Had it not been for the 9/11 terror attacks, the Indian Army may have carried out its largest operation to end cross-LoC infiltration by capturing at least 25 selected Pakistani posts along the Line of Control (LoC) in September 2001, two former senior commanders have revealed in a new book.
‘Operation Kabaddi’ would have been on a scale far larger than the “land grab” attempted by Pakistan, which led to the Kargil war in 1999, as well as the surgical strikes launched by India in 2016, says the book, Line on Fire: Ceasefire Violations and India-Pakistan Escalation Dynamics.
“The objective [of Operation Kabaddi] was to change the geography of the LoC with access to tactical points there, which would then help them [the Army] tackle the infiltration of militants by the Pakistani side,” the author of the book Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Happymon Jacob told The Hindu.
“When compared to what the Pakistanis did in Kargil, that was an opportunistic takeover of land, and winter-vacated posts, where Gen. Musharraf tried to take advantage of an opportunity: but at most it was a small tactical operation that went out of control,” Prof. Jacob explained.
‘No land taken’
“Surgical strikes as they were carried out in 2016 involved no casualties of Pakistani military personnel, and involved no land grab. That is business as usual on the LoC and happens all the time,” he added.
Quoting two officers involved in the planning of the operation — Lt. Gen. Rustom K. Nanavatty, (Northern Army Commander, 2001-2003), and Lt. Gen. H.S. Panag, General Officer Commanding in Chief (GOC in C) of the Army’s Northern Command and Central Command 2006-2008) — the book says operational details were discussed at a June 2001 meeting held at the office of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in New Delhi.
The meeting was chaired by then Indian Army Chief Gen. Sundararajan Padmanabhan. (The Hindu contacted Gen. Padmanabhan, but he declined comment. In the book, too, he has declined comment citing a poor memory of the period in question.)
The plan involved capturing 25 to 30 Pakistani army posts from the Batalik sector in the Ladakh region of J&K right down to Chamb-Jaurian in the Jammu sector, with around one or two posts assigned for capture per brigade.
Within fixed time
The posts were to be overrun in a surprise operation in “multiple phases”, the book reveals, but the operation was to be completed in a limited time, so as not to lead to a full-scale war.
Eventually, the units were prepared for Op Kabaddi on September 1, 2001, but the order to proceed was never given given the changed geopolitical situation after the 9/11 attacks as it would have been considered “taking advantage of a tragedy” and “viewed unfavourably by the international community”, Prof. Jacob writes.
It is significant that in December 2001, after the Parliament attack, the Army mobilised for the more conventional Operation Parakram, and a standoff with the Pakistani army that lasted for months.
A senior officer who was then posted along the Line of Control said a “major operation” was planned and Lt. Gen. Nanavatty had come down and briefed them on one occasion.
“We did not know the name of the operation as we were not in the planning but it was known. Every battalion was planning something,” the officer said on condition of anonymity.
However, the Army did not respond to questions from The Hindu about Operation Kabaddi.
Former Northern Army Commander Lt Gen D.S. Hooda stated that local actions keep happening at the LoC but the Army cannot do an operation of this magnitude on its own.
“I am not aware of the specifics of the operation. But an operation of this magnitude across the entire LoC, from Kargil to Akhnoor, cannot be done without the clearance from the political establishment.”
Key political figures of the time — Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and NSA Brajesh Mishra — have since passed away, while former Defence Ministers Jaswant Singh and George Fernandes are now indisposed.
The book says that Operation Kabaddi would include a “wide spectrum of evolving punitive operations such as the execution of deliberate fire assaults to destroy military and terrorist points, and area targets across the LoC; ambushes and raids across the LOC; and company, battalion, and brigade-sized deliberate offensive attacks to capture objectives of tactical importance across the LoC that would improve the Indian Army’s counter-insurgency (CI) posture.”
According to Prof. Jacob, the book reveals such details that remain sensitive 18 years later so as to show the extent of “risk-taking” that is done by the armies on both sides of the LoC under “the nuclear umbrella”. This should be highlighted to enforce a bilateral mechanism that would bring down tensions between India and Pakistan, he suggested.
Indian military officials have announced that 2018 witnessed the highest number of ceasefire violations, 2,936, by the Pakistani army since the ceasefire was announced by DGMOs in India and Pakistan in 2003. The Pakistani army has made similar claims about India.
“Given the frightening rise in incidents, and the chance of escalating firing sparking off something bigger, it is necessary that the ceasefire be formalised,” Prof. Jacob said.