No Nation Must Stumble Into War: Lessons from Op Parakram Post Uri

The Modi government needs to objectively review Operation Parakram to arrive at a more informed course of action.

4 min read
Hindi Female

This piece is being republished from The Quint’s archives in light of the DGMO’s confirmation that the Indian Army carried out surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the intervening night of 28 and 29 September 2016, inflicting significant casualties.

The post-Uri mood in India is one of anger and mounting impatience. The anger is directed as much against the opaque adversary – the terrorist who sneaks into an Indian Army camp and kills sleeping soldiers in a cowardly manner – as against the sponsor of such murderous audacity; the Pakistani military.


The impatience is with the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular, for the BJP-led NDA government came to power with a promise of protecting national security against Pakistani perfidy in a more assertive manner than the Congress-led Manmohan Singh team.

Yet, India has had to go through the ignominy of the Pathankot experience in January this year when terrorists struck a major military base, and no punishment was meted out to Rawalpindi. Now it is feared that Uri may follow the same pattern of initial indignation and social media outrage – followed by little else.

The Modi government needs to objectively review Operation Parakram  to arrive at a more informed course of action.
PM Modi has stated that the death of 18 soldiers will not go unpunished. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@Shiv Aroor)

After Uri, National Mood is Jingoistic

The national mood in India is jingoistic. Modi has stated that the death of 18 soldiers will not go unpunished. The BJP in turn has declared that the policy of strategic restraint is now over and that more proactive measures need to be taken against Pakistan.

Majority expert opinion reflects the dominant national mood and avers that India must ‘respond’ swiftly to inflict pain and punitive punishment on Pakistan. Escalation, it is maintained, will not spiral out of control and as regards the nuclear sabre-rattling that Pakistan invariably engages in, the mood is: ‘enough is enough, let us call their bluff.’

But how successful will such an Indian military response be and what is the political objective?


Operation Parakram mounted by India in the aftermath of the terror attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 provides some useful cues.

Post the terror attack on Indian Parliament, which was seen as a dastardly plan to eliminate the majority of Indian legislators, PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee mobilised the Indian military. And, from December 2001 to June 2002, there was a steady build-up of troops by both India and Pakistan closer to the Line of Control (LoC).

The Modi government needs to objectively review Operation Parakram  to arrive at a more informed course of action.
An old picture of Vajpayee with his BJP colleagues LK Advani and Madan Lal Khurana. (Photo Courtesy: PIB)

This show of force by India, it was believed, would compel Rawalpindi – the Pakistan army GHQ – to change course and desist from supporting terror groups.

At the height of Operation Parakram, both sides had amassed almost 800,000 troops in the proximity of the LoC and the military tension – which included missile tests – was palpable. Predictably, Pakistan alluded to its nuclear weapon capability to stoke international anxiety and had some success, though this was muted given the post-9/11 global mood and revulsion against terrorism.


After about six months of a heightened state of mobilisation and forward deployment, in June 2002, Vajpayee signalled that the military could stand down, and finally Operation Parakram was called off. The troops then withdrew to peace-time locations over a one-year period. It was estimated at the time that Operation Parakram cost India over $3 billion and Pakistan expended about half that amount.

What was the human cost of Operation Parakram ?

At the end of July 2003, the then defence minister George Fernandes informed the Lok Sabha that India had lost 798 soldiers – even without formally going to war. These fatalities were caused by ammunition-related accidents, mine-related fatalities and in some cases, ‘friendly fire’. In contrast, the 1999 Kargil War resulted in the death of 527 Indian troops.


How Successful Was Parakram?

Opinion is mixed, and while a small constituency believes that India was able to compel Pakistan, this did not last very long. Most experts aver that Parakram was imprecisely conceived, and that there was no clear political objective to the mass mobilisation.

More recently, a former naval chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar, had described Operation Parakram as a huge mistake. He opined:

There was no aim or military objective for Operation Parakram. I don’t mind admitting that it was the most punishing mistake for the Indian Armed Forces.

Former NSA Brijesh Mishra claimed that Operation Parakram had instilled considerable caution in the behaviour of the Pakistani military, but this was short-lived, as the Mumbai attacks followed in November 2008.


An objective review of Parakram may help the Modi government to arrive at a more informed cost-benefit analysis about the contours of the post-Uri military response. Many issues that lay dormant in the ontologically troubled India-Pakistan bilateral relationship have been brought to the surface, including Baluchistan and linear extrapolations from Parakram to Uri may not be valid.

India does have a range of military options, but none of them is devoid of collateral damage and cost – both human and material. A low-cost option is not on the menu. Distilled reason, long-term resolve and ethical restraint must form the normative tripod for the post-Uri Indian response.

A nation should not stumble into war – however limited – to assuage bruised public sentiment.

(The writer is a leading expert on strategic affairs. He is currently Director, Society for Policy Studies. He can be reached at @theUdayB)

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Topics:  India   Indian Military   Army 

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