using military
actions now might be an opportunity, if India uses it wisely.
than taking the plunge, India should encourage Washington
to lead punitive actions against Pakistan if it does not comply
with the timeframe on action against its terror groups. In
fact, the U.S. campaign in Pakistan's northern frontier could
be emulated if India can facilitate platforms for US drones
to target terror targets in PoK or elsewhere in Pakistan,
provided they exist by the time of such attacks.
A. Vinod Kumar is Associate Fellow at the Institute for
Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. He can be contacted