Operation Brasstacks1, Indian Airforce

Brasstacks and Beyond
(Excerpts from an article by Sunil Dasgupta in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, February 1996)

According to the book "Brasstacks and Beyond" (Kanti P. Bajpai, P. R. Chari, Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, Stephen P. Cohen, and Sumit Ganguly : Manohar Publishers, 1995), Brasstacks might never have occurred had Sundarji not been there. In the book, the authors look at three unwise men: The first was Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, a young and inexperienced leader, who was like a wide-eyed child when it came to tanks and planes. "The 'bigness' of this exercise appears to have fascinated him, because he wanted it to be larger than any other held earlier in South Asia. It would seem he had no larger political or strategic objective in mind, although some believed he wished to strike a heroic posture and impress the neighbors."

Next was Arun Singh, the junior minister of defense, who had been a classmate of Rajiv's at the elite Doon School. He was equally inexperienced and naïvely fascinated.

The third was Sundarji, perhaps India's smartest and most ambitious military leader. After Sundarji was appointed army chief of staff, Singh said on television that India was going to develop new strategies, acquire new weapons, and possibly reconsider the nuclear option.

The authors let this gang of three off rather easily. After all, Brasstacks did not achieve much-other than nearly starting a war and reportedly precipitating the "weaponization" of Pakistan's nuclear program. The Indian forces have still not recovered from the heavy use of their Soviet-supplied equipment. And with the collapse of the Soviet Union, obtaining spare parts and ammunition remains a problem.

The book does not speculate about Sundarji's motives. But one of the authors, Stephen Cohen, a professor of history and political science at the University of Illinois, said at a workshop in India in August 1995 that Sundarji might have reasoned that it was the last time the two countries could have had a purely conventional war. If so, it was India's last chance to cripple Pakistan militarily and kill off its well-on-the-way nuclear program. But if that was Sundarji's objective, it was not achieved.

One chapter is devoted to the U.S. role in the resolution of the crisis. The United States first became aware of Brasstacks early in 1986, when paper and computer simulations of the exercise were being carried out. U.S. military attachés in New Delhi were briefed regularly, sometimes by Sundarji himself. Personnel at the U.S. mission in New Delhi believed-erroneously-that they were being fully informed. They were impressed by what they did know about the operation, which was planned by a U.S.-trained general (Sundarji attended the U.S. Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, as did Pakistani President Zia), employed British military doctrine and formations, and used Soviet-designed equipment, all in an interservice exercise as big in size and scope as any NATO or Warsaw Pact manoeuvres.

But in December 1986, when India assembled its forces along the Pakistani border, U.S. military attachés had to inform their government that there was little Washington or Islamabad could do if Indian forces marched west. If fighting broke out, they said, Pakistan would last no more than a month, unless India committed a blunder or unilaterally stopped fighting. In January 1987, Pakistan, which had been conducting its own exercises, kept its forces and satellite airfields on alert and moved some reserves across India's northwestern state of Punjab. India labeled this action a provocation and juggled the location of some of its divisions. The two armies were eyeball to eyeball.

According to the authors, the United States acted as mediator between the two countries. It agreed with Pakistan that the exercise was a provocation, but it also told Pakistan that the Indian moves were not part of a Soviet design to distract Pakistan from its involvement in Afghanistan. What compelled the U.S. action was the possibility of the crisis escalating to a nuclear one. U.S. government officials knew that Pakistan was trying to build a bomb, and American worries on this count were heightened by a veiled threat made in an interview with an Indian journalist at the height of the crisis by A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program.

Brasstacks and Beyond is essential reading for those who want to understand how South Asian relations, particularly between India and Pakistan, work. The book's most useful contributions to further research are its chronology of events; its history of cooperation and conflict in the region; and the ringside views offered by Chari and Cohen.

The Dynasty
(Excerpts from a book review by A.H. Amin in the Defence Journal)

In his book "The Dynasty" (Harper Collins Publishers: ISBN 81-7223-265-9), retired civil servant S.S Gill says the General(Sundarji) hankered after a war, not because he was convinced of its inevitability, but as it offered him the only path to personal glory and a niche in history". The aim of Brasstacks as per Gill was separation of Sindh from Pakistan and thus a "second breakup of the country".

The most interesting point that Gill makes is something very close to the Kargil Scenario of 1999. Gill states that Brasstacks was a personal war of Sundarji and Rajiv knew nothing about its actual aims. Thus Gill describes Rajiv Gandhi's reaction once he heard about Brasstacks, i.e " he hit the roof"........... "You see these Johnnies had almost pushed us into war with Pakistan"!

Gill asserts that Sundarji was in an "Expansive mood" and it was only through Benazir Bhutto that Rajiv discovered his army chief's real ambitions! Gill then adds "She(Benazir) showed him(Rajiv) a copy of the minutes of his army commanders meeting. Rajiv returned a much wiser and sadder man and ordered some secret inquiries". So much for the security of documents in the Indian Army.

Rajiv gave green signal to N-arms in Mar '89
(Article in the "Economic Times" 22/4/2000)

Raj Chengappa

FORMER premier Rajiv Gandhi had given the "green signal’’ to India's nuclear weaponisation programme, way back in March ’89 after watching an IAF air show at the Tilpat test range near the capital, according to a new book on the country's nuclear programme.

After the air show, Rajiv signalled to then defence secretary Naresh Chandra before boarding a helicopter and used the phrase — "we can't sit on the reports warning us about Pakistan. We must now stand on our own feet’’.

He also told Mr Chandra that there was a need for a senior official whose "word is not going to be doubted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) when funds were secretly set aside for the programme,’’ Raj Chengappa, a senior journalist covering strategic affairs, wrote in his book "Weapons of Peace’’. The author said the organisations where the weapons were being readied "began to feel the enormous pressure of the decision to go ahead’’.

Stating that in ’86 Mr Gandhi had "set into motion a series of secret measures to keep the country's nuclear capability at least at a minimum state of readiness’’, Mr Chengappa said the then premier "did not want to commit India to a massive increase in defence expenditure that the armed forces wanted’’.

"After Rajiv's orders in ’86, (then minister of state for defence) V.S. Arunachalam launched a cautious drive to enhance India's state of nuclear preparedness’’ which included plans to protect major installations, including nuclear establishments and runways against atom bomb attacks.

"Rajiv even sent Mr Arunachalam to the Soviet Union to find out the drill they followed. He wanted a command and control centre which could not only withstand a nuclear attack, but also have sophisticated communication systems from which the prime minister could direct the country's armed forces during a war. "Arun Singh (who was Rajiv's parliamentary secretary) was told to set up a national command post at a secure location near the capital,’’ Mr Chengappa said.