A Costly Operation

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Within days after the 2001 Parliament Attack, more than half a million soldiers were mobilized on Indo-Pak border under Operation Parakram. While it cost people and the army heavily, the objectives of the full-scale mobilization for 10 months are still unclear, RS Gull reports.

Atal Behari Vajpayee was India’s poetic Prime Minister. After the Parliament attack on December 13, 2001, shocked everybody from Delhi to Srinagar, Vajpayee talked about aar paar ki ladie (a war between the two sides). When the soldiers were asked to march towards the Indo-Pak border, the generals wanted an objective of the operation. Woh baad mein bataayenge (it would be conveyed later), was the reported response from Prime Minister to General S Padmanabhan.

People living near the borders across the state had barely started resuming life after being displaced in the 1999 Kargil conflict that the Operation Parakram displaced them again.

Post Kargil war, Jammu witnessed massive migration from Vijaypur, Bishna, Samba, RS Pora, Nowshehra and Akhoor sectors, besides substantial shifts in Poonch and Rajouri. While the residents left homes and hearths, their lands were taken over by the army for laying mines with a density of 1000 mines per square kilometre. There were more than 200 villages in Jammu spreading over 70,100 acres of land that were impacted. In Kathua and Jammu districts, the army took over 31927 hectares of land. J&K government sought Rs 78 crore for rehabilitation of affected border population but got Rs 60 crore from the centre.

On May 14, 2002, militants attacked a garrison in Kaluchak on the outskirts of Jammu, killing 34 people which led to the expulsion of the Pakistani ambassador from Delhi and a diplomatic crisis started. Perhaps for the first time during the entire deployment, the army was given a go-ahead for a military strike. It was the IAF that found insufficient stocks of the laser-guided missiles. When Tel Aviv obliged the SOS, one good fortnight had elapsed and there were no takers for less-frequent war cries in the international arena.

During nearly 11 months of objective-less operation, around 789 soldiers were killed. Some died while laying the landmines and many more were killed during the actual occasional gun-battles and artillery duels that would break at every drop of the hat in an ill-conceived, apparently aimless operation.

But the government defended its decision. It used a longer statement of the then Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani made in the US in January to offer its broad objectives and the operation was supposed to achieve a list of things which read that Pakistan should hand over 20 key terrorism suspects, Islamabad must make its renunciation of terrorism public, close down training camps, choke their finance lines and weapons supplies, besides stopping infiltrating men into J&K. It was sort of coercive diplomacy, forcing a hostile economy to bleed to a level that she would give in to the demands Delhi was making. It cost Delhi more than Rs 2100 crore as India’s National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) says the operation cost Rs 7 crore a day.

Criticism of the operation notwithstanding, American diplomacy saved the situation for both the countries. Western pressure led to Pakistan’s then President, Parvez Musharaf to make two public speeches – the first on January 12, 2002, when he condemned the parliament attack and the second on May 27, 2002, after Kaluchak, when he stated that Pakistani territory will not be used against India. These two statements along with many other smaller initiatives were packaged by the US as the net outcome of the coercive diplomacy.

Convinced, the Indian government decided to de-mobilize on October 16, 2002, and the convoys immediately started returning home. This eventually led to a ceasefire on LoC in November 2003. On the ground, militancy did not see any major change as political killings were phenomenally high in Kashmir after the election. Former Navy chief Admiral, Sushil Kumar remembers the operation as “most punishing mistake” for the armed forces. And General Padmanabhan bluntly said post-operation that, “whenever there is a situation calling for Army’s help, the latter’s role should be clearly defined to avoid confusion”.

Even after the displaced populations returned home, it took them a lot of time to till the lands they owned. The army had to de-mine all these fields, using foreign machinery, the most efficient was an improvised de-mining Danish tractor. After a number of civilians were killed and injured in the de-mined fields, farmers refused to take back lands unless the army goes for the maiden plough using tractors. Jammu media and officials coined the word “Tractorization” for it. It was early 2004 that the peasants could resume routine.

That was the cost that J&K paid for the parliament attack.

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