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Here’s Why Pakistan Cannot Liberate Kashmir

Pakistan’s is a defensive army which can fight on the defense with ease, pushing back an enemy 7 times its number as we have seen many times. But what it can’t do is aim to dislodge that very enemy of its size and resources away from a territory of over 150,000 sq km. To expect that is to be unrealistic and unfair, writes Usman Khan.

Recently many Pakistanis and politicians, in the aftermath of India’s annexation of the parts of Kashmir that it held, expected the Pakistani military to take counter-action against India. This expected counter-action is often nothing short of a declaration of war against India and a full-blown invasion of Indian-held Kashmir. Citing examples from 8th-century Arab conqueror of Sindh Muhammad bin Qasim to the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, a sizeable number of people in the country expect the Pakistani military to take the initiative and enter a conflict. The prime minister has, of course, repeatedly requested the public to expect nothing of this kind – which has indeed annoyed some people.

But is his request justified? Should the people not expect action? After all the history books teach us that the Pakistani army defeated the Indian army in 1948 in Kashmir and liberated a territory of 100,000 sq km from the Indian army, was “close to capturing Kashmir” in 1965 had India not opened another front through the international border of Lahore and Sialkot and were it not for Nawaz Sharif’s “cowardice”, the Kargil conflict of 1999 would have seen Kashmir under Pakistan’s flag somehow. Having been raised on such a view of the past, can the people be blamed for expecting another one of these heroics?

Reality is very cruel and very different indeed. This expectation is both unrealistic and impossible – not just because of the huge disparity in economic and military strength but by a simple review of history. The fact is that Pakistan has never sought to face India in open and total war. If anything, it has avoided any situation where all-out war was possible. A simple perusal of history shows that all the conflicts between the two neighbours have been, ultimately limited wars.

The 1947-48 war was fought not by regular troops but by the tribal fighters who fought in modern-day Azad Kashmir, Baramulla and Srinagar. In this conflict, the other direction of advance was Gilgit Baltistan: and here the fighting was done solely by the Gilgit Scouts under Major Brown. It was his recommendation to the Gilgit Council to accede Gilgit-Baltistan to Pakistan. Many cite the fact that Pakistan provided arms to the tribal fighters in 1948 but the fact is that the moment that would have truly tested such a commitment was the 28th of October 1947 when the Indian army came into the conflict and used artillery to target the tribal fighters.

At this point, the lack of support from Pakistan was highlighted by Akbar Khan in his book Raiders in Kashmir: that in the conference of 30th October to 4th November, the situation was analyzed and Major Mehsud privately told Akbar Khan that he could send armoured cars without permission if he ordered it. But that was vetoed – not by Akbar Khan but by Raja Ghazanfar Ali and Brigadier Sher Khan who burst into the meeting and opposed it, citing fear of full blown confrontation. In fact the absence of regular troops in the war would hurt progress repeatedly.

It was in April 1948 when Pakistani regular troops finally joined the war but the war was now of only holding gains, with no major conflict taking place. All the gains of the Gilgit Scouts in Leh and the tribal militias in the Kashmir valley and Jammu were lost, with only a strip to show for it. In this war we saw that Pakistani leadership avoided facing the Indian military and only took defensive postures. The reason why Pakistani troops got involved in 1948 was that the Indian Army had launched an offensive and captured Rajouri, 45 kilometers away from Nowshera. This was seen as threatening the integrity of Pakistan. It did not move a muscle when every gain was taken in a span of 9 months. Later in the conflict, Pakistan’s military leadership saw the strategic momentum lost and wanted to regain it, but there was no such opportunity.

The fact is that the Pakistani military is not run by warmongers of the kind commonly found on Twitter. It is a professional force, well aware of its capabilities. They know when to fight and when not to.

This gave birth to a new thought process. Since the first tribal invasion was so successful, why not do it again? Why face a numerically superior and stronger enemy in open battle? This brought forth a secret military offensive called “Operation Nusrat” which was an meant to figure out infiltration spots across the LOC through cross border firing and raids. This continued in the mid-1950s and up till 1965, when, emboldened by their success at the Rann of Kutch, the Pakistani military leadership wanted to launch a full infiltration operation to incite revolt within Indian occupied Kashmir. They hoped this would create an international incident and bring the Kashmir issue to light. This operation was called “Operation Gibraltar” and ironically Ayub Khan and many in the military leadership were not supportive of this operation (the Air Chief Marshal was not even told of this).

They felt that such blatant infiltration would create a warlike situation between Pakistan and India. However, others in the leadership felt assured that there would be no such situation. In the words of General Akhtar Hussain Malik the purpose of the operation was “to defreeze the Kashmir problem, weaken Indian resolve and bring India to the conference table without provoking an all-out war”.

We see that once again the Pakistani army was in no mood to seek open conflict in Kashmir and was convinced of the success of the operation and Indian inaction. Unfortunately for Pakistan, both didn’t happen. The operation was a failure since out of ten infiltration teams only one was successful, while the rest were captured with the help of the very people they were going to incite i.e. the Kashmiris. On top of it all the Indian government reacted strongly. Post 1962 the Indian Army had changed itself considerably and with the intent to show resolve the army and the leadership wanted to send a message. So the Indian army retaliated by choking all the infiltration points leading to supplies being cut off, and then by capturing strategic peaks and entering 20km into Azad Kashmir by capturing the Haji Pir Pass. This retaliation shocked the Pakistani leadership, which found itself in a situation that it never wanted to be in and after failures to dislodge the Indians from their position, Ayub launched operation Grand Slam which meant was to cut the Indian supply line and force the Indian Army to vacate its positions. And we know what happened then.

In Kargil, in 1999, again Pakistan wanted to choke Indian supply lines to Siachen and capture the Kargil point lost in 1971. The objective was never to meet the Indians head-on but to capture the peaks and hold the position with the expectation that the international reaction would favour Pakistan and India would not retaliate strongly. But again, as we saw, India did.

What the people of Pakistan need to understand is that the Pakistani military is a professional force which works and builds itself upon a specific doctrine. Armed forces are of two types: offensive and defensive. Pakistan’s is a defensive army which can fight on the defense with ease, pushing back an enemy 7 times its number as we have seen many times. But what it can’t do is aim to dislodge that very enemy of its size and resources away from a territory of over 150,000 sq km. To expect that is to be unrealistic and unfair. Our ammunition and fuel storage gives us a limited window to make war. Our entire fighting doctrine stands on a small period where Pakistani forces will contain any offensive from the Indian Army and hold their position till the international powers intervene. That is our entire military doctrine around which we build the army, train the soldiers, acquire the equipment and store the ammunition and resources.

When our doctrine is such, how can we ask the military to liberate Kashmir? How can we blame the government when they ask us to not hope for an invasion and liberation? To change the army to some other pattern, we will need to revamp everything. It will require massive budgets 10-20 times the current one. Such an approach would see us defeated in the very first year of this “policy” without a single bullet being fired.

It must be stated again when it has been stated a thousand times: that the public must not be deceived. It must be told the truth. Hiding the truth and creation of false, unrealistic narratives will only create a web in which we willingly trap ourselves – with disastrous consequences for all.


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