Loose Canons

Order of Battle in Kashmir

If we are to stop India and Pakistan from going to war, we first have to know how this coming war may be fought.

By 5.28.02

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If you understand why a war is about to be fought you may be able to stop it if you care to try. Examining how the countries may fight -- and what dangers result if they do -- is the key to any decision on whether we should intervene. Kashmir is, by all accounts, a beautiful mountainous land with some of the best trout fishing in the world. But the Indian-Pakistani fight for control of Kashmir may trigger history's first exchange of nuclear weapons, which we must prevent if we can. The Pakistani and Indian order of battle -- how they can fight -- tells a lot about how this coming war may be fought.

Kashmir isn't rich in anything but scenery. It's a byproduct of Indian independence from Britain, one of the loose ends that Lord Mountbatten, the last British governor general of India, tried to tie down before he left in 1947. Mountbatten agreed that the province of Jammu and Kashmir (as it is properly named) would become a part of India. However, because the people of J & K are mostly Muslim and India is predominantly Hindu, Mountbatten provided for a plebiscite to be held to determine whether the Kashmiris wanted to be part of India or of Pakistan. India has refused to allow the vote, and it and Pakistan have already gone to war twice over who owns Kashmir.

Though India's hands are far from clean, Pakistan's could use a good scrub too. Pakistan has supported -- or at least permitted -- Islamic terrorists operating from its territory against Indian targets in Kashmir and India itself. These groups -- such as Jaish-e-Muhammed and Lashkar-e-Omar -- attack Indian settlements and military camps frequently. (Lashkar-e-Omar is believed to be led by fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar. They're no "freedom fighters." They're the same kind of globally-recruited terrorists we found in Afghanistan.) In a May 14 attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir, terrorists killed 34 people, most of them women and children. Last January, Pakistan's President Musharraf promised to rid his nation of the terrorists and the religious schools that breed them. In truth, he has done very little. Since the May 14 attack, India has pronounced itself fed up, and Prime Minister Vajpayee has asked his troops to prepare for a "decisive" battle.

The best way for India to respond to the terrorist attacks would be by limited precision strikes against terrorist camps in western Kashmir. That way, Pakistan itself would not be attacked, and the perceived danger would be small if Indian forces withdrew quickly after the few limited strikes. The problem is that the Indian forces aren't capable of this kind of mission.

Indian army troops outnumber Pakistani troops by about two-to-one, and air forces by about four-to-one. But India's army is far less mobile than it should be. About a third of its air force is junk, pilots are in short supply, and most of its avionics is two generations old. Overall it's much less capable than Pakistan's leaner and meaner air arm. India can't mount an effective limited strike on the terrorists because it lacks the integrated intelligence, the precision-guided munitions and special forces it needs. The reason India has massed its troops near the Kashmir line of control is that it lacks a better alternative.

India's navy is also not much use against Pakistan. India has an aircraft carrier that doesn't dare come close enough to Pakistan to launch an attack because it can't risk coming in range of land-based Pakistani bombers. Aside from the air threat, India would have to face Pakistan's very small but capable submarine fleet. A threat last week by an Indian minister to blockade Karachi wasn't even a good bluff.

If war breaks out in Kashmir, Pakistan's air advantage may be decisive. But if bad weather grounds the Pak fly-guys for extended periods, India could conceivably push slowly into Pakistan proper. Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, is a little over 100 miles across the cease-fire line. In the unlikely event Islamabad is attacked, or if India panics or makes a dumb move -- like losing its carrier to Pak air attack -- one or the other could go nuclear.

Pakistan is less likely to resort to nuclear arms because it is less likely to see the need. Pak forces are quite capable of stopping an Indian advance, particularly if they can use their air power to full advantage. But if Pakistan did choose to go nuclear, it has far greater capability to deliver than India does. Pakistan is believed to have about 36 nuclear weapons, and has several classes of missiles to deliver them deep inside India. Just last weekend, it tested successfully two classes of nuclear-capable missiles. India, which has about 80 nukes, can probably also deliver them by missile or aircraft. India's readiness and ability are questionable, but one MiG-27 with a small nuke could trigger a full nuclear exchange. A U.S. Air Force estimate is that 150 million people could be killed in such an exchange. That's reason enough for us to try to prevent it.

We have to stay on top of both Musharraf and Vajpayee and bring other nations into the effort. Vajpayee rejected Putin's invitation for bilateral talks, and sent a letter to the president asking that we pressure Musharraf to stop the terrorists. Musharraf, for his part, wants U.N. intervention. India has a right to defend itself. So where does that leave us?

One way to defuse the situation is for us to find and destroy Lashkar-e-Omar. If it is Mullah Omar's bunch we have every reason to do so, and all we need is Musharraf's permission to operate openly inside Pakistan. He hasn't given us that permission so far, but we haven't clearly asked. If our Air Force carried out a bombing campaign on known terrorist camps inside Kashmir and eastern Pakistan, Musharraf would save face to a small extent (having us in there is better than having India invade). Vajpayee should then be satisfied with a diminution of the terrorist threat. If we don't do something along those lines, we're left with letting the diplos and the U.N. try to stop the war. Which doesn't leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.