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Cold start or Hot start, We are ready!

Army chief’s quip: “Cold start or Hot start, We are ready!” is reflective of national sentiment in the face of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ongoing childish brinkmanship. Archives of the Indian media show that grossly exaggerated claims of military success were made by India during the 1965 war; some of the headlines were: “Our valiant forces have set up a civil administration in Lahore after capturing the railway station, airport, Mughalpura, an ordinance factory ….”; “Civilized attitude of our soldiers wins hearts of Lahoris” & “Lahore captured: Our forces are moving into Kasur”. Closest the Indian forces came to Lahore was 14.2 “Bloody miles”. Indian psyche remains unchanged. After 50 years, India officialdom has embarked upon a foolhardy spree to make believe that India was outright victorious.

In a related tri-services seminar on September 1, 2015, Indian Vice President Mr. Hamid Ansari launched an Indian Air Force (IAF) commissioned book, “The Duels of the Himalayan Eagle: The First Indo-Pak Air War”, by a former IAF Air Marshal Bharat Kumar, book is an effort to hang a new narrative in vacuum by refuting all accounts by neutral analysts that portray PAF as a clear winner. Indian Army, too, is coming out with its “new” account of the 1965 war.

Nevertheless, the IAF book is constrained to acknowledge that IAF “suffered disproportionately higher losses” than the PAF. The IAF was numerically superior, with 28 combat squadrons (460 combat air craft) to PAF’s 11(186 aircraft)”. Indian Air Marshal admits that IAF was caught off-guard by the PAF offensive (read pre-emption) and had lost its 35 aircraft on the ground during pre-emptive strikes, on Pathankot on September 6 and then on Kalaikunda, on the following day. As per his count, IAF lost 59 aircraft, while the PAF lost 43.

To justify these losses, he goes on to argue that IAF grappled with first-generation subsonic fighters like Vampire and Dassault Toofani as well as second-generation transonic ones like Mystere, Hawker Hunter, Gnats and Canberra bombers; and just a handful of third-generation supersonic MiG-21s. And that the PAF was equipped with F-86 Sabre jets, F-104 Star-fighters and B-57 bombers, along with much-better weapons and radars. Another offered lame excuse is that 13 out of IAF’s 28 squadrons had been deployed in the eastern and central sectors to tackle the Chinese threat. He portrays that the effective ratio of combat squadrons between IAF and PAF was 12:10.

Air Marshal Bharat again brushes with falsehood: “Whereas Pakistan was fighting on one front, India had to be ready on more than one and therefore had to divide and conserve her resources accordingly”. He continues with fanciful arguments: “There is no doubt that Indian losses in aircraft were higher and Pakistan has tried to use just this figure alone to proclaim its victory…Nothing could be farther from the truth…In the final analysis, despite initial reverses, India was able to successfully thwart Pakistan’s grand design.”

For a change, book takes a candid look at the abysmal lack of coordination between IAF and the Army, with the author admitting that “mistakes were made”. “Absence of joint IAF-Army planning and tardy intelligence as well as poor communication links and radar coverage, scarce resources and the wide theatre of operations, all led to the disjointed conduct of operations by India.”

Like her war with China on the NEFA and Ladakh borders, India’s Rann of Kutch adventure against Pakistan also turned out to be a fiasco. However, reaction in both cases was different; while India had lost the will to fight another encounter with China, Pakistan had to be avenged, mainly for face-saving amongst Indian public. Soon after the Kutch debacle, Indian ‘Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri announced his intention to “choose a front of our liking”. Obviously, this was to be the Kashmir front where ceasefire line violations had been stepped up. The UN Military Observers Group reported 2,006 violations during the first seven months of 1965 as against 700 in 1964 and 20 in 1963. From April 1965, when the Rann of Kutch encounter had started, the violations took a sudden jump – from 80 in March to 290 in April. In May, they rose to 380, in June to 400, and in July they swelled to 756. A too familiar scenario even after 50 years!

Exercise Desert Hawk during the Rann of Kutch operations had brought the PAF almost on war footing, and when the Indian Army clashed with the Pakistan Army in the Chhamb sector, the PAF was ready to meet the challenge. Due to this inter-services synergy, Pakistan Army quickly swept across the plains of Chhamab Jurian sector inside the Indian-held Kashmir.

The PAF gained ascendancy in the September war after the first four crucial days; by this time, the IAF had, lost heavily in aircraft and pilots, and the PAF had achieved the miraculous air supremacy all over Pakistan. The IAF planes came in waves, with a numerical edge of 5:1; but went back in singletons and twos, spraying the wreckage of remaining on vast swaths of (West) Pakistan.

PAF took full cognizance of the IAFs much larger air fleet and prepared its aerial strategy to offset this handicap. IAF fell into the trap by fighting the crucial air superiority battle over Sargodha. The PAF made full use of the medium level capabilities of the highly maneuverable F-86 Sabre. Supported by a few high performance F-104 (only one squadron), the PAF turned the tables. Harassing and running tactics by the IAF were an invitation to disaster; for which it had to pay heavily. The PAF aircraft, orbiting and waiting for them, would pounce and get them after a chase either inside Pakistan or a little across the border. Heavy losses suffered by the IAF, in its attacks against PAF Base Sargodha, convinced the IAF that it could not match the PAF. Though Indians have made much of the PAF possessing air-to-air missiles (GAR8), only a few aircraft were installed with these sidewinders; most of the PAF kills were recorded from the aircraft guns.

PAF fully capitalized on air superiority and went on all-out offensive; striking almost all IAF bases by day and night. Close support to the army was provided on different fronts. Air superiority over the land battle zone enabled the Pak Army to move and fight unhindered by the IAF. PAF also had sufficient effort to spare for attacking the Indian army at will, thus restricting its combat capability.

PAF, proved to be a responsive instrument, which adopted requisite aggressive posture that crippled the IAF on the ground. Decision to go ahead with the initial strikes against the main IAF air bases, even when the number of available aircraft was considerably below the required figure, indicates a typical aggressive mindset. Erstwhile Control & Reporting (C&R) Branch of the PAF (later renamed as Air Defence Branch) played a significant role in achieving the vital objective of air superiority. The synergic effect created by induction of scant inventory of radars in to aerial combat had largely offset PAF’s numerical disadvantage. The climax of air defence operations was conduct of intercepts, in non-radar lit up zones, by utilizing inputs from Mobile Observer units.

Times of India has reported that Modi government’s plan to celebrate the 1965 war as “a great victory” has raised quite a few eyebrows because even Indian defence ministry’s official war history had long ago described its end as a stalemate. In military jargon, the term “stalemate” is synonymous to defeat when used to portray own performance.

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Is the new push for Afghan peace genuine?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an unannounced visit to Kabul on July 09 that there was “now hope” for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. “An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope,” Pompeo told a press conference. “Many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s very deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy… Make no mistake, there’s still a great deal of work to do”, he added. However, recent BBC study reveals that Taliban are openly active in 70 per cent of Afghanistan; Afghan government controls 122 districts, or about 30 per cent of the country. Yet, it does not mean that government controlled territories are free from Taliban attacks. “Kabul and other major cities, for example, suffered major attacks – launched from adjacent areas, or by sleeper cells,” the report said. When asked about the BBC’s study, the Pentagon did not comment directly, but pointed to the latest figures by the NATO-led coalition, asserting that about 56 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory was under Afghan government control or influence. The study quoted a spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani playing down the findings. The BBC study also said Islamic State had a presence in 30 districts, but noted it did not fully control any of them. Earlier Taliban had refused the government’s request to extend their three-day Eid ceasefire, launching fresh attacks that have seen scores killed or injured. Resurgence of insider attacks after almost a year’s gap also belies Pompeo’s claims. President Ashraf Ghani thanked Pompeo for US support, hailing Trump’s strategy as a “game changer” in the conflict. Pompeo said while the United States would have an “important” role in peace talks, the process must be Afghan-led. Taliban’s key demands for engaging in talks has been the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but observers say they now appear amenable to a timetable for their pull-out. However, Taliban have rejected the latest peace talks offer. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Taliban “are not interested in talks while foreign troops are still on Afghan soil.” Mujahid also repeated long-standing Taliban claims that Afghan government officials are “puppets. Renewed violence and the Taliban’s recent vow to continue their fight has dampened hopes that the truce would provide a clear path to peace talks. Ambassador Alice G Wells, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, visits Islamabad [and Kabul] so frequently that Pakistan’s foreign office might be thinking of offering her complimentary accommodation for setting up Islamabad camp office! Beyond routines Wells has a special assignment: to hold Taliban by their throat and present them to President Ashraf Ghani, as soon as possible. Ghani already has an America dictated power sharing draft agreement in his pocket. And American support for granting him blanket clearance for rigging his second term election is contingent upon making reasonable performance on this track. Both Afghanistan and the US want to reach some kind of deal with the Taliban before the parliamentary elections due later this year. Hence Wells’ urgency! Arduous challenge for Alice is that Taliban insist on talking directly to the US, as they think that present status of Afghanistan is of a country under American occupation. So they want to engage with the power that be—ostensibly, logical thinking. With focus on Taliban, Wells is putting in strenuous effort to steer the Pak-US relationship clear of mines laid by President Donal Trump. During her latest visit, she reiterated that Pak-US relationship is important and the US would like to carry it forward. Despite Trump sown hiccups, these bilateral relations are still presenting a functional façade. Pakistan is confident that Taliban could be brought to the negotiating table after the success of recent short ceasefire on Eid. However, it feels that bringing Taliban to negotiating point is not the sole responsibility of Pakistan, but is a shared errand. In a parallel development, during several rounds of discussions between Pakistani and Afghan officials, both sides have worked out a roadmap on how to invite Taliban to join the political process. Afghan President has confirmed that Pakistan and Afghanistan have made considerable progress on how to achieve peace in Afghanistan. This however does not match ground realities. Against this backdrop, Wells’ recent visit to Kabul and Islamabad was significant. While in Kabul, she stated that American leadership desires decisive moves in the peace talks. Wells said there was widespread support for peace, underlined by scenes of unarmed fighters mingling with government troops and civilians on the streets of Afghan cities during Eid festival. Wells said that Taliban’s failure to engage in talks to end Afghanistan’s nearly 17-year old conflict was ‘unacceptable’: “I think it creates this impulse for everyone to renew their efforts to find a negotiated political solution. “Increasingly I think it’s becoming simply unacceptable for the Taliban not to negotiate”— a wishful assumption. Taliban soon responded by multiple attacks killing scores of people in Jalalabad and elsewhere. Wells also called on Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Views were exchanged on issues of mutual interest, regional security and cooperation between both the countries, the Inter-Services Public Relations said in a statement. She “commended the sacrifices and resilience of the people and armed forces of Pakistan and appreciated the role Pakistan Army has played in battling the scourge of terrorism”. Both agreed on continued engagement at multiple levels. Trump has suspended military and civil sector aid to Pakistan since the beginning of this year alongside holding back the already paid for military hardware. America is also defaulting on arears of Coalition Support Fund, amount that America owes to Pakistan that latter has already spent on account of logistical services provided to the US. Finance Minister, Dr Shamshad Akhtar also held a meeting with Wells. They discussed the current state of Pak-US relations with particular focus on economic cooperation. Finance Minister said that such bilateral visits enhance understanding of each other’s point of view on important issues. The Minister also briefed Alice Wells about Pakistan’s participation in the recently concluded FATF meeting. America had gone out of the way to have Pakistan placed on FATF grey list to the extent of circumventing the FTAF operating procedures. Wells said that since the Afghan government and United States were willing to start talking without preconditions, the onus was now on the Taliban to respond— once again logic stands on its head. “Right now it’s the Taliban leaders… who aren’t residing in Afghanistan, who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement,” Wells said. She forgot to account for those Taliban controlling over 70 percent of Afghan territories. Previous meaningful peace initiatives were deliberately scuttled by the US, one has to see how the current one proceeds! Only the forward movement of peace process will reflect on America’s sincerity of purpose, which is hard to discern—at least for now.

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