The Anatomy of Indo-Pak Wars
Strategic and Operational Analysis
Columnist A H AMIN makes a case
study of Indo-Pak Wars.
India and Pakistan have fought three declared wars and many undeclared wars of proxy or low intensity wars. This article is a brief analysis of the essence of these wars at the strategic and operational level.
1947-48 Kashmir War
The 1947-48 War was an improvised war fought on an ad hoc basis. It began with some tangible operational strategy and little definite strategy on the Pakistan side and a definite operational strategy on the Indian side. At the onset Mr Jinnah the Governor General of Pakistan ordered the British Acting C in C Pakistan Army to order two brigades into Kashmir, one on the Sialkot-Jammu Axis and the other on Murree-Muzaffarabad-Srinagar-Axis. This was a tangible plan based on a precise strategy of severing Indian landward and aerial lines of communication to Kashmir. The plan was rendered null and void since the Britisher refused to obey Jinnah’s order.
This was followed by a hastily scrambled series of actions with regular Pakistan Army officers leading irregulars, irregulars besieging Indian/Dogra garrisons and conducting mini-wars against Chamb, Naushera, Srinagar, Skardu, Leh etc. In April 1948 the regular Pakistan Army entered the scene. At this stage the Indians were in a strategically disadvantageous position. Leh being cut off, Poonch besieged, Skardu besieged, Naushera threatened etc. At this stage the Pakistani strategy was to contain Indian Army advance towards Muzaffarabad, capture Poonch and safeguard Pakistan’s soft underbelly opposite Gujrat. No one at this stage thought of a ceasefire, which would have been of great strategic advantage to Pakistan. The Indians conceived a fine plan to outflank Muzaffarabad and executed a brilliant brigade level march across against the 3,000 metres plus high Nastachun Pass, thus unexpectedly forcing their way with great ease to Tithwal. The Pakistani official history noted “Brigadier Harbux Singh, commander of the 163 Brigade waited at Tithwal for two days to let the rest of his brigade join him there . He lingered a little longer to prepare for his next move and perhaps also to coordinate his moves with that of the Indian offensive in the Jhelum Valley for a two pronged push towards Muzaffarabad. This delay changed the subsequent course of history in Kishanganga Valley, as it enabled the first two companies of 4/16 Punjab under Major Mohammad Akbar Khan to reach by a forced march in the vicinity of Tithwal and take up positions there”1. The Pakistanis saved their position by reinforcing it with a brigade.
On the operational level the Pakistanis did well by capturing Pandu a position of tactical importance in the Jhelum Valley by a brilliant infiltration plan conceived by Commander 101 Brigade Brigadier Akbar Khan DSO with the indomitable Major Ishaq MC as his Brigade Major. Akbar deputed Lt Col Harvey Kelly, commanding 4/10 Baluch to plan the attack in detail.2 Pandu, however, was an operational episode of great tactical significance but limited strategic value.
From April 1948 to December 1948 the Pakistani GHQ merely reacted tactically moving companies and battalions while the Indians moved strategically. In Phase One, they recaptured Rajauri the gateway to Poonch with a single tank squadron! In Phase Two, they achieved two strategic triumphs! They forced their way through Zojila Pass driving on to relieve Leh and capture Kargil Dras and they relieved Poonch which was a mini-Indian East Pakistan surrounded from all sides by Pakistani troops.
At this stage the Pakistani GHQ had conceived the Operation Venus. Venus was a thrust against the Indian line of communication leading to Poonch Valley with an infantry and a heavy tank brigade in Naushera-Beri Patan area. At this stage the Indians were involved in the relief of Poonch and Leh and strategically off balance. The official account of 1970, however, maintains that the aim of Venus was not to sever the Indian line of communication to Poonch but merely to force the Indians for ceasefire which they did and which came into effect on night 31 Dec 1948/01 January 1949. If ceasefire was the aim then the Pakistani strategy was barren since a ceasefire in July 1948 would have been far more strategically desirable! This was so since in April 1948 Zojila (captured by Gilgit Scouts under Lieut Shah Khan on 7th July 1948) the gateway to Srinagar as well as Ladakh in Pakistani hands, the frontline near Rajauri and Poonch surrounded by Pakistani troops/irregulars. It is not clear what the Pakistani GHQ advised the civilians at this stage but no records have been made public which prove that they gave any advice!
In the 1960s General Fazal-i- Muqeem asserted that the ceasefire of 1948 took place to the army’s horror since the army was close to a great victory. However, this point is refuted by the Pakistan Army’s Official account of 1970. Much later in 1976 General Sher Ali who was commanding a brigade of the Venus Force asserted that had the operation been launched Pakistani tanks would have been in Jammu within no time! This has to be taken with a pinch of salt once we compare it to the performance of armour in an offensive role in 1965 and 1971!
The Kashmir War ended with the Indians as masters of Poonch Valley, Srinagar Valley and Leh Valley but with a communication to all three valleys running precariously close to the Pakistani border! Thus strategically the Indian position despite all their strategic triumphs was not secure since their line of communications offered multiple objectives to any single Pakistani thrust. One tank brigade with a twenty mile thrust could threaten the existence of a whole Indian army corps. The Indians took no care to remedy this state of affairs despite many war games held in their Kashmir Corps to show that the Pakistanis could threaten the Indian line of communication in Poonch Valley.3
The 1965 War was a comical affair! Civilians at the foreign ministry assessed that the Indians could be knocked out at the strategic level while soldiers at the highest military level and political level, the president being a soldier were not interested in any military adventure. The civilian hawks led by Bhutto, however, were in league with a group of generals and brigadiers within the army and finally succeeded in persuading the president
(famous for tactical timidity in Burma) into embarking on a military adventure. Musa the army chief had little strategic insight and was against any military adventure in which he may be forced to exercise his qualities of leadership! Musa had rudimentary understanding of strategy and tank warfare since he was a political choice appointed more because he was seen as politically no threat rather than for any military strategic or operational talent!
The Pakistani offensive plan i.e. a thrust against Indian line of communication at Akhnur in case of a limited war in Kashmir or/and against Indian line of communication between Indian Corps holding Ravi-Sutlej Corridor at Jandiala Guru on Amritsar-Jullundhur road in case of an all out war was brilliant in conception. This was so because if successful any of the two plans would have forced the Indians to sue for peace at best and to surrender at worst. No less an authority than the Indian Western Command C in C Harbaksh Singh thus confessed
“A Blitzkrieg deep into our territory towards the Grand Trunk Road or the Beas Bridge would have found us in the helpless position of a commander paralysed into inaction for want of readily available reserves while the enemy was inexorably pushing deep into our vitals. It is a nightmarish feeling even when considered in retrospect at this stage”.
To the Pakistan Army’s misfortune a plan which was brilliant at the strategic and operational level failed simply because those who were leading the military machine at the highest level lacked the strategic insight as well as resolution! The first opportunity was thus missed in Chamb-Jaurian Sector, when even a foreigner i.e. Chinese Foreign Minister visiting Pakistani thought that Akhnur5 was the key!
The second and most serious operational failure occurred in Khem Karan.This had more to do with poor execution at the divisional and brigade level and poor initial higher organization and composition of troops at the divisional level. The first being an operational failure and the second being an organizational failure at the higher command level.
At the operational and tactical level three events stand out in the war i.e. the Grand Slam Operation in Chamb-Jaurian, blunting of Indian offensive at Chawinda at Gadgor on 8th September when one lone tank regiment gave a severe mauling to two tank regiments out of a total available Indian force of an armoured division, and a brigade level counter attack in Lahore Sector.
Grand Slam failed because of change of command! Not because Akhtar Malik was better than Yahya but because one man either Akhtar or Yahya should have conducted the whole operation! The Indians admitted that their position was saved because of the pause of 48 hours, which occurred at Tawi after the Pakistani Chief Musa ordered change of horses in the mid stream!
Now the battle of Gadgor. Technically Gadgor was 24 Infantry Brigade Group versus 1st Indian Armoured Division. In reality the contest was 25 Cavalry versus Poona and Hodsons Horse since 24 Brigade Commander told Colonel Nisar to “do something”6 the vaguest order of 1965 War! Nisar had no idea of what was in front but by a miraculous coup d oeil deployed his tank regiment 25 Cavalry in a manner which would produce an instant nervous breakdown in an instructor who taught tank tactics at the armour school! 25 Cavalry was deployed by Nisar like a thin line of steel! Like a thin net to catch a whale! The manoeuvre if it can be called one succeeded because the Indian brigade commander was paralysed by the fog of war! Thus Commander Indian 1st Armoured Brigade saw a finger as a mountain! He saw a threat to his flanks which in reality was a half squadron of Indian 62 Cavalry which had lost its way and fired at Indian Artillery opposite Rangre! What Nisar deployed after the “Do Something” order was seen by the Indian brigade commander as a tank brigade! Thus he lost the will to use two uncommitted tank regiments to outflank the Pakistani position! Gadgor was a psychological defeat inflicted on K.K Singh by Nisar with Nisar not knowing what was in front of him and K.K Singh over estimating three times what was really in front of him. Thus in cognitive terms, at Gadgor was a tank regiment commander who did not know what was in front of him against a tank brigade commander who was overawed by what he assessed was in front of him and was reduced into a state of total inertia and indecision. The important factor in this decisive battle was the fact that tangibly K.K Singh had the third tank regiment as well as three uncommitted squadrons within his two committed tank regiments with which he could have easily outflanked Nisar and got to his rear! Nisar had tangibly no reserves with which he could have countered K.K’s outflanking manoeuvre.
The counter attack of Brigadier Qayyum Sher in Lahore Sector was a successful divisional battle ordered by Major General Sarfaraz MC and executed by Brigadier Qayyum Sher most resolutely! It produced a crisis on the Indian side and threw the Indians off balance! Both retired in the same rank sometimes after the war!
The 1971 War was a strange war! The Indians won great glory but failed to strategically solve their military problems! They overran East Pakistan creating a new state of Bangladesh but merely reduced Pakistan’s defence problems and increased their own problems by creating a new state which became more hostile to India and is far more difficult to militarily to deal with than the old East Pakistan!
The Indians, and an authority no less eminent than their 1971 GOC Western Command General Candeth have admitted that had the Pakistanis started a pre-emptive war in October 1971 all their plans to attack East Pakistan would have been thrown to the winds!7 But strategic insight had not been inculcated yet in the Pakistan Army! The Pakistanis waited and allowed the Indians to attack them in December 1971.
Much has been said about a Pakistani counter offensive in December 1971 to save East Pakistan. At this stage the Indian 1 Corps was in position and the Pakistani Higher Command like K.K Singh on 8th September to gamble their last card! There was a reason for this inaction. One that the cost was too heavy and the second that armour higher commanders (the CGS Gul Hassan and GOC 1st Armoured Division) as Yahya Khan asserts had lost the will to launch an attack.
Two cases of operational brilliance and one case of a Gadgor type tactical heroic stand out in 1971. These are the cases of the Pakistani 23 Division offensive in Chamb, the Indian defence of Poonch and the Barapind-Jarpal Battle. In Chamb Pakistan’s General Eftikhar successfully fought a divisional battle in which he deliberately manoeuvred a force of two plus tank regiments inflicting a severe mauling on the Indians forcing them to abandon Chamb. Eftikhar was firmly in control at all stages. When his initial tank thrust was checked at Maandiala he did not sink into inertia or indecision like K.K Singh at Gadgor or Pakistan’s Naseer at Khem Karan! Nor did Eftikhar tell his armoured brigade commander to “Do Something”! Eftikhar did not abdicate the conduct of operational strategy to any tank regiment of tank brigade commander! He resolutely regrouped his command and launched another attack from the south emerging victorious! The second case was the Indian stand at Poonch. The Pakistanis conceived a fine plan to capture Poonch but the Indian brigade commander at Poonch was too resolute while the Pakistani divisional and brigade commanders at Poonch lost their nerve!
The third case of a Gadgor type battle occurred at Barapind! Here the Pakistani tank brigade commander gave a simple order to resort to counter penetration to his tank regiment commander who on his own converted it into an attack! Unfortunately he carried out a piece meal attack, first sending in a squadron and then two more! The Indians admit that had 13 Lancers attacked with all three squadrons8 they would have broken through despite nominal artillery support. The hero of this battle was not the Indian brigade or regiment commander but the Indian squadron who blunted the attack and the Indian troop leader Arun Khetarpal who stopped the attack by skin of his teeth losing his life in the process! In words of Indian Armoured Corps historian the Indian success was attributable to a ‘last ditch stand by just one tank troop leader’.
The 1984 Crisis was a calculated Indian response against alleged Pakistani involvement in the Sikh Insurgency in Punjab. Tangibly the Indian position was far superior to Pakistan since Pakistan Army was still equipped with the old T-59s. The situation was saved by two Individuals who polished off the Indian ‘Durga Devi’ thus leading to a swift de-escalation of the crisis.
A case of zero strategic insight on the Indian side and of personal ambition on part of two and three star Indian generals to start private wars to gain promotion. Both sides gained nothing and one Indian Division and one Pakistani brigade is committed to a mad sentry duty role since 1984!
The 1987 Crisis was a case of over enthusiasm at the military level with little outward enthusiasm at the highest political level. The Indian Chief Sundarji was living in visions of Glory and visualized that a military manoeuvre would escalate into a war which would lead to a successful Indian military thrust severing the Pakistani line of communication in Rahimyar Khan Sector thus leading to the emergence of a new state in Pakistani Sindh and the creation of a second Indian Field Marshal after Manekshaw i.e Sundarji!
Comically Sundarji’s visions of glory were not matched by strategic insight! Thus he was overawed into inaction and inertia like K.K Singh at Gadgor, once the Pakistani High Command relocated the Pakistani reserves northwards in a purely defensive move!
1987 was a watershed and marked the Indian Army at its lowest position in the eyes of the highest Indian political leadership
vis-a-vis the high position of 1971. Sundarji destroyed all that the Indian Army had gained in 25 years with one night of irresolution and inertia!
The 1999 Crisis in Kargil were the result of an audacious Pakistani plan to inflict a sharp but highly subtle psychological defeat on the Indians by threatening the Indian line of communication to Leh and Siachen by placing a small Pakistani force on the heights overlooking the Dras-Kargil-Leh Road. The execution at tactical level was brilliant albeit marked by poor logistic arrangements at divisional level! The Pakistani political leadership lost the resolution to press home the move to its final conclusion. Full facts are not available about what the Pakistan Army’s highest leadership wanted at this point in time.
The Indians payed a heavy price in terms of casualties for an intelligence failure. What Pakistan gained or lost is not clear although a debate continues about who was Kargils winner. Kargil stands out as merely one stage in a long series of actions in Pakistani military history. If Kargil was a political failure then logically the army should have packed off the political leadership in June 1999! Yet it chose to blame Nawaz only later on like it blamed Liaquat for calling off Operation Venus in 1948! Have things changed or we changed!
Indo-Pak Military history is a continuous story of strategic failures and a mix of operational successes and failures. At the tactical level both the armies fought well.
The reasons for the strategic failures are
historical. Both states are successor states of the British Colonial
Indian Empire. Indians were not groomed or trained for making strategic
decisions. Strategic insight is the result of a process spread over many
generations. The German General Staff was not created by a sudden flight.
Even the British Empire was not created by the strategic genius of one
man! Militarily the failure of both armies at the higher level is more
easy to understand. Both were the continuation of a colonial army designed
for internal security and brigade level actions. The Indian Army in WW Two
either fought as part of a larger British Army or in circumstances of
immense material superiority with massive US military aid as in Burma! The
political failure in Pakistan is equally simple to explain since in words
of Mr Jinnah most of the Muslim politicians would not do anything without
consulting the DC (Deputy Commissioner)! That may be a reason why Nawaz
Sharif went to DC!
1Page-144-Chapter 18-Indian Summer Offensive-1-Tithwal Battle-The Kashmir Campaign-1947-48-Historical Section-General Staff Branch-General Headquarters-GHQ Rawalpindi-1970.
3Page-28-Behind the Scenes- Major General Joginder Singh-Lancer International-New Delhi-1993.
4Page-161-War Despatches-Lieut Gen Harbaksh Singh-Lancer-New Delhi-1991.
5Page 184-Memoirs of a Bystander-Iqbal Akhund-Oxford University Press-Karachi-1996.
6Page - 148- The Pakistan Army-War 1965-Shaukat Riza-Army Education Press-1984). “At about 0600 hours 24 Brigade received the news that 3 FF had been overrun. Brigadier Ali Malik got on to Col Nisar and ordered 25 Cavalry to do “something”. Article Battle of Chawinda-Brigadier Nisar HJ-Pakistan Army Journal-Summer 1997.
7Page-28-The Western Front-Lt Gen P.K Candeth-Allied Publishers-New Delhi-1984.
8Pages-490 to 499- The Indian Armour-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-1941-1971-Maj Gen Gurcharan Singh Sandhu-Vision Books-New Delhi-1993.