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#137, 22 February 2005

Operation Parakram

Shweta Moorthy
Research Assistant, IPCS

Peter Lavoy, Mary Cobb Wittrock and Christopher Clary (Center for Contemporary Conflict, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey) visited the IPCS to be briefed on Indian views and perspectives on 'Operation Parakram', its causes and the lessons to be learnt by not only India and Pakistan, but the US as well.

Peter Lavoy

Peter Lavoy initiated the discussion by informing that it was the latest in a series of projects the Centre for Contemporary Conflict has undertaken following (1) Kargil conflict, and (2) Strategic Stability in South Asia. He stated that the objective of the ongoing study on 'Operation Parakram' was to gain an appreciation about escalation control in South Asia, including possible misperceptions between adversaries on what the other was planning. Lavoy was of the opinion that India and Pakistan came extremely close to war in the December 2001 - June 2002 period.

Referring to his conversations and discussions with analysts and members of the military and government in Pakistan, Lavoy said that the view in Pakistan was that (compared to Kargil) 'Operation Parakram' ensured the highest coherence in Pakistani decision making. Never before had their institutions acted together, which was probably facilitated by the fact that the military was in power. Lavoy opined that the Pakistanis felt that they had deterred India from attacking by a demonstration of their resolve.

The inquiries that Lavoy deemed relevant to India were whether 'Operation Parakram' was an appropriate tool for coercive diplomacy; did politicians lose their will; and what did the military learn from the mobilisation?

Commenting on the role of the US at this time, Lavoy opined that unlike previous India-Pakistan crises when it 'tilted' towards one of the parties, the US was able to sustain strong relations with both countries. During 'Operation Parakram', in fact, many people in the US believe, like former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, that it was American pressure that prevented a war in the sub-continent.

Mary Cobb Wittrock

Wittrock said that since the end of the Cold War the National Nuclear Security Administration had several interactions with the former Soviet Union about arms control issues. The body is now looking at different regional areas where there could be tensions to study why countries wish to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Christopher Clary

Clary briefly remarked that there was much convergence of views between India and Pakistan on issues like Iraq. But the significance of the attack on the Indian Parliament and the Legislative Assembly in Jammu and Kashmir does not resonate in Pakistan. He also opined that the US views its role in constraining India and Pakistan in 'Operation Parakram' to be more limited than the two adversaries themselves believe.


Chari laid out the broad issues for the ensuing discussion in the form of five questions:

1. Why did India mobilise?
2. War seemed imminent on several occasions. What then prevented the war?
3. What was the role of Indian and Pakistani leadership in promoting/restraining conflict?
4. What was the mediatory role played by the US during the course of events?
5. What were the gains and losses for India, Pakistan and the US and what were the lessons learnt?

Major General Ashok Mehta described 'Operation Parakram' as the military component of a national strategy, which also had a diplomatic and a political element. He agreed with Lavoy that India and Pakistan came extremely close to war but Pakistan did not deter India; India deterred itself. Mehta commended the US's constraining role, and referred especially to the "great diplomacy" of Robert Blackwill who asked India to wait for Pervez Musharraf's speech in January and June 2002. Mehta listed the principal players in 'Operation Parakram' - Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), serving bureaucrats, serving military officers, and the media, to an extent. Mehta found a disconnect within the CCS and the military in their perceptions of coercive diplomacy. Between the three branches of India's defence forces, the army was serious about going to war, but the Navy and Air Force did not think war would take place. Mehta also found the quality of decision-making in the CCS very discomfiting.

Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy considered 'Operation Parakram' to be a historical event, unprecedented in the history of independent India. He strongly disagreed with Maj Gen Mehta's views on decision-making in the CCS and claimed that there was a unanimity of views within the defence forces. As befitted a mature democracy the leadership listened to everybody. He said that intensive meetings had started from August onwards to assess intelligence reports. The December 13 attack was anticipated and something dramatic was expected to happen. India carried out 'Operation Parakram' because, with the attack on the Indian Parliament, push came to shove. He also disagreed with the use of the term "mediator" to describe the US role since it was not vested with any authority to do so. Rather the US was a friend and well-wisher; its efforts to facilitate constraint was much appreciated.

Lt Gen A M Vohra said that any talk about India having conventional superiority was either faulty thinking or merely a ploy. He dismissed talk about South Asia being a nuclear flashpoint. Pakistan had realised that a nuclear exchange was not a one-sided game and that even a demonstration strike by them would be retaliated against. Both India and Pakistan were self-deterred because the limitations of military power are clear to them - when forces are only marginally superior, the end result would only be a stalemate. Limited war under the nuclear umbrella is thus unlikely.

Lavoy interjected to say that, while he agreed with Lt Gen Vohra in principle, he thought it incorrect to say that the two sides exercised self-restraint. Illustrating his point, Lavoy mentioned that General Musharraf admitted in July 2002 to being extremely close to war. Plans were made for immediate counter-attack on the Pakistani side and both sides were indulging in risky and dangerous signaling.

Lt Gen Sood expressed disbelief that such an unprecedented mobilisation of troops had been ordered no intention of going to war. If this was so there was no need for the then Prime Minister A B Vajpayee to call it an "aar paar ki ladai" and order a massive mobilisation which cost the exchequer Rs 8000 crores. If war had to take place then it should have taken place by the end of January 2002 and not May/June when it was contemplated.


  • Operation Parakram was an act of coercive diplomacy and must be linked with terrorism, which Pakistan is fostering in Afghanistan and Kashmir. In the context of the December 13 attacks, Operation Parakram was India's way of telling Pakistan that it had crossed the threshold.   
  • There was no disconnect between the military and the leadership or within themselves; there was no question of the Indian army crossing the Line of Control. The political leadership was clear about what they were doing.   
  • India had conveyed to Pakistan through the Kargil conflict that violating the border would not succeed and through Operation Parakram that terrorism would not work either. It was part of India's effort to fight terrorism and this message reached Pakistan.  
  • Self-deterrence is a dangerous concept. No country can carry out a eleven months mobilisation without a political motive for war.   
  • Operation Parakram has to be seen as part of a series of crises starting with 'Brasstacks' which coincided with Pakistan's acquisition of nuclear weapons. Through 'Operation Parakram' India demonstrated resolve. India now has to make Pakistan realize that the status quo cannot be changed.

Concluding Remarks

Peter Lavoy stated that the decision to launch Operation Parakram was a serious decision made within a coherent decision-making process. The risk of escalation is inherent in the use of / threat to use force. But these are risks which governments and military establishments are willing to take. The governments of both India and Pakistan handled the situation professionally and therefore many things that could have gone wrong did not.

He re-iterated that the project on 'Operation Parakram' would collate the different perspectives of the CCS, service chiefs and commanders at unit level in India and in Pakistan and the US. The aim was to make sense of 'Operation Parakram' through the prism of different perspectives, while respecting the complexity of the entire event.

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