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Exercise Poorna Vijay

A Preliminary Analysis of India's Conventional War Doctrine as Revealed by Exercise Poorna Vijay and Other War Games

The Indian Army (IA) and Air Force (IAF) held a series of exercises from May 2 to well into the third week of May. Four interrelated corps or divisional level exercises were held: Poorna Vijay, Amogh Prahar, Vajrapath, and Vijay Shakti. The centerpiece was Exercise Poorna Vijay, a corps level exercise involving Army and Air Force units. This article analyses operational aspects of Poorna Vijay and other recent exercises to arrive at some conclusions about Indiaƒ??s conventional war doctrine.


A map of locations associated with Poorna Vijay and related exercises.

The Land Component of Poorna Vijay

The land component of Poorna Vijay involved some 40,000 to 70,000 troops[i]; about 1000 armoured vehicles; and supporting artillery pieces and equipment. It was staged in the Bikaner-Suratgarh area of North Rajasthan. Lt. Gen. Pankaj Joshi, GOC Central Command, was the officer responsible for conducting and refereeing the exercise [1 ]. The blue force was composed of 1 Strike Corps [2 ] led by Lt. Gen J.J. Singh. As part of the exercise, about 600 paratroopers from 5 Parachute Regiment commanded by Col. A.K. Srivastava undertook a nighttime High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) jump. The operation also involved delivery of a large number of heavy loads including BMPs, artillery guns, anti-tank guided missiles and jeeps by parachutes. This was one of the biggest airborne exercises undertaken so far by IAF and IA, and it involved four IL-74 and eighteen AN-32 aircraft [ 3 ]. About 110 Special Forces soldiers were inserted behind Red Force lines by helicopters, and Air Force Chief A. Y. Tipnis personally flew one of the sorties [ 4 ].

A corps level thrust was led by the 33 Armoured Division and accompanied by unspecified mechanized and infantry formations [5 ]. The objectives of the attacking Blue Force were the two "Redland bases", represented by the villages of Bhanipura and Sardarshahar. By the final day, 33 Armoured was reported to have traveled about 190 km, 70 of them in enemy territory [5 ]. This distance corresponds well with the estimated distances of the two villages from Hissar, which is the home base of 33 Armoured. The entire distance was covered in 6 days, but the more interesting figure is the time taken to cover the 70 km in Redland. Reports on Exercise Vijay Chakra indicate that a RAPIDS division and an armoured brigade traversed 70 km into Redland in about two days [9 ].

Since the exercises were intended to test the preparedness of the military forces for operating under nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) attack conditions, situations involving the use of nuclear and chemical weapons were examined as part of the exercise. Hypothetical tactical nuclear strikes were carried out against advancing mechanized columns and against brigades concentrated at a bridgehead. Chemical strikes against company level formations were also rehearsed. In all cases, the effected army formations had to respond with decontamination procedures, evacuation of casualties, and replacement of affected units with reserves.

Finally, the choice of a peak summer month for conducting exercises placed heavy emphasis on logistics and maintenance of equipment. An estimated 70,000 liters of potable water had to be provided per day, for the personnel who participated in the exercise [28 ]. Formations judged to have been hit by mock nuclear attacks had to make alternate arrangements for water and food supply. If they failed to do so, the participating soldiers got no water to drink [29 ].

The Air Component of Poorna Vijay

About five hundered IAF personnel, including two hundred pilots, participated in the exercise. Some 120 aircraft, including 70 fighters, 20 transport aircraft, and 20 helicopters from IAF's Western and Southwestern Commands were involved[ii]. The attack helicopters operated from Nal, Suratgarh, and Adampur; fighter aircraft operated from Nal Suratgarh and Sirsa; and transport aircraft from Agra and Chandigarh air bases [6 ]. Radar and communication units were also involved. The fighter aircraft practiced air strikes, fighter sweeps, escort for air defence, and electronic warfare missions. The Mi-35 attack helicopters were used in conjunction with armoured columns, and two mobile radar units moved forward in conjunction with army formations to provide continuous surveillance capabilities [6 ]. About 840 sorties were to be flown in nine days [13 ], and the total number of sorties was expected to reach 1000. Some missions were flown in simulated post-strike environments, for which the aircraft had to shut off external air supply and activate special protective systems [14 ]. The missions were flown in extreme heat conditions, which may have been responsible for the one tragic fatality of the exercise. Flight Lieutenant Ajay Sharma was flying a MiG-21 BIS on an anti-tank mission during a dust storm. He apparently lost too much height while trying to attack his targets, and could not pull up when the aircraft engine failed to provide sufficient thrust due to the extreme heat [10 ] UAVs were used by both Army and Air Force for reconnaissance purposes. Newly inducted systems like Lakshya UAVS, Indra-II low-level surveillance radars, Mi-17IV helicopters, and unspecified artillery and electronic warfare equipment were tested during the exercise [7 ].

Other Exercises related to Poorna Vijay

Fewer details are available on the other exercises held in conjunction with Poorna Vijay. While official sources did mention that the different exercises were related, no further explanations were provided. However, the physical proximity of these exercises to each other raises several interesting speculations. There were reports of two division level exercises - Amogh Prahar and Vajrapath. They were said to be simulations of flank movements aimed at destroying enemy concentrations [6 ]. Amogh Prahar lasted for five days coinciding with Poorna Vijay. Vajrapath was held in the Ludhiana area, and it consisted of two phases of four days each. Amogh Prahar exercise area was in the Bhatinda-Suratgarh region [6 ], which is less than a hundred km from Poorna Vijay Redland bases. Given that such exercises generally cover hundreds of kilometers[iii], the exercise areas may have abutted or overlapped each other. Similarly, the first phase of Vajrapath coincided with Poorna Vijay, and Ludhiana district abuts Bhatinda district.

The fourth and final exercise was Vijay Shakti, which was stated to be a nominal corps/command level exercise for Northern Command and 16 (Nagrota) Corps. Maj Gen H S Kanwar, Chief of Staff of the Nagrota Corps, oversaw this exercise. It involved about 10000 infantry, 150 tanks, and 1000 soft vehicles, as well as 15 IAF aircraft. T-72 tanks, BMP armoured vehicles, and combat aircraft like MiG 29,23 and 27 took part. The exercise was held on the eastern bank of Beas in Hoshiarpur district of Punjab [11 , 12 ].

Media Management

Exercise Poorna Vijay was accompanied by a media blitz that was unprecedented in its level of openness. Actual formations involved in the exercise were mentioned publicly for the first time. Newspaper and magazine articles wrote candidly about the amount of casualties the army would take if its advancing columns or bridgeheads were to be attacked with nuclear weapons. This level of openness is a direct result of the Indian Military’s positive media experience during the Kargil war, were the popular media were used as a force multiplier in the information war. The other unstated reason was that the Indian establishment wanted to send an unambiguous message to Pakistan about India’s willingness to wage a conventional war even under the threat of nuclear escalation. According to the Kargil Review Committee report, Pakistan overrated its nuclear deterrent and believed that no conventional wars were possible once Pakistan had overtly declared its nuclear capability. Poorna Vijay was therefore used to very unambiguously warn Pakistan that India was prepared to fight and win a conventional war even under nuclear conditions.

Evolution of Air-Land Battle Doctrine in Recent Years

Poorna Vijay is part of a regular cycle of exercises undertaken by the army and air force to revalidate current doctrine; to train commanders and soldiers in realistic war-like situations; to test newly inducted systems; and to experiment with new tactical, operational and strategic concepts. Hence, the set of exercises conducted in May 2001 is best viewed as part of a continuum of exercises conducted by the Indian armed forces as part of their preparation for joint warfare.

It is useful to examine two recent war games in conjunction with Poorna Vijay, to gain a better understanding of some significant changes India’s conventional war doctrine in the near past: Exercise Shiv Shakti in December 1998; and Exercise Vijay Chakra in February 2000. Shiv Shakti was a corps level exercise held in the Barmer area of South Rajasthan, near the border between Rajasthan and Gujarat. It involved four divisions of the Southern Command of Indian army; with a small contingent of 13 IAF combat aircraft from the Southwestern Air Command and an unspecified number of Prithvi surface to surface missiles. Shiv Shakti was the first significant step in testing Army Training Command’s recently developed Air-Land battle doctrine, which involves total integration of air force and army assets to carry out deep strikes into enemy terrirory. Other significant developments were the induction of digitized and encrypted communication equipment; use of RPVs and satellite imagery for reconnaissance; and the extensive deployment of night vision equipment to permit the army to operate at maximum efficiency during nighttime as well as daytime [16 ,19 ,20 ]. The ability to maneuver and fight effectively at nighttime is a significant force-multiplier. Darkness imposes significant limitations on the combat capabilities of mechanized formations that do not have night-vision equipment. Nighttime combat capabilities raise the tempo of the battle significantly, and permit an attacking force to consolidate gains without allowing the defenders time to regroup. The 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak conflicts are replete with examples of attacking formations squandering hard-won advantages due to nighttime operational pauses. Even air forces are affected – in the celebrated Battle of Longewala, the IAF had to wait until daybreak to enter the fray because the Hunters did not have night-time combat capabilities[iv]. More recently, in the 1991 Gulf War, USA-led coalition forces had a significant advantage because they could maneuver and fight in dark and through dust-storms due to night-vision equipment, while the Iraqi forces could not.

Vijay Chakra was a much smaller exercise in terms of number of personnel involved, but it is equally significant in terms of innovations introduced to the conventional war doctrine. A RAPIDS division and independent armored brigade from the Army Western Command participated with some 40 fighters, 16 helicopters and 10 transport aircraft from the Air Force Western Command. For the first time, a company of paratroopers was dropped 60 km behind “red” lines by air force transports. The relieving force was 20 km away from the airdropped force in this exercise. The exercise was held in the same area as Poorna Vijay [21 ,22 ,23 ]. Shortly afterwards, in May 2000, Defense Minister George Fernandes; the three service chiefs; senior field commanders form the three services; and strategists got together for a three day conference (Exercise Brahmastra) that covered areas of operational concern to all three services. An audit of India’s land, air and sea warfare capabilities was carried out; and reportedly, a decision was made to adopt a more assertive and offensive conventional war doctrine with a nuclear backdrop [24 ,25 ].

Poorna Vijay is the culmination and expression of lessons learnt and decisions taken during the earlier exercises. In a sense, Poorna Vijay is Vijay Chakra scaled up to Shiv Shakti proportions. The company level para drop in Vijay Chakra evolved into a battalion level paradrop in Poorna Vijay. Similarly, the augmented division-level relieving force in Vijay Chakra became a full strike corps in Poorna Vijay. Poorna Vijay can also boast of significant advancements in addition to the enhancement of capabilities first introduced in earlier exercises.

The biggest development in Poorna Vijay was the introduction of an NBC scenario into conventional doctrine. This could be a result of the deliberations during Exercise Brahmastra, but it was really made possible due to the steady accretion of India’s NBC capabilities. The Indian military establishment has been slowly developing NBC capabilities since the late 1980s. Concepts and doctrines for NBC operations have been studied and taught by the army for several years [17 ], and the necessary equipment is being produced by the DRDO since the early 1990s [18 ]. Previous exercises had notional representation of NBC aspects: Shiv Shakti involved mock fires of the Prithvi missile as well as NBC simulations [15 ,16 ]; and Vijay Chakra involved a Prithvi missile group [27 ]. However, large-scale acquisition of NBC capabilities is extremely expensive. Indigenously developed individual protection kits cost Rs 12,000-15,000; while the cost of protection for a single infantry battalion can be around Rs 80 – 100 million [26 ]. Perhaps this is the reason why no large scale exercises with NBC equipment were held before Poorna Vijay, inspite of the Indian defense establishment’s awareness of the issues involved.

The second significant development was the extremely dense air defense environment provided for the attacking force, and the successful induction of low-level Indra-II radars during this exercise. Dense air defenses for an advancing corps raises the costs for penetration by enemy aircraft, and acts as a deterrent against a contemplated use of tactical nuclear weapons as a an easy and effective means of stopping an armoured thrust.

Strategic Aspects

Indian strategists have evolved a strategy since the early 1990’s for fighting a conventional war with Pakistan in such a way that the anticipated threshold for the use of nuclear weapons is not crossed. This strategy takes into account the geopolitical realities in the subcontinent, and is finely calibrated to achieve limited but significant strategic gains and inflict maximum punishment on Pakistan, while at the same time precluding the use of nuclear weapons. The strategy is founded on the choice of an attack location (in Central Rajasthan) that would permit movement massed armoured formations, and would strike Pakistan at a significantly vulnerable location. The attacking formation would affect a shallow penetration to draw out Pakistan’s strategic reserve formations. Once the strategic formations are engaged, the Indian air force and army would fight an attrition battle to inflict maximum casualties. At all times, the penetration into Pakistani territory would be carefully controlled to stay within the threshold of use of nuclear weapons.Sanjay Badri Maharaj [18 ] gives a detailed description of this scenario, and the geopolitical imperatives that drive the Indian strategy.

The centerpiece of Poorna Vijay was a 70 km thrust into enemy territory by a corps level or smaller force, accompanied by a battalion strength parachute jump. The 70 km thrust was accomplished in about two days, and prior to that, the attacking formation moved some 120-odd kilometers from its staging areas in some four days. These operational parameters are indicative of the army’s deployment and attack capabilities, and give us a rough approximation of how far and how quickly the army plans to conduct its offensive. The increasing use of para drops and special operations forces reveals greater sophistication of operational planning, and an increased confidence in the army’s ability to seize objectives in a stipulated time frame, because airborne forces can operate behind enemy lines for a limited time period. IAF’s participation in joint exercises has increased tremendously, which points to closer integration between the two services (and possibly with the navy too, but that is not the focus of this article).

These operational capabilities are independent of the specific geopolitical situation prevailing at the time of any future hostilities, so it is not really appropriate to assign capabilities to any one strategic scenario. In other words, it would not be correct to say that Poorna Vijay was intended as a rehearsal of an armoured thrust to Rahimyar Khan, although that objective does fall within the operational capabilities revealed by Poorna Vijay. The capabilities, then, could be used to accomplish one of several likely objectives: in a shallow thrust to gain territory as a bargaining chip; in an attack to draw out and grind down the enemy’s strategic reserves; or in a limited war situation to achieve some spatially or force-limited objectives. Significantly, the Indian military is now seeking to accomplish these objectives even after nuclear weapons have been used. In the final analysis, the main utility of these capabilities may be to introduce some caution in Pakistani thinking about the scope and limitations of a nuclear deterrent.

Acknowledgements and Disclaimer

This article benefited immensely from discussions on the Bharat Rakshak Forum ( on this and other topics. I am especially grateful to Johann Price and Rupak Chattopadhyay for their keen interest in my efforts; for their penetrating observations that I have shamelessly borrowed; and for providing me with an excellent initial compilation of articles on Poorna Vijay. The opinions presented in this article are entirely personal, and do not represent those of my employer or any other organization.


[i] Figures on the reported number of personnel involved vary wildly for this as well as other exercises. Poorna Vijay seems to have involved 40,000 personnel to 70,000 personnel. Figures for previous exercises show similar variation – Shiv Shakti involved 60,000 to 72,000 personnel depending upon who reported it, while Vijay Chakra involved 20,000 to 30,000 personnel.

[ii] These included MIG-21, MIG-23, MIG-27, MIG-29, Jaguar, IL-76, AN-32, Avros and Dorniers. The helicopters are Chetak, Cheetah, MI-8, MI-17, the newly-inductedMI-17 IV and attack helicopters MI-35 [7 ].

[iii] The Tribune (17 February 2000) states that the smaller Exercise Vijay Chakra, covered an area of 150 square km.

[iv] IAF’s nighttime combat capabilities have improved massively since then, as witnessed by the around-the-clock strikes in Operation Safed Sagar.


  1. India showcases its military might, HT Correspondent, Chandigarh, May 7,,
  2. Pioneer News Service, New Delhi, May 08 2001
  3. War games: Army downplays N-angle, Vishal Thapar, Thar Desert, May 10 2001, The Hindustan Times Online Edition
  4. Gaurav C Sawant, More exercises to help armed forces achieve Poorna Vijay, Indian Express Online Edition, 7 May 2001
  5. Two exercises to hone fighting skills, Defence India Consultants.
  6. Army, Air Force begin joint exercises, Bikaner, February 16 2000, Shishir Gupta, The Hindustan Times Online Edition.
  7. IAF to rework MiG 21 pilot training: Krishnaswamy, Express News Service, New Delhi, May 8 2001.
  8. Arun Sharma, Defense exercises in Punjab plains today, Indian Express, Wed May 15 2001, Jammu.
  9. PTI, May 17 2001, Army's other wargame Vijay Shakti ends, Hindustan Times Online Edition.(
  10. IAF grind in extreme conditions, Pioneer News Service, New Delhi, 9 May 2001.
  11. IAF pilots in Poorna Vijay learning to combat nuclear attack, Sutirtho Patranobis, New Delhi, 8 May 2001, The Newspaper Today.
  12. R. Prasannan, War Games, The Week Online Edition, 13 December 1998.
  13. Manoj Joshi, Future Combat, India Today Online Edition, 21 December 1998.
  14. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Satish Nambiar, Preparing for Purna Vijay, The Newspaper Today, 16 May 2001.
  15. Sanjay Badri Maharaj, The Armagedoon Factor, XXXX Press, 2000.
  16. Atul Aneja, Air Land Battle Concept to be Adopted, The Hindu Online Newspaper, 29 April 1999,
  17. R. Prasannan, War games, The Week Online Magazine, 13 December 1998,
  18. Shishir Gupta, Army, Air Force begin joint exercises, The Hindustan Times Online Newspaper, 17 February 2000.
  19. Operation Vijay Chakra (sic) begins in Thar deserts, The Daily Excelsior, 15 February 2000.
  20. Amarjit Thind, Tribune News Service, Exercise Vijay Chakra begins, 15 February 2000.
  21. Tribune News Service, Brahmastra to be an annual affair, 6 May 2000.
  22. Brahmastra, Daily Excelsior Editorial, 6 May 2000.
  23. Vijay Mohan, Tribune News Service, N-warfare training for recruits, 25 April 2001.
  24. India Times News Service, A fine show of the might of armed forces, 17 February 2000.
  25. John Cherian, An exercise in anticipation, Frontline Online Magazine, Volume 8 Issue 11, 26 May 2001.
  26. Heat and dust: Exercise Poorna Vijay, 1 September 2001.

About Valour and Glory: "Operation Parakram"

For any meaningful exercise to analyze and understand the sum and substance of Operation Parakrama, a close look at India’s approach to national security from the time it emerged from colonial rule would be necessary. A historical perspective is essential for grasping the psyche of the country’s leadership, or for fathoming the determinants of ‘national will’ or for assessing the attitude and capability of the Military as an instrument of national policy.

Even before we had gathered our wits after our tryst with destiny at the stroke of the midnight hour, the nation’s territorial integrity was imperiled. Tribal militias supported by the Pakistani Army had invaded Kashmir. A valiant rearguard action saved Srinagar. The ensuing counter offensive was aborted mid-stream and we accepted a UN imposed cease-fire along a line that divided Kashmir into two. The cease-fire in a way legitimized Pakistan’s aggression. Thereafter, Pakistan since then has politically and diplomatically ceaselessly laid claim to the rest of Kashmir. And in the pursuit of its claims Pakistan has not hesitated to use military force whenever in its perception opportunity came its way.  The Pakistani offensive of 1965 and the recent Kargil adventure plus the ongoing support to militancy in J&K, for more than a decade now, confirm the preceding observation.

In contrast, we have displayed uncommon passivity. We have rarely claimed that Pakistan must vacate the areas of Kashmir that it had occupied in 1947/48. We have never declared a national commitment to recover the territory lost to Pakistan nor have we ever indicated our resolve to use force if persuasion and dialogue does not elicit a commitment to amicably withdraw from Kashmir. For inexplicable reasons we have remained wholly defensive on the issue of Kashmir. This largely explains the absence of serious international support to our position on Kashmir. Marked by ambivalence, uncertainty, an absence of focus, and occasional bouts of submissiveness our Kashmir policy generally mirrors India’s approach to national security. The 1962 debacle against the Chinese only further proves the point.

Never in our history have we been proactive in the pursuit of our security interests. 1971 and the liberation of Bangladesh is frequently cited as the only example of the nation’s leadership managing the country’s defense with exceptional resoluteness and a commendable clarity of purpose. But here again, what is glossed over is that we were essentially reacting to an unfolding situation brought about by Pakistan’s genetic gift for self-destruct. Not that we are without our own masochistic streak. In the Shimla talks we failed to carry our success to its logical conclusion by not pushing for a binding agreement on Kashmir. The pain of that error still persists.

The country’s characteristic predilection for flip flop is also discernible in our acquisition of nuclear capability. Otherwise, how does one explain our going into the ‘sleep’ mode for 24 years after our first nuclear explosion in 1974? Or the suo moto declaration made by us after going overtly nuclear in 1998 that we shall not indulge in any further nuclear explosions when the capabilities that we need to develop a credible nuclear deterrence would require further testing.

We are not certain but perhaps there is only one exception in the Indo-Pak military stand off, before Parakrama, when the Pakistanis were apprehensive of our intentions. This was the time when we were conducting ‘Exercise Brass Tacks’. Otherwise, in our mutual history of over fifty years we have forever remained on the defensive. The totality of ‘Operation Parakrama’ should not be divorced from this disposition and background.

In Operation Parakrama, we see the cumulative effect of events and unrelenting instigation that have been discernible since the 1990s. That we have refrained from reacting for more than ten years is a reflection of what India is – an amalgam of infinite patience, tolerance, a marked capacity to drift, inertia and most notably a lack of self-confidence amongst its leaders, that prevents them from taking decisions.   

The terrorist attack on our Parliament, coming as it did after 9/11 was the proverbial last straw. We were left with no alternative but to react. What we are debating today is the timing and the methodology of our reaction and not the justification.  Were the political overdrive and the rhetoric that went with it, warranted? Could the military mobilization have been calibrated differently? Was the nuclear dimension ignored or considered only as an afterthought? And what about the diplomatic repercussions? Did these considerations receive the importance that they deserve as we moved the Armed Forces to their battle positions?  And what about Pakistan? The core of the problem! Had we figured out its possible reactions so that we remained one step ahead as the situation unfolded? The answers to these questions and many more would determine whether Operation Parakrama’s intellectual and conceptual parameters were fundamentally sound or not.

Without letting the innumerable, uncoordinated and often contradictory statements of our leaders color our judgment let us look at the mobilization of the Armed Forces that began somewhere around mid December last year. Such mobilization is undertaken basically for two contingencies. As a defensive measure if a military threat is feared or for using force against an adversary in consonance with identified national aims. In the case of the latter, the threat of use of force is inherent. Ideally the threat should suffice. Which is what the US is hoping for in the case of Iraq. Whether it will succeed is anybody’s guess. It requires enormous skill and adroitness in psychological warfare. The recent news of a haven for Saddam Hussein in Russia is a classic example of the levels of sophistication required to use the instrument of threat effectively. But if threat does not work, it is almost certain that force will be used at an appropriate time.

The threat of use of force was implicit in our mobilization if Pakistan did not consent to abandon support to militants and terrorists operating inside India. On this issue there are really no divergent views. Where there is a difference of opinion is on the next step - the actual application of force. There are many who firmly believe that the threat was enough and war was rightly avoided. The flaw in this position is much too obvious but as frequently in life here too, logic and right gets sacrificed at the alter of maturity, pragmatism and some vague notion of statesmanship. It does not matter if we are labeled as a ‘paper tiger’ or a soft, spineless nation or even if Pakistan gets encouraged to be even more reckless in its support to terrorism. Hopefully, the hand of fate will intervene. Maybe it is already beginning to, if one were to look a little deeply into recent events involving the exchange of fire between American and Pakistani soldiers.

If war or the use of force was not an option then we would have been wise to commence withdrawal on January 12, the day the Pakistani President declared in his address to the nation that he would not permit the use of his country’s soil for terrorism and support to Jihadi groups. That would have been action according to a design. Mission accomplished and troops back to barracks. Continued deployment, if the application of force was never seriously on the agenda only permitted the shock effect to wear out on Pakistan and was without any corresponding benefit to us. The temptation to appear wise after the event is difficult to resist! 

There is considerable satisfaction to be drawn from the purely military dimension of Operation Parakrama. From all reports, the total mobilization of the Armed Forces was smooth and was accomplished according to ‘book timings’. It was perhaps for the first time that a mobilization of this magnitude was undertaken with the urgency that a ‘zero warning’ war situation demands. All agencies involved in the implementation of this deployment for war, deserve credit.

Again, in training and fine-tuning battle procedures, the Armed Forces would have benefited significantly during the period that they remained deployed. It is understood that a deliberate effort was made to gainfully utilize this opportunity for honing individual skills, integrating battle groups and for rehearsing likely operational roles. Similarly, issues of coordination among the three services would have been addressed. Altogether, the combat potential of the defense forces would have decidedly grown during this period. This is a big plus.

It is reported that the state of equipment of the three services also improved considerably during this period. The process had begun during the Kargil War but Tehelka and the CAG reports had slowed the process. Parakrama would have again emphasized the vital importance of keeping the defense services well equipped. The issue of wear and tear of equipment due to extended deployment, it appears, has been exaggerated. Admittedly, there would have been some deterioration but on balance the equipment state at the end of any such crisis improves. What is now important is to maintain the momentum and not let the process of acquisitions slip behind schedule. The rate of build up of capability will have a corresponding effect on Pakistani morale. A preponderant force ratio in our favor will also give us greater flexibility and thus more military options. Our ultimate aim should be to acquire a punitive capability so that Pakistan can be coerced into giving up its covert war strategy and become more amenable to accepting that India cannot give up Kashmir.

Morale has been a subject of concern because of the protracted deployment. It would be unfair to assume that the military leadership would not have been alive to this problem. Some sections of the media have talked of low morale. Such reports are baseless and should be desisted from for they do not have any constructive intent and can be harmful. Military morale is an infinitely elastic phenomenon and the nation must recognize its responsibility towards lifting the morale of its soldiers. Those who know the Indian soldier are aware of his resilience and the little that it takes to keep him motivated. The odd incidents of indiscipline or soldiers running amok are being blown out of proportion. In such situations, some stress and monotony is bound to occur. Similarly, there would be the inevitable questions by a few on the purpose of being kept out on the front with nothing apparently achieved. Our officers have a tradition of leading from the front and these are issues that they can handle. After all, they have been doing this successfully for the last fifty years. Yet, a word of caution; it would be unwise for the society, the bureaucracy and the political leadership to not have a sense of responsibility towards our Armed Forces and a commitment to honor and care for them. There is plenty that the nation should do to further motivate its priceless soldiers, sailors and airmen. Just because they continue to deliver uncomplainingly, they should not be taken for granted.

While it is rightly contended that the deployment did not achieve the declared aims of Pakistan stopping its support to militants and terrorists and the release of some of our wanted criminals and terrorists, Parakrama was not without a definite impact on Pakistan. Our rapid and massive build-up on the border and the mobilization of the Air Force and the Navy unsettled that country. Our recognized conventional military superiority made the Pakistanis apprehensive about the outcome of a war. Behind the shrill claims of a devastating riposte if India dared to attack, the symptoms of fear were becoming increasingly discernible across all strata of Pakistani society. After all, President Musharaf’s historical turn around in January last year was not without reason.

The winds of change in Pakistan have since begun to blow. They may yet be mild but if fanned sensibly, they can gather sufficient strength to bring about a reorientation in Pakistan that sees the wisdom of living in peace with India. Uncertainty can be debilitating to a nation’s psyche; this time the Indians withdrew but how can we be sure that the next time there is a provocation India does not attack Pakistan? Any attempt to match the conventional military strength of India will definitely bring about the economic collapse of Pakistan and its nuclear brinkmanship does not seem to be working. Will these realities lead to a petering out of the proxy war in Kashmir with the passage of time? And what else should we do to further trigger the change? Our future strategy must hinge around the answers to these questions.

Internationally, Parakrama focussed the arc lights on India’s threshold of tolerance to Pakistan supported terrorism. While there may not have been worldwide acceptance and endorsement of our position, we can claim reasonable diplomatic success from the overall outcome. We have today quite a few nations led by the US trying to convince Pakistan to stop support to terrorism and at the same time chastising Pakistan for its irresponsible utterances with regard to weapons of mass destruction. Some of us may feel that the US is merely stringing us along and not doing enough to pressure Pakistan. If that is so then we need to do more to bring Indo-US relations on a more even keel.

Within India it is strange that the end of Parakrama went virtually unnoticed. But should we have expected differently? For the withdrawal coincided with the end of elections in J&K and the beginning of the election campaign in Gujarat. The core of India is electoral politics; national security or for that matter, development are peripheral issues. Unless this changes, the future of India will remain hostage to political vagaries.  

The military is now back in its barracks after staying on alert for almost a year. It deserves to now rest and recharge for a while. Even while it does so it cannot let down its guard. Come summer and the call of duty may again beckon.  

This piece appeared in the India Defence Review and is presented here with the permission of the editor. 

Thoughts on Operation Parakrama

The year 2002 was a watershed year for strategic studies in India. The centerpiece of the year was the near-war with Pakistan. The crisis gave people in India their first glimpse of what a conflict with Pakistan would entail. Two items that stood out in plain sight were Pakistan's capacity for nuclear aggression and the Western attachment for Pakistan.

After the Kargil war, Indian analysts had concluded that the conventional threat from Pakistan had receded. The Pakistanis had attempted to portray their Kargil invasion as a successful attempt to disrupt National Highway-1A and as a serious dent to India's ability to defend Siachen. This was untrue, Kargil imposed a high military cost on the Pakistanis, and alerted the Government of India to the vulnerability of NH-1A. The Indian countermoves to this foreclosed the possibility of ever challenging the NH-1A or threatening India on the Saltoro Ridge.

After the Kargil failure, the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was toppled in a military coup in October 1999. General Pervez Musharraf, COAS of the Pakistan Army appointed himself as the 'CEO' of Pakistan. In doing so, Pervez Musharraf discredited any institution in Pakistan that could appear to be an alternative to the Pakistan Army and brought about a de-facto Praetorian state.

The coup was poorly received in India. According to Indian analysts, General Musharraf is the quintessential post-1971 Pakistani soldier. He is strongly driven by a desire to avenge the terrible defeat of 1971. He is also a great believer in guerrilla warfare and has a long history of practicing it. In the 1980s, Pervez Musharraf used his expertise in the 'stay-behind' operations for the CIA funded Afghan Jihad. In the 1990s this very same 'stay-behind' capacity was used in sponsoring terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and in supporting the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In contrast to the Indian perception, Musharraf's American friends loved him. They lent his government considerable support. With American media support, General Musharraf successfully portrayed himself as a 'Western Gentleman' living in 'a poor Pakistan'. This image doctoring was necessary to assuage Western anxieties that Pakistan's nuclear weapons were not in the 'wrong hands.' Indians knew that the West was blind to Pakistani sponsorship of terror in India, but this media jamboree was considered disgusting.

Indian analysts felt General Musharraf was the textbook insurgent. He disliked meeting an adversary in the field and he would use deception to avoid this. The ease with which Musharraf deceived the West seemed a sign of terrible things to come. It was also generally accepted in India that Musharraf would not relinquish the use of terror in the pursuit of Pakistani security goals. Most people in India compared General Musharraf to General Zia ul Haq, dictator of Pakistan in the 1980s. General Musharraf had a long association with General Zia and it was thought that they shared a common vision for Pakistan. General Zia had envisioned using a religiously motivated Army of Islam, a Jihadi Army, to fight India. His idea relied on using these Jihadis in conjunction with Pakistani Special Forces to carry out sabotage behind Indian lines. The Pakistanis felt that a 'stay behind' force would be able to soften the ground under India's feet. This in turn would either create a state of extreme communal distress in India or quite possibly unbalance any Indian offensive.

The Pakistanis didn't feel that these 'unconventional' operations would guarantee success in the battlefield. Thus emphasis was also placed on maintaining a huge conventional army in Pakistan. In the 1980s this conventional army was armed with a lot of imported high quality equipment and drilled in several types of military manoeuvres. Pakistani strategists had concluded that the Pakistani conventional forces despite appearances would be unable to hold-off a determined thrust by the Indian Army. To make up for this failure, the Pakistanis spent the bulk of the 1980s clandestinely procuring, developing nuclear weapons and its delivery systems. So the basic model of Pakistani strategy was a layer cake. The Army of Islam was at the bottom, on top of that was the uniformed army and above that was the nuclear weapons development and delivery community. Throughout the 1990s, Pakistan's economy crumbled, the ability to maintain any sort of conventional armed forces declined and confidence ebbed. By contrast nuclear weapons development boomed, several new delivery platforms were developed and in 1998 Pakistan tested some nuclear devices within weeks of India's tests. In the months that followed General Musharraf's coup, the Government of Pakistan released details of its nuclear doctrine through favourable sources. An interesting series of scenarios appeared from a reputable American institution. These scenarios fell along the following lines:

  • A terrorist act in India forces it to launch a major offensive against suspected camps in POK.
  • The Pakistani Army stands firm and slows down the Indian advance.
  • Indian numerical superiority breaches the Pakistani defense lines.
  • Pakistan uses a nuclear weapon on the Indian spearhead and stops it.
  • At this point the international community intervenes and stops the conflict.

Irrespective of the feasibility, a key element of the scenarios was that Pakistan still relied on its conventional armed forces capability to deflect any Indian military punishment for Pakistani terrorism in India. This sort of thinking gave the Pakistani Army a psychological edge to hold over the Pakistani people. This edge was necessary since Musharraf used the Army to run the administration. Therein lay the paradox; an army cannot be combat ready while running civil affairs. So while the Indian Army drilled and conducted gigantic manoeuvre exercises, the Pakistani Army went about its day collecting unpaid phone and utility charges, tracing fraud in land transactions, and cleaning the drains and streets in Karachi, etc. This fact went unnoticed by most observers in the region. Ordinary Pakistanis perhaps believing their own army controlled press, refused to acknowledge the subtle message the Indian Army exercises seemed to be sending.

However, Pakistani military strategists understood exactly what Indian exercises were saying. They wanted to build up their capacity to resist this but they lacked money. The failing Pakistani economy could barely support the cost of running the secret Army of Islam and the clandestine nuclear program. The only way to pay for conventional arms was to somehow 'revitalize' Pakistan's economic relationship with the United States. The tragic events of 11 September 2001 proved to be just the opportunity for the Pakistanis to gain US favour. On 12 September 2001, General Pervez Musharraf abandoned his creation, the Taliban. He offered the Americans his total support in their 'war on terror'. By leveraging his support, Pervez Musharraf was able to arrange for the withdrawal of most of the Pakistan Army units that were operating in Afghanistan. He was also able to secure the release of a vast number of fighters from the Army of Islam constituents like the Harkat-ul-Mujaheddin. This sudden policy shift predictably created a severe strain within Pakistan, but General Musharraf used his contacts within the Jihadi groups to carefully arrange demonstrations and used the media coverage of this to hold out the prospect of an Al Qaida sponsored Islamist coup. In this way, Pervez Musharraf was able to scare the Western countries into supporting him. Ironically as the tattered remains of the Army of Islam returned to Pakistan from Afghanistan in October 2001, they fulfilled General Zia's vision and created a large standing army in Pakistan.

Throughout the 1990s, Indian strategists had come up with several countermeasures to the 'unconventional' warfare used by Pakistan. Against that backdrop most Indian strategists simply did not believe that Musharraf was serious about his promises to the Americans to fight Islamists in Pakistan. From an Indian perspective, it seemed obvious that Musharraf would use the India-Pakistan conflict to deflect any Jihadi pressure that might build up inside Pakistan. The events of October 2001 and 13 December 2001, proved this to be correct. As news of these attacks broke, public anger in India mounted. The author feels that at this point the Government of India simply had to find a way of telling Pervez Musharraf that he could not dump his problems with the West on India. Something had to be done to make sure that the Pakistani Army could not shove all the Jihadis coming back from Afghanistan into India. Unfortunately for the GoI, Musharraf and the Jihadis interpreted diplomacy to be a sign of weakness. It was a generally accepted fact that they only understood the language of force. The public distaste for Pakistani terrorism legitimized the language of force. The question before Govt. of India was which instrument of force best sends the message. The Government most probably considered the following options:

  1. Activate a number of punitive measures that stop industry in Pakistan or,
  2. Start a campaign of covert action, which rips the fabric of Pakistani society or,
  3. Carry out limited cross-border strikes on centers of terrorist activity or,
  4. Initiate a theatre level conventional manoeuvre and cripple the Pakistan Army.

The first option would be ineffective in the face of American economic support for Pakistan. The second option would take time to take effect, in the interregnum the Pakistanis would be egged on to further their campaign of terror. The third option was once considered very reliable, but over time the Pakistanis had consolidated their infrastructure and that limited this option. The fourth option was considered very workable but in it lay the possibility of a breakdown of deterrence. It could also be successfully argued that the first three options would eventually push India and Pakistan up the ladder of escalation. All things considered it would have been extremely unwise to wander up the ladder of escalation unprepared. It is the author's opinion that at this point the GoI simply picked a point on the escalatory ladder that it was comfortable with and aimed policy at that one point. The Govt. of India ordered a massive military mobilization. Within a week, several corps formations left their peacetime stations. The author feels that Pakistani ground intelligence teams could not keep track of all the moves. The Pakistanis were now faced with the possibility of an invasion. They responded with their own mobilization but soon discovered severe logistical problems. So as the Pakistani army fumbled about constructing new defense lines. The Indian Army quickly occupied pre-arranged positions along the western border. Pretty soon the futility of their situation was apparent to the Pakistanis. The size and speed of the Indian mobilization stumped them. On the Indian side deterrence calculations were underway. The author feels that a plausible scheme for conventional manoeuvre below the nuclear thresholds set by Pakistan could have been something like this

  • The Indian Armed forces launch a strike that breaches enemy lines.
  • The Pakistani forces quickly send their forces towards the breach.
  • These Pakistanis take heavy casualties as India forces numbers through the breach. This causes the entire line to weaken.
  • Sensing the collapse of the entire line the Gen. Musharraf orders his units to disengage and pull away for a nuclear strike.
  • At this point the Indian units disengage also and merely hold land that they have taken without actually advancing further into Pakistani territory.
  • The proven ability of the Indian Army to operate in an NBC environment and to carry out a counter strike would act as a deterrent to Pakistani nuclear use.

Such a manoeuvre would create a highly visible failure that General Musharraf would be unable to deflect blame for. Musharraf would lose face with his people. It is possible that with American support General Musharraf would be able to survive this event, but the Pakistani Army would lose its standing in society. The author feels that General Musharraf was aware of this and thus expanded cooperation with the Americans and in return probably obtained current intelligence on the positions of India's formations. He also used a lot of his built up political capital with the US to pressurize India's government and its economy. As it was possible that this would not stop India, the author guesses that General Musharraf also conceptualized the following countermove to an Indian strike:

A screening force comprising some units of the Pakistan army meets the Indian thrust as it penetrates the forward defense lines.
The screening force is soon supplemented with a large complement of Jihadis.
The Jihadis carry out suicide attacks on the Indian spearheads and remain in continuous contact with the Indian units.
If the Indian attacks do not stall due to the human wave, Musharraf would then deploy a nuclear warhead. The Indian Army unit would have no warning, as the enemy would not disengage before the device was used.
After this point Musharraf reasoned that international pressure would stop the war.

There were some crucial points in this response. A regular army contribution to the screening force was essential. This meant that someone sufficiently highly placed within the Pakistan Army had to lead the troops against the Indian thrust and die in the nuclear strike if it materialized. It comes as no surprise to the author that such an idea did not actually find support in the Pakistani Army General Staff. The author suspects that the lack of support for this idea forced Gen. Musharraf into making nuclear threats. In a public speech around new years day 2003, Gen. Musharraf told his top military commanders that he had told India's Prime Minister Vajpayee that he would attack Indian troops in an 'unconventional' way if they crossed any of Pakistan's borders. Gen. Musharraf insisted that his threat caused India to back off. For its part the US also played a major role in ensuring a strong disincentive to conventional manoeuvre by India. Reports appearing in the media indicate that not only did the US supply the Pakistanis with intelligence information about India's military formations; it also applied tremendous diplomatic pressure on India. When this proved to be inadequate, the US applied economic pressure to India. Most of this pressure was relayed through elements of India's export industries. The US essentially assured General Musharraf that despite any suspicions of his involvement in the September 11th terror attacks, it would do its bit to 'even out' the fight between him and India, and it stuck to that promise. The immense enthusiasm displayed by some people in India for American peace initiatives was noteworthy.

It is hard to ignore that as far as India was concerned, General Musharraf had just publicly announced that the conventional army of Pakistan was utterly incapable of defending its borders. General Musharraf had in plain words told Pakistan that he would have to initiate a nuclear war if need be to protect his army from harm. This reversed the whole notion of the Pakistani Army being a force that takes the bullet to save the lives of fellow Pakistanis. In addition to this Gen. Musharraf gave a crucial assurance to clamp down on the activities of the Army of Islam and even agreed publicly to an end to infiltration. Irrespective of whether the promises were kept, this degraded the standing of the Pakistan Army and Gen. Musharraf in the eyes of the Pakistani people. The prevailing impression of Pervez Musharraf as being a man of infinite malleability grew. Having publicly made all these statements, Pervez Musharraf was now caught in a difficult position; a climb down would force him to tell the Pakistani people that they can't fight India and without a climb down he would have to depend totally on the Islamists and the Pakistani nuclear weapons to remain in power.

In conclusion the author feels that it is unlikely that Musharraf could sustain the cost of a climb down, so he will chose to remain high up on the ladder of escalation. This step will strain his relationship with the West and it will totally restrict any attempt to carry out conventional aggression against India ever again. The possibility of unconventional warfare launched at General Musharraf's behest remains open. This will need a completely separate set of strategic tools to handle, however the mobilization by itself has made infiltration quite difficult as most the LoC and the border are quite heavily policed now. The author feels that Operation Parakram has achieved its set goals. However certain sections of the population retain an impression that Parakram was a failed attempt to physically invade Pakistan. Such an impression is not unusual in the fog of war. This impression needs to be dispelled to avoid miscommunication of India's intentions. From the perspective of strategic study also Operation Parakram is a valuable contribution. It highlights crucial aspects of the 'war of ladders' that is commonly seen in conflicts with a backdrop of WMD based deterrence.

Operation Sarp Vinash

The counterterrorism operation Sarp Vinash (Operation Destroy Serpents) was carried out in four phases, from January to May 2003. The operation took place in the Surankote area of the Pir Panjal Range that separates the Kashmir valley from Jammu. The operations were initially conducted in the region bounded by the Ranjati, Wansi, and Said Baker ridges (Figure 1).[1] The target of the operations was a terrorist complex southwest of Poonch (Figure 2, Figure 3). The main portion of the terrorist complex was near the village of Hilkaka, a center for transient Bakarwal herders.

Figure 1: An aerial view of the area of operations

Figure 2 :  A map of the Poonch district

Figure 3 : Detailed topographic map of the region
(based on US Army Topographic Service Maps, courtesy Manku Thimma)

Key Features of the Operation 

The operation was carried out primarily by Counter Insurgency Force (R). CIF (R) is commonly referred to as Romeo Force.  The operation took place in four phases.  In the first phase, from about November 2002 to January 2003, CIF(R) developed the physical infrastructure necessary for conduct of operations, by constructing helipads and mule tracks.  In the second phase, bases surrounding the target region were established, and migrant herders from the area were resettled elsewhere and compensated by the state government.  Around 21 April 2003, in the third phase, a cordon was thrown around the entire region to prevent any unauthorized entry or exit into the Hilkaka area and the forces moved in to attack or occupy tactically vital positions within the area.  Finally, in the fourth phase (which began on 3 May 2003), attacks and sweeps were mounted to eliminate terrorists taking shelter in the area [2] .

The operation resulted in extermination of about 65 terrorists and the loss of some 4 soldiers. Army estimates indicated about 100 terrorists in the Hilkaka area, and some 3,500 in the state at any time3 .  The 9th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (Special Forces) played a vital role in leading the attacks on terrorist bases, and they were supported by sweeps and ambushes mounted by six other units of 163 Infantry Brigade (Thana Mandi Brigade) and 12 Sector Rashtriya Rifles: 2/4 Gorkha Rifles, 15 Garhwal Rifles, 4 Garhwal Rifles, 16 and 20 Rashtriya Rifles [3] . Follow-up operations have been planned to exploit the success of Sarp Vinash [4] .


The purpose and potential impact of operations undertaken in Sarp Vinash can be understood by reviewing the geography and recent history of the Poonch and Rajauri districts.  These districts are isolated from rest of India by the steep flanks and thick forests of the Pir Panjal range.  At the same time, the spurs of the Pir Panjals are in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and they provide easy and sheltered access for terrorists infiltrating into Indian territory.  The inaccessibility of vast tracts within the Pir Panjals, and the inadequacy of civilian government institutions, has made them a terrorist sanctuary [5] . 

The Indian security forces can, at best, contain terrorism in these areas by mounting area dominance patrols in the surrounding lowlands and periodically mounting operations to flush out terrorists from their mountain lairs, even for the Surankote area [6] ,[7] ,[8] . Most notably, 6 Infantry Division conducted sweeps of the region after Operation Vijay, in 1999 [9] . However, since the thinly stretched security forces have lacked adequate manpower, the gains of the flushing operations have been fleeting. The winter months, in particular, large parts of the region are totally cut off from the rest of the country.

As a result, the terrorists escape to sanctuaries in the upper reaches of the Pir Panjals, and spend the winter months recuperating and rebuilding for another season of terror. The presence of migratory Bakarwals and Gujjars in the region further complicates anti-terrorism efforts. Many of these herders have been bribed or intimidated into becoming the eyes and ears of the terrorists and their Pakistani mentors. Furthermore, terrorists can evade detection by disguising themselves as herders. The remoteness of the region and harshness of terrain exacerbate the difficulty of anti-terrorist sweeps. Since military forces have to patrol over well-known trails, their approach can be detected by well placed lookouts. The terrain affords plenty of places for the terrorists to melt into, once they have been forewarned of the approach of security forces. Finally, the weakness of civilian government and lack of adequate police forces means that quality intelligence is not available on the movements and lairs of terrorists in these areas.

Pakistani terrorists took advantage of the adverse geography of the region to build up important terrorist nodes in this area.  Bases destroyed during Sarp Vinash contained large stocks of foodstuffs, communications equipment, arms, ammunition, and even medicines [10] .  The nature and quantity of supplies and the presence of bunkers has led to media comparisons with Kargil infiltrations.  Such comparisons are fundamentally flawed because terrorists operate very differently from regular military units. All insurgencies, even those in the destabilisation phase (i.e. as opposed to the full blown guerrilla and conventional phases), require logistical bases to sustain them. Unlike the Kargil intrusion, these kinds of retreats have existed in the State's more remote areas from almost the beginning of the insurgency in 1989. Terrorists have no interest in holding territory, and they are unlikely to stand and fight like regular army units. Their survival depends on being elusive and mobile; their bases are chosen not for dominating territory but for ease of concealment. The rugged terrain along the LOC makes a total cap on cross-border infiltration impossible, so there is no way that security forces can prevent well concealed support bases such as the ones in Hilkaka from coming up.  In such a situation, security forces have to rely on patrols, anti-terrorist sweeps, and intelligence to keep such bases from taking root, much as gardeners have to be continuously vigilant against weeds.

The Rashtriya Rifiles (RR) were raised to free regular army units from counter terrorism duties, and to operate in these remote areas.  CIF (R) came into being after Kargil, to relieve 39 Mountain Division of counter terrorism duties and to act in concert with CIF (D) (Delta Force) and CIF (V) (Victor Force).  Recently, as a result of continuing raisings of new RR formations post-Kargil, the CIF (U) (Unicorn Force) was raised to further augment RR presence in the Pir Panjal region.  The scale of manpower requirements for policing the Pir Panjals can be gauged from the fact that more than a corps equivalent of RR formations is now operational in the area: CIF (R) in Rajauri area, CIF (D) in Doda area, CIF (V) in southern Kashmir Valley, and CIF (U) in the Udhampur/Banihal area.  During Operation Parakram, about four infantry divisions were moved to Northern Command areas.  At least one of these (27 Mountain Division) is known to have stayed behind even after Operation Parakram wound down.  CIF (R), the force responsible for mounting Sarp Vinash, is currently estimated to operate in the Rajauri region.  The other forces with operational areas abutting CIF (R) operations area are estimated to be 25 Infantry Division to the west and north, CIF (V) to the northeast, CIF (D) to the east, and CIF (U) to the south and southeast.

Sarp Vinash is a watershed in counterterrorist operations because it represents the crystallization of three positive trends in India's conduct of its war against terrorism: the steady rise in dedicated anti-terrorist force strengths and improvement in their fighting ability through specialized training, weaponry, and intelligence gathering means; greater attention to development of infrastructure; and a substantial improvement in the political climate of the valley following the 2002 state assembly elections.

As previously noted, Indian security forces have been unable to do more than containing terrorism in the Pir Panjals due to the vastness and inaccessibility of the region. While India does field substantial military and para-military forces, the intrusions in the Kargil region brought forth the realization that the forces were thinly stretched and inadequate for the task of manning the harsh terrain of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh [11] . This resulted in the belated but wise decision to significantly ramp up force levels in paramilitary forces such as RR, Assam Rifles, BSF, and CRPF, with a view to free the army up from anti-terrorist duties. Since 1999, an estimated 20 battalions of RR have been raised, and force levels in the other paramilitary agencies have also witnessed similar increases. The manpower levels are finally approaching the critical mass required to effectively take the war to the terrorists in the Pir Panjals. Perhaps the most significant difference between Sarp Vinash and previous operations is that an additional 10 battalions were introduced to the Pir Panjal area after the conclusion of Phase 4 of Sarp Vinash [12] . One battalion will be stationed in the area even after the mopping-up operations are completed.  The permanently deployed battalion will ensure that the gains of Sarp Vinash are not fleeting, as in previous occasions when terrorists managed to regroup in the area after sweeps by security forces.

The increased force levels have also been accompanied by a steady buildup of infrastructure to support them.  The laying of tracks and building of helipads in preparation of Sarp Vinash indicates that the intent of security forces is to secure their gains by improving accessibility, and thereby permitting security forces greater mobility and logistic sustenance.  This focus on improving infrastructure as a means of denying terrorists freedom of movement is also seen on a broader scale.  To prevent Pakistan backed infiltration efforts, BSF battalions continue to build fences on the international border in the Jammu area, despite Pakistani shelling.  The army also has plans to install surveillance devices along the Line of Control, and to block known infiltration routes with barbed wire fences [13] . Improved infrastructure acts as a force multiplier by affording greater mobility to security forces, fewer hiding places for terrorists, and fewer reasons for the general populace to be disgruntled against the government or intimidated by terrorists. 

The second positive trend is the upgradation of skills and weaponry within the security forces. The training of anti-terrorist forces has been upgraded; special automatic weapons, night vision devices, battlefield surveillance radars, and other monitoring devices are being procured [14] . The ability of security forces to mount night operations has improved dramatically, as shown by the high success rate in killing terrorists. Sarp Vinash was more of an intelligence-driven operation rather than a fruitless jungle-bashing sweep, as was the case for operations of this scale in the past. In Sarp Vinash itself, far greater reliance was placed on intelligence collection through high-tech equipment such as UAVs, and in general, Army sources have been quoted as saying that in recent times almost 70% of terrorist kills along the LOC [15] could be attributed to better intelligence.  The increased capability in intelligence gathering, in particular, can act as a tremendous force multiplier by positively impacting the morale of the security forces; bolstering the confidence of local populace in the security forces; and sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt among the ranks of the terrorists.

Finally, the importance of the improved political climate in this troubled Indian state cannot be emphasized enough [16] . The successful conduct of elections in the face of terrorist opposition renewed and bolstered the credibility of India's Kashmir policy, and freed up political and diplomatic space for a far more aggressive stance against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. The successful resettlement of migrant herders away from Surankote area is evidence of the current government's significant role in creating a new environment in the state that is far more supportive of India's moves to heal the wounds of insurgency than ever before. One definitive indicator of the Kashmiri acceptance of India's sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir is the success of President of India Abdul Kalam's visit to the state, and the well-attended political rallies held in Kashmir by mainstream Indian political parties such as Congress (I) [17] .

The rejuvenated sense of belonging among local Kashmiris has translated into active support for Indian troops fighting the terrorist menace in the region. Operation Sarp Vinash is reported to have been initiated on the basis of intelligence provided by locals in the Hilkaka area, and it was mounted with the active support and participation of Poonch district citizens who gave up comfortable jobs in the Gulf region to defend their homes against terrorists [18] . In an economic dimension to the political fight against terrorism, several new infrastructure initiatives, most notably the proposed Rohtang Tunnel project [19] and the construction of a railway line between Udhampur in Jammu and Baramulla in the Valley have been started, to build up the infrastructure to improve accessibility to remote areas of the state. Smaller and less visible projects have also been undertaken since 1999 to improve accessibility to posts on the LOC in previously inaccessible areas. The economic boost provided by these projects (through direct employment as well as increased opportunities for year-round commerce and tourism) will further help in improving the lot of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and reduce their sense of isolation from the Indian heartland.


Operation Sarp Vinash was certainly not the first counter-terrorist operation of its type or scale.  There have been other similar operations in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir.  What set Sarp Vinash apart from the other operations was the meticulous groundwork laid before the operation commenced, and the follow up steps taken after the conclusion of the first phase of the operation, to consolidate gains. The operation is a coming of age story for the Rashtriya Rifles Force Headquarters, which have now have the resources to mount and lead division level operations of their own. The scale of operations and their attendant success were made possible by several ongoing trends in India's counter-terrorism strategy:  a willingness to invest in dedicated manpower, attention to infrastructure development for supporting counter-terrorism operations, better equipment and training of forces, and last but not least, a dramatically improved political climate in the state that supports anti-terrorist efforts.

The national and state administrations and their security and intelligence services deserve to be congratulated on a well-conceived and executed operation. It is hoped that the success of this operation will be a harbinger of even greater victories against the global scourge of terrorism.  The best benchmark for the success of the operation would be reduction in terrorist activity emanating from bases in the Hilkaka area.  While this may not translate into improved statistics in the fight against terrorism in the short run, the positive opportunities created by the removal of an ever-present threat should do wonders for the development and well being of the people of Poonch in particular, and the people of the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir in general.


The author would like to thank Mr Johann Price for his insightful comments and his help in enhancing the quality of the article, and Gen Afsir Karim for his painstaking review.  Members of Bharat Rakshak Forum, particularly Mr Sunil, provided links that eased the author's burden of collecting references, and Mr Manku Thimma kindly provided an annotated topographical map to accompany the article.  The thoughts expressed in this article are the author's personal opinions, and they do not reflect the views of his employers, or of the administrators of Bharat Rakshak Forum and Bharat Rakshak Monitor.  Any factual errors are the author's responsibility.


  1. Sujan Datta, Operation Sarp Vinash: A guided tour, The Telgraph
  2. Josy Joseph, Operation 'Sarp Vinash': Over 60 terrorists killed,
  3.  Maj Gen Ashok Mehta (retired), Time to Terrorise the Terrorist, The Daily Pioneer
  4. Army to launch "Operation Sarp Vinash II" in JK
  5. Praveen Swamy, Frontline, Catch Them Young
  9. Kanwar Sandhu, Security forces skate on J-K's thin ice, Indian Express
  10. The Pioneer Edit Desk, Serpents Defanged, The Pioneer, 26 May 2003
  11. We didn't have enough men to bust terror base: Army, Hindustan Times,0008.htm
  13. Sandeep Dikshit, The Hindu, 21 May 2003 India starts blocking infiltration routes
  14. Thermal imagers to aid army operations, NDTV online report
  15. Varsha Bhosle, The Lamb That Roared
  16. Joanna Slater, The Far Eastern Economic Review (6/19) Kashmiris and Tourists Share New Sense of Optimism
  17. Gandhi in rare Kashmir address, BBC News World Edition
  18. Arun Sharma, The Indian Express, Hilkaka's untold story: NRIs came home to fight terrorists
  19. Tribune News Service, PM Announces Rhotang Tunnel

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Dig Vijay to Divya Astra : a Paradigm Shift in the Indian Army's Doctrine

When General Krishna Rao was the Chief of the Indian Army, he asked a relatively unknown corps commander to conduct Exercise Digvijay for testing a new doctrine for war against Pakistan.  The doctrine called for massing of offensive army formations to strike deep towards politically important objectives, with aid from the Indian Air Force and Navy.  It reached maturity with three “Strike Corps” being used in Exercise Brass Tacks, by the then famous General Krishnaswamy Sundarji.  This vision of armoured formations slicing towards the Indus framed the strategic context for the expected all-out war between India and Pakistan.  The strategy of dismembering Pakistan, however, faces a stalemate – ironically, Brass Tacks was also the first of many instances in which Pakistan brandished its nuclear weapons as a deterrent against conventional rout. 

Some two decades later, the Army is reevaluating its options for breaking this strategic stalemate, and it has unveiled a new war-fighting doctrine called “Cold Start”.  Cold Start calls for rapid deployment of “Integrated Battle Groups” comprising of elements of Army, Air Force, and if need be, Navy, to conduct high-intensity operations.  These battle groups could be used individually for limited operations, or in conjunction for operations of greater scale.  The one vital element that distinguishes Cold Start from its predecessor is that a decisive military victory is no longer held as the only goal of any war against Pakistan.  Pakistan claims that the threat of a disastrous defeat or dismemberment would lead it to use nuclear weapons.  By employing or threatening to employ the entire might of its offensive power, India would be signaling an intent that may be far disproportionate to its actual objectives.  The purpose of the newly proposed doctrine, therefore, is to increase the range of options available to India for fighting and winning a war against Pakistan by moving away from an all or nothing strategy.  A rapid deployment and quick securing of limited objectives can be used to achieve limited political objectives before international intervention kicks in or before the conflict spirals out of hand into a nuclear exchange.

The Indian Army initially attempted to fight a war in a nuclear backdrop by strengthening its abilities to fight a nuclear war and by adopting corresponding tactics.  This approach stemmed from Pakistan’s declared willingness to use nuclear weapons on advancing Indian forces, especially those that looked like they were making vital strategic gains.  The Army’s response was to boost the mobility of its formations by shifting to round-the-clock operations (as seen in Exercises Shiv Shakti, Vijay Chakra, and Poorna Vijay), and by practicing airborne drops for rapidly deploying key forces.  These exercises also tested dispersal of formations to minimize impact of nuclear weapons, decontamination procedures, and logistics for formations advancing in contaminated areas.  Through the nineties, attempts were also made to achieve integrated combat plans between the three services, most notably in Exercise Bhramastra.  In sum, early thinking mainly concentrated on securing and retaining objectives under the assumption that nuclear weapons could be used at some stage in the conflict.

Operation Parakram, the full-scale deployment of India’s armed forces after the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament on 13 December 2001, was the biggest test of this doctrine of massed operations.  Operation Parakram saw the IAF being deployed to combat stations in a matter of days; the bulk of the Indian Army was massed against Pakistan in two to three weeks.  Subsequent reports have tried to portray the movement of the army formations as ponderous, but these reports downplay the surprise and concern felt by the Pakistani military at the rapidity of deployment of massive division and corps level formations over hundreds of kilometers.  The reality was that the movement by key elements of II Strike Corps was rapid enough to prompt US intervention and caused the removal of the commander who authorized their deployment.  The smoothness of the deployment exercise undoubtedly contributed to the Indian Army’s confidence in its abilities to initiate rapid deployments and operations.

However, unexpectedly rapid deployment was not sufficient to permit political initiative to be retained on the Indian side.  There were significant elements not related to the actual speed of the movement that contributed to this loss of political initiative: the international community did not favor dismemberment of Pakistan; and the Indian response conformed to the predictable patterns established by the doctrine of massed warfare.  It is difficult to say with any certainty whether the Indian government intended to use the massive deployment as a bargaining tool in itself or whether the deployment was really a precursor to all-out war. In either case, the actual experience showed that India’s intentions were gauged principally by the massing and movement of its strike formations.     

The key lesson of Operation Parakram, therefore, was that an offensive strategy structured for dismemberment of Pakistan proved to be too inflexible to be calibrated to the prevailing geopolitical situation.  The proposed doctrine seeks to make the deployment less predictable by taking the onus of attack away from the strike corps and placing it on the forward deployed “holding” corps of the army.  Under the new dispensation, the army components of the battle groups would presumably operate under the command of the holding corps, and be deployed in smaller units that are based much closer to the border.  Having key attack elements deployed much closer to the border reduces deployment time in two significant ways: the deployment distances are reduced; equally importantly, logistics requirements for the initial attack force are also reduced. The intended military objects are better masked by having a larger number of smaller units dispersed across the likely theatre of operations, and the inherent rigidity of having a predetermined objective (such as reaching the Indus) is replaced by the flexibility of being able to choose a breach for further exploitation. An equally important ingredient of this doctrine would be the substitution of massed formations with massed firepower.  The army’s experience in Siachen and Kargil has led it to promote Artillery as a combat arm, and the two artillery divisions of the army constitute important maneuver elements in their own right.  The emphasis on massed artillery firepower was demonstrated in the recently concluded Exercise Divya Astra; associated reports indicate that the army is now experimenting with the use of massed “100 gun” formations.

The unpredictability, increased pace of deployment, employment of massive firepower, and initiation of unrelenting combat operations aids in retaining political and military initiative by controlling the decision making and response cycle of the opponent as well as concerned international opinion.  While full development of integrated battle groups envisaged by the doctrine would require additional purchases of combat systems as well as a significant restructuring of the command apparatus of the Indian military, some fundamental elements of the army components of the battle groups can be put together rapidly and easily through a redeployment of existing army assets. Furthermore, the Cold Start Doctrine is a conceptual move that makes Indian response to external provocation less predictable and more flexible than the currently employed doctrine of massed offensive, and opens up the possibility of intense but limited and controllable conflicts. It therefore poses a credible counter to the Pakistani strategy of state sponsored terrorism combined with nuclear blackmail.

The Cold Start doctrine has many merits and may be executable with existing resources and planned purchases.  However, there are significant blocks to its formal acceptance outside the Indian Army.  The most important block is that of political acceptance. Independent India fights its wars with very close political oversight and control.  A doctrine that calls for rapid response and initiation of intense combat operations raises the possibility that political controls may become less effective, and that the combat commanders would have far greater latitude for independent initiative than would be deemed acceptable.  Cold Start would be a non-starter without civilian institutions that can develop the political framework and objectives to support a rapid response doctrine, and without a politico-military command structure that can withstand the increased decision making tempo generated by the intense combat operations.

The Integrated Defense Headquarters and the Chief of Defense Staff are seen by the army as institutions that would help implement the politico-military framework for supporting this assertive doctrine.  The attempt to portray “Cold Start” as an integrated, tri-service doctrine is perhaps part of the Army’s approach to getting its vision of joint warfare implemented.  However, there are inter-service realities that the Army has to address, before it can hope to have acceptance for the Cold Start Doctrine. The navy may not be averse to this vision, because elements such as “Integrated Battle Groups” find ready consonance in the Navy’s own adaptation of the “Forward from the Seas” doctrine and its vision of rapid deployment groups.  The primary doctrinal block; one that surfaced most famously during Exercise Bhramastra and the Kargil War of 1999, is the issue of joint warfare between the army and the air force. The two services have a very different view of how joint operations should be conducted. In essence, the army believes that the modern wars are best fought under a unified command, where one commander controls unified formations from all three services. The air force, on the other hand, believes that the different services should coordinate their plans but fight the war separately, in order to achieve integrated political and military objectives.

In the Indian Air Force’s view, assigning air force units by geographic command would cause a gross underutilization of air power. In comparison to army formations that have to be assigned a clearly defined and relatively limited operational area, an air force squadron or wing can operate over hundreds or thousands of kilometers; it can be redeployed in hours or days if required. Likewise, strike targets are defined very differently for the air force, and limiting a squadron of multi-role combat aircraft for close air support or air cover places artificial and unacceptable constraints on employment of air power. Worse, it nullifies IAF’s considerable numerical and qualitative advantages over PAF by allowing PAF to concentrate in a spatially limited theatre of operations.  It follows from this doctrinal outlook that the Indian Air Force will likely be opposed to “integrated battle groups” and the command structure for conducting integrated operations as envisaged by the army.

Cold Start, therefore, is at cross-roads.  The army, as the proponent of Cold Start, bears the primary responsibility for winning formal acceptance for the doctrine; it faces the necessity of making certain vital choices about how it wants to move forward with its vision. In framing this doctrine as an integrated doctrine, and in calling for integrated battle groups with a presumptive unified command, the army appears to be pushing for its view of joint warfare.  This view has faced stiff resistance in the past from the air force, and is very likely to get bogged down in a familiar, unproductive turf battle. 

The second choice, and a more pragmatic one, would be to limit the vision to an “Army Only” doctrine, and use it to assemble army all-arms formations that can be rapidly employed for some limited but intense combat operations.  It should be noted that the publicly reported parts of Cold Start are conspicuously vague on details of how air or naval power would be employed, and they reveal the army centric focus of the proposed doctrine.  A truncated Cold Start such as this would certainly find much greater political acceptance.  Since it would not presume to dictate the Air Force’s doctrine, it would not encounter resistance from that quarter either.  However, such a “pragmatic” compromise would constitute a significant diminution of the boldness of vision and the power of ideas embodied by a full-blooded and integrated doctrine that melds the greatest strengths of all three services.

A true “Cold Start”, then, is really a call for a true joint warfare doctrine with all its attendant institutions.  Such a doctrine is premised on the existence of a politico-military framework that can direct the awesome forces unleashed by a modern military.  These institutions cannot be built on inflammatory or adversarial rhetoric, or by imposition of one service’s vision on another.  An accommodative approach, then, constitutes the third and most promising of choices.  It is possible to have a modern joint warfare doctrine that is uniquely tailored for India’s geopolitical constraints, one that can meld the Army’s presence with the Air Force’s reach.  There are several common resources that the two services use, notably in areas such as electronic warfare and intelligence gathering.  The Air Force’s exploits in Operation Safed Sagar, notably the bombing of the Muntho Dhalo logistics node of the intruding Pakistani Army, show how coordinated planning and operations can be used by two distinct operations to achieve one common military objective.  If the ongoing debate over Cold Start can move past the usual turf battles and power plays, it can produce a strategic vision worthy of a resurgent, shining India.

Madras Sappers

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Organisational Structure

The Indian Army's HQ is located in New Delhi and functions under the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), currently General Deepak Kapoor, who is responsible for the command, control & administration as a whole. The Army is divided into six operational commands (field armies) and one training command, each under the command of a Lieutenant General who has an equal status to the Vice-Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS), working under the control of Army HQ in New Delhi.

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Admin Structure

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