Saturday, 26 January 2019


Operation Kabaddi has been revealed recently as an army planned operation for taking a few Pakistani posts along the Line of Control (LC), thereby affording it an advantage in the battles along the LC that characterized the turn of the century. Apparently, the military operation was intended to be launched sometime early October 2001. However, it was aborted owing to the 9/11 incident which veritably changed the verities of the post cold war era.

In his book, Line on Fire: Ceasefire Violations and India-Pakistan Escalation Dynamics, previewed recently in a national daily, the author, a Jawaharlal Nehru University professor, reportedly divulges the outline of Operation Kabaddi. He bases his revelations on interviews with two high ranking army officers, one of whom was then the operational level chief commander in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the other a tactical level commander. The then army chief, on being contacted, pleaded to have no recall of the period; in short, he did not deny the same. The tactical level commander – who went on to in his turn succeed the army commander in question - has gone on to record in his fortnightly column with a prominent website on the part his brigade played in the episode.

It appears that the army in end 2001 planned to hike the levels of violence that was routinely traded across the LC in those days in a case of ‘reverse Kargil’, administering the Pakistanis a taste of their own medicine. To recall, the period after the Kargil War had witnessed a severe spike in the proxy war in J&K, brought about in part by fresh infiltration of Pakistani - largely Punjabi - mercenaries and would-be jihadis into J&K under the cover of the Kargil War.

During the short border war, the army had concentrated its energy in evicting the Pakistani paramilitary troops from the heights they had surreptitiously occupied early summer that year. This was done by drawing in a division from north Kashmir, allowing for a temporary opening in the counter infiltration grid and drawdown in intensity of hinterland operations. Making use of this instability on the counter insurgency grid, Pakistan infiltrated its proxy war foot soldiers and potentially extended the life of the proxy war. Over the following couple of years, their proxy war tactics also changed, witnessing a flurry of fidayeen attacks. Alongside the ordnance traded across the LC also registered a spike, the army retaliating with an intention of causing equal pain on the Pakistani army deployed there.

It appears the army decided at this juncture to up the ante, taking a page out of the Pakistani book. In launching the Kargil operation, Pakistan had rendered askew the sacrality of the LC arrived at Simla in 1972. This provided the army with a precedent, enabling it to plan taking over of Pakistani posts along the LC that were either particularly dominating or along infiltration corridors. Alongside, no doubt, the prospective objectives would also have included posts the capture of which would have afforded the army a window to advance into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in case of escalation. Apparently, all the pieces were in place by September. Unfortunately, 19 Arabs under the spell of a certain Osama bin Laden pulled the curtains on Operation Kabaddi by crashing their planes into three of four intended targets in the United States (US).

The professor who revealed the story has done so believing that drawing attention to the delicacy of the stand-off along the LC would contribute to calming the situation along it. This is the second book dealing with the LC brought out by Professor Happymon Jacob, his earlier one, Travelling with the Indian and Pakistani Armies, being in the form of a travelogue on his travels on both sides of the LC as part of his stewardship of a two-year project, Indo-Pak Conflict Monitor, on the re-activation of the LC. The reactivation of the LC in the tenure of the current government has potential to set the region aflame, given its conduct and hyping thereafter of the surgical strikes of late 2016. Last year some 3000 LC incidents were recorded.

The recall of the then tactical level commander in his column appears to be to put the surgical strikes in proper perspective The general recounting his days as brigade commander on the LC, General HS Panag, appears to be miffed by the political hype surrounding the surgical strikes and wishes to record that at least one previous government had the gumption to go much further than the Modi-Doval combine did in late September 2016 in response to the terror attack in Uri in which some 19 soldiers died. It is clear that the political capital that is sought to be extracted from the military action as the nation heads into elections needs puncturing.

Brought out by one former commanding general in Srinagar in an ad-hoc film review, the depiction of the action in the recent release ‘Uri’ was rather wishful. The prime minister in his recent ‘interview’ with Asian News International instead let on that he had ordered that there be no casualties and the troops employed revert to own side of the LC prior to first light. This shows little stomach for a fight, since violence and bloodshed is intrinsic to military action. Having parameters that deprive military action of its staple implies both a lack of understanding of military action and an inability and unwillingness to withstand consequences.

To his credit, the prime minister was intent on the internal political dividend of the surgical strikes and - happily - was not insistent on sacrificing any troops at the altar of his party’s political benefit. More accurately, he perhaps did not wish to hold the can for a mission gone wrong. Either way, the revelations on Operation Kabaddi are timely and worth voter consideration as they each appraise the security relevant showing of this government.

Reverting to the period in question and the revelations, these are only the tip of the iceberg. Investigative journalists may spot an opportunity
in the coincidence in the timing of the terror strike on the J&K legislative assembly that accounted for 38 dead and the planned launch of Operation Kabaddi. It would appear that the timing was rather suitable, enabling India a casus belli for launch. Such a reading would amount to the legislative assembly attack being a Gulf of Tonkin like incident, the US intelligence-perpetrated attack on a US ship off the Vietnamese coast that provided the US cover to launch its Vietnam War.

India did not quite need the black operation, since it could have justified its attack by reference to the series of terror incidents within J&K that amounted to an ‘armed attack’, legitimizing use of force on its part in self defence. India could have pointed to its six month long cessation of offensive operations of the previous year – the so-called Ramzan ceasefire and its extension of year 2000. It could have shown that its efforts at dissuading proxy war had not yielded result; Pakistani President Musharraf departing the summit at Agra in a huff only in July that year.

However, Professor Happymon inadvertently lets the cat out of the bag. India was perhaps in the midst of paying Musharraf back in his own coin for nixing the Lahore summit, even as it invited Musharraf for a dialogue at Agra. Happymon dates the planning meeting for the operation in New Delhi to June 2001, whereas the Agra summit was in July 2001. It can be generously conceded that the plan was intended as a military riposte in case of diplomatic failure at Agra. In case Musharraf had played ball, it could have been shelved. In other words, it was to provide military muscle to the Agra diplomacy, in line with the adage that good diplomacy is backed by military might.

That neither the ceasefire nor the summit succeeded could well be attributed to Pakistani chicanery. They were out to milk the aggravated situation post-Kargil for its worth. However, there can also be a troubling reading to the sequence of events, and must not elide inclusion in possibilities on account of misplaced nationalism.

It bears considering that India for reasons of state may have intended to let the peace overtures flop in order to provide it a rationale and watertight case to go across the LC in Operation Kabaddi. Worse, even if the well-intentioned prime minister then, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had his heart and mind in the right place, were there other forces out to sabotage his intent and possible outcome of his goodwill? AG Noorani has a version of the Agra summit suggestive of subversion of the peace initiative from within. Were there forces – singed by Pakistani perfidy at Kargil – out to turn the tables on Musharraf, even if it amounted to war that could have turned nuclear?

These are not all idle speculations of the usual conspiracy theorists. Recall the questions (which even if raised by Arundhati Roy in The Hanging of Afzal Guru and the Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament do not on that account lack credibility) surrounding the parliament attack that followed two months later. 9/11 enabled the Pakistanis to get back into bed with the US. This left India high and dry. Unable to turn back, it (in the conspiracy theory) followed through with creating another chance to hit out at Pakistan. It did not reckon with the northern army commander then – one of the army’s most respected for integrity, moral courage and professionalism – turning down the opportunity to go across the LC. Currently, the grapevine has it that the army commander asked for more time for priming his troops. This begs the question why, considering that the revelations indicate that the troops were largely ready by September and on hand as part of aborted Operation Kabaddi. The answer might have to await the general’s memoirs, a whistle blower or a sting operation by an intrepid journalist.

From the gray zone in Kashmir, gray strategies are liable to emerge. It is not implausible that the conjectures above, arrived at on circumstantial evidence, may have a grain of truth. If so, it is time to roll back the grayness, if and since - among other reasons such as Prof. Jacob's apprehensions - it is misshaping our polity, making the intelligence function and community more prominent in national affairs than warranted in a democratic polity.