1. The Longest August—The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan: Power play

The Longest August—The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan: Power play

These excerpts taken from Dilip Hiro’s new book explain how India and Pakistan came close to having a nuclear war

Published: March 22, 2015 12:09 AM

The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan
Dilip Hiro
Perseus Books
Pp 528

THE INDO-Pakistan thaw ended on May 14, 2002. On that day three armed Kashmiri militants in Indian army fatigues boarded a bus at Vijaypur in the Jammu region destined for Jammu city. Just before the army camp at Kaluchak, they stopped the vehicle and sprayed it with gunfire, leaving seven people dead. Then they entered the army residential camp and killed thirty more by lobbing hand grenades and firing their automatic weapons, before they were shot dead. This daring attack on a military facility roiled the Indian government as never before.


On May 19 the Indian chief of army staff (COAS), General Sundararajan Padmanabhan, centralized command of the paramilitary forces, including the Border Security Force, posted along the international frontier, and the Central Reserve Police Force. That same day the Indian Navy took operational control of the coast guard. All Indian merchant ships were placed “on alert” and directed to file daily location reports to the navy. Soon after, the navy redeployed its warships from their eastern fleet home base in Vishakapatnam to the Arabian Sea, closer to Pakistan. Delhi’s strategic aim was to assert total control of the sea and deny movement to Pakistani ships and submarines.

On May 22 Indian premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee asserted that the time for a “decisive fight” had come and that India needed to be ready for sacrifices while reassuring his fellow citizens that it would be a fight to victory. He ordered the air force to hit training camps inside Pakistan-held Kashmir. He was told that the military lacked enough laser-guided bombs and night-vision pods to accomplish the task. His government approached the United States for fresh supplies. But President George W. Bush, anxious to cool the dangerous upsurge in the already fervid Delhi-Islamabad relations, refused to oblige. Vajpayee then turned to Israel, which agreed. But it was June 5 by the time these munitions and night-vision pods arrived in three C-130J Hercules transporters at Delhi’s Palam airport, along with Amos Yaron, the director-general of Israel’s defense ministry.

Alarmed by Delhi’s military moves, Bush publicly called on Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf on May 25 to stop infiltration into Indian Kashmir. He resorted to public diplomacy after the brush-off that Colonel David Smith, the US Army attaché in Islamabad, repeatedly received from Pakistan’s generals. They would often tell him: “We are the only ones that you can rely on to get these guys in Afghanistan—you can’t do it without our help, and we’re helping you in every way we can. You’re putting tremendous pressure on us, and you’re doing nothing on the Indian side.” Bush’s tactic worked. He got an assurance from Musharraf that the militants’ infiltration into Indian Kashmir had ceased. The White House passed on the message to Delhi. Two days later Musharraf repeated his promise to curb jihadist organizations. But Vajpayee’s cabinet had lost trust in his word.

By the end of the month, Padmanabhan had moved eight of the ten strike divisions of the army to jumping-off points near the border. The Twenty-First Strike Force had advanced toward Akhnoor in the Jammu region and set up a forward command post. Each of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Corps stationed in Kashmir was reinforced with additional armored and infantry brigades to be able to switch from a defensive posture to an offensive one. While maintaining nine divisions in a holding formation, Musharraf and Vice COAS General Muhammad Yusaf Khan moved an attack force of armored and motorized infantry divisions into combat readiness positions. They redeployed two infantry divisions based in Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province to the eastern borders. They augmented the Kashmir front by deploying two brigades of the Rawalpindi-based Tenth Corps. Equally, they reinforced the troops along the Indian border in Punjab and Sindh.
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Washington feared that India’s impending cross-border attacks on the extremists’ training camps in Pakistani Kashmiri would escalate to an exchange of nuclear missiles by the warring neighbors. Its fears were justified. The leaders of these sparring nations lacked reliable, comprehensive knowledge of each other’s nuclear doctrine—that is, under what circumstances the highest official would unleash atom bombs. Soon after the attack on India’s Parliament House in December 2001, John McLaughlin, the deputy director of the CIA, informed Bush’s War Cabinet that intelligence analysts believed that given the confusion among decision makers in Delhi and Islamabad as to when and how a conventional war could escalate to nuclear confrontation, there was a serious risk of the first nuclear strike since August 1945.

The statements made so far by Indian and Pakistani leaders did not add up to a coherent, comprehensive nuclear doctrine. “We have formally announced a policy of Non-First-Use,” Vajpayee said in December 1998. “We are also not going to enter into an arms race with any country. Ours will be a minimum credible deterrent, which will safeguard India’s security, the security of one-sixth of humanity, now and into the future.” This was in contrast to the stance taken by Pakistan during the May–July 1999 Kargil War, when its spokesmen refused to give the same guarantee.

On August 17, 1999, the National Security Advisory Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine, appointed by Vajpayee, issued a draft doctrine. “The fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapons is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by any State or entity against India and its forces,” it stated. “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” The comprehensive document covered nuclear forces, credibility and survivability, command and control, and security and safety. But in his interview to the Hindu on November 29, foreign minister Jaswant Singh said that it was “not a policy document” of the government because the advisory board’s authority was legally nebulous. All the same, he went on to explain that “minimum credible deterrence” mentioned in it was a question of “adequacy,” not numbers. He described the concept as “dynamic,” which was “firmly rooted in strategic environment, technical imperatives and national security needs.”

Pages 327-329

Extracted with permission from Perseus Books

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