When India almost went to war with Pakistan
Political scientist and former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in her memoir “No Higher Honor” has shed light on behind the scenes action on three instances when India almost went to war with Pakistan. While the book is still to hit the Indian market, the released excerpts have triggered off a fresh debate on whether India was seriously contemplating to go to war with Pakistan after December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament and November 26, 2008 Mumbai massacre or New Delhi was just staging a haka for the international audience.
According to the released excerpts, it was active diplomacy between Rice, then National security advisor to George W Bush, and her Indian counterpart Brajesh Mishra that actually helped defuse the India-Pakistan crisis post Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist attack on Indian Parliament.
Similarly, Rice also takes credit for lowering the temperatures in the sub-continent after then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee threatened Pakistan with war after the dastardly 26/11 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist attack on Mumbai.
She brings out the confusion within the Bush administration after the Parliament attack as CIA believed that India was going to war with Pakistan while Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld thought otherwise on the basis of satellite imagery of the western theatre.
Rice, according to reports, also has talked about India moving its nuclear missiles to the western borders after the terrorist strike at Kaluchak army camp in Jammu on May 14, 2001.
The Indian posture after these terror incidents has been subject of intense debates with Brajesh Mishra once telling me that New Delhi was ready to strike at least on two occasions after the Parliament attack. Many believe that Indian warmongering after December 13, 2001 was part of its so-called coercive diplomacy, which yielded good results initially and then outlived its utility.
While we will have to wait for Mishra’s memoirs to find out what happened on Raisina Hill those days, it is certain that NDA leadership under Atal Behari Vajpayee had given a green signal to Indian military to strike at Pakistan in December 2001 and then again in May 2001 but the military brass failed to deliver.
Post 26/11 attack, the Indian mood was ugly but there was no plan on the table to attack Pakistan or Lashkar headquarters at Muridke, Lahore even though Mukherjee read the riot act to Islamabad. When Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major talked about a missile strike or air strike on Pakistan post 26/11 at a Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting, he was dismissed as being too emotional. However, the Indian posture post Parliament attack was really angry and meant business. Two days after the Parliament attack, the CCS under Vajpayee ordered full scale mobilisation of forces on the western borders. The window for limited war in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) was last week of December but the military took its own sweet time to mobilise and was just about prepared to go across by December 28, 2001.
International diplomacy had taken over the course by that time with US putting pressure on Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharaf to ban LeT and JeM groups, and also condemn jihadists based in Pakistan. With top diplomats like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, then US secretary of state Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage making to and fro trips to New Delhi and Islamabad, the war opportunity was lost as the then home minister LK Advani was given a preview of Musharraf’s impending January 12, 2002 speech during his January 8 visit to Washington. Once the war moment was lost, Mishra and then foreign minister Jaswant Singh called it coercive diplomacy.
With Indian troops deployed at the border as part of Operation Parakram, tensions flared up yet again after terrorist attacked Kaluchak army camp near Jammu on May 14, 2001 leaving 31 dead including 18 family members of Indian Army personnel in the camp. The attack was gory and brutal with terrorists killing children of Indian Army personnel and shooting the women in their private parts at the camp.
The CCS met yet again on May 18, 2002 and gave a nod for strike to the military, which was seething with revenge. This time again the Indian Air Force delayed the proceedings as it ran short of laser guided ammunition and night vision pods. New Delhi gave a SOS to Tel Aviv, which sent three C-130 J Hercules full of laser guided bombs and pods on June 5, 2002 at Palam airport with Israeli Director General (Defence) Amos Yaron on board. But a fortnight delay was too much for the international community to let go.
Musharraf was yet again hauled by the scruff of his neck by Armitage and the dictator again made a public statement on May 27, 2002 stating that he would not allow Pakistani territory to be used for terror attacks against India. While Mishra did meet Atomic Energy Commission officials at Kudankulam on May 24, there was no evidence of Indians mating nuclear warheads on their missiles or even moving them towards border.
It is quite evident now from Rice’s book excerpts that Mishra decided to get maximum diplomatic mileage out of Kaluchak as he knew that Indian war plans were not coming to fruition. The fact is that American diplomacy worked post Parliament attack as Indian military and not political leadership faltered. Rice’s memoirs would have been different and so would have been history had Indian war plans worked out.