Strategic Importance-South Punjab and Sindh
The main reason for writing this article is to help readers better understand the series that I have begun about the canal based defenses. This article will help (at least that is what I hope) people to appreciate the offensive potential of the Indian Army in the study area and, the reasons behind Pakistan erecting the canal based defenses. I have used the example of Indian Army deployment during Op. Parakram as a case study - it shows the likely axis of advance by Indian Army into South Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan. This information, when combined with knowledge about orientation and features of canals, shows the usefulness of canals and other water bodies as defensive features.
Year 2002 was a landmark as far as the war fighting philosophy of the Indian Army is concerned. Or, to put it more accurately, it demonstrated for the first time that Indian Army was ready to go beyond the ‘tried and tested’ route and take bold decisions. Decisions which would allow it to enforce a result in the anticipated time period available given the geo-political situation obtained presently.
One prior such land mark was re-orientation of the Indian Army from defensive mindset to offensive one by leveraging the growing modernization (and mechanization) with in the army. This transformation reached its culmination when General Sundarji was at helm of affairs and an eponymous doctrine of war-fighting, called the Sundarji Doctrine, became the mantra of the army. Under the re-organization, the offensive firepower was concentrated in three Strike Corps (1, 2, 21) with an armored division each. It was envisaged that in any conflict with Pakistan, not only will these formations inflict attrition on Pakistan Army Strike Reserves (ARN and ARS), thereby degrading its war fighting potential, but also make a dash to Indus, thus splitting Pakistan into two.
With the advent of nuclear weapons and geo-political environment obtained presently, I don’t think IA is planning to split Pakistan into two anytime soon – but the objectives of degrading the war fighting potential of PA and capturing strategic territory (to be used during bargaining) very much remain on the table.
The intention of this write-up is to assess the Indian options in the area south of Fazilka (inclusive of Abohar) and right up to Barmer Sector in south Rajasthan. We also assess the position of Pakistan Army and options available to it. The importance of canal developments in the region and their potential as defense structures gets highlighted in the process.
The military balance obtained as of today in the study area is as follows:
o South Western Command – Jaipur (Note: SWC was formed in 2005; earlier, the entire area from Punjab to central Rajasthan was under the aegis of Western Command)
§ 10 Corps – Bhatinda
· 16 Infantry Division, Sri Ganganagar
· 24 RAPID, Bikaner
· 18 RAPID, Kota
· 6(I) Armored Brigade
§ 1 Strike Corps – Mathura (based in Central Command area during peace time)
· 33 Armored Division, Hissar
· 4 RAPID, Allahabad
· 23 Infantry Division, Ranchi
· 16(I) Armored Brigade, Pathankot (may have been moved under 9 Corps)
§ 42 Artillery Division, Alwar (to move to Jaipur as per latest media reports - (http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/army-south-west-command-to-move-closer-to-jaipur/1/184194.html)
o Southern Command
§ 12 Corps – Jodhpur
· 12 RAPID, Jodhpur
· 11 Infantry Division, Ahmedabad
· 4 (I) Armored Brigade
· 340 (I) Mechanized Brigade
§ 21 Strike Corps – Bhopal
· 31 Armored Division, Jhansi
· 36 RAPID, Sagar
· 54 Infantry Division, Secunderabad
· 41 Artillery Division, Pune
o Western Command
§ 2 Strike Corps – Ambala
· 1 Armored Division, Patiala
· 14 RAPID, Dehradun
· 22 Infantry Division, Meerut
· 14(I) Armored Brigade (larger than average independent armored brigade)
· 40 Artillery Division
· 40 Artillery Division
The other Corps under Western Command is 11 Corps based out of Jalandhar. The reason 2 Strike Corps has been included here because the traditional hunting ground of 2 Strike Corps has been area between south Punjab and central Rajasthan.
o 2 Corps, Multan (Army Reserve South)
§ 1 Armored Division, Multan
§ 40 Infantry Division, Okara (Mechanized)
o 31 Corps, Bahawalpur
§ 26 Mechanized Division, Bahawalpur
§ 35 Infantry Division, Bahawalpur
§ 14 Infantry Division, Okara
o V Corps, Karachi
§ 16 Infantry Division, Pano Aqil
§ 18 Infantry Division, Hyderabad
§ 25 Mechanized Division, Malir
o XI Corps, Peshawar
§ One Infantry Division
§ One (I) Armored Brigade
Note on 25th and 26th Mechanized Divisions – The deployment of three Strike Corps by the Indian Army in Southern Punjab and Rajasthan sectors brought home a very stark reality to the Pakistan Army – that is, it did not have sufficient reserves to counter the formidable punch which the three Indian Strike Corps could throw in this sector. Adding to the problem was the new Indian doctrine of Cold Start Doctrine, which envisaged its holding Corps initiating offensive actions (through Integrated Battle Groups) when the balloon went up.
In short, the plan from Indian perspectives seems to be that the exploits of IBGs would force PA to commit its reserves in the study area– 2 Corps (Army Reserve South) in this case. This then would give Indians the options (both in time and space) in terms of deploying its own Strike Corps. Basically, the idea was to get Pakistan to blink first when it came to deployment of the strategic reserve.
To counter this situation, Pakistan Army created Corps Reserves with 5 and 31 Corps (25th and 26th Mechanized Divisions, respectively) which can serve as counter-penetration forces or initiate offensive actions on their own. This would ensure that Army Reserves are not deployed in the initial stages of conflict and holding Corps (5 and 31 Corps) can manage the situation on their own.
Composition of Corps Reserves - Not much is known in public domain about the composition of these Mechanized Divisions (at least to me) but I’ve a hypothesis (actually two) –
(a) Pakistan Army has had number of Independent Armored Brigades attached to Corps, generally at the rate of one (I) Armored Brigade per Corps (some had more than one brigade with 5 Corps being a prime example). I’m of the opinion that these armored brigades have been folded together with a Division HQ to form these Mechanized Divisions. In terms of Mechanized Brigades with these formations, Pakistan Army has had Heavy and Light Anti-Tank Battalions in its Orbat – the former are equipped with APC mounted ATGMs while the latter have 4x4 vehicles – these were grouped earlier into anti-tank brigades. It is likely that these formations provide the mechanized infantry elements of these mechanized divisions.
( (b) For example, 5 Corps has had 2(I) Armored Brigade and 31(I) Mechanized Brigade in its Orbat for a long time. It is quite possible that these brigades (plus additional mechanized infantry assets) have been folded together under a higher HQ to form the 25th Mechanized Division.
(c) However, what adds to the confusion is the fact that these (I) brigades continues to be mentioned as Independent formations in the media reports that I’ve seen from Pakistan and on various forums dedicated to Pakistan Armed Forces. Therefore, it is quite likely that PA has created a higher HQ with support elements which will be used to manage these formations as a single entity, if required, in case of a conflict. The only issue with this approach is that the formations which are likely to fight together in a conflict need to train together in peace time as part of one entity. Ad-hoc amalgamation in times of conflict does not serve the purpose well as it takes time to build synergy between various components of the formation.
It is because of the above likely scenario that I’ve not mentioned the independent armored/mechanized brigades of PA with 5, 30 and 2 Corps. They are considered as part of the Corps Reserve Divisions.
For clarity and reference sake, the (I) Armored/Mechanized Brigades in the study area that I’m aware of (based on data available on internet) are as follows
- 5 Corps
- 2(I) Armored Bde
- 31(I) Mech Bde
- 31 Corps
- 10(I) Armored Bde
- 2 Corps
- 13 (I) Armored Bde
- 44(I) Mech Bde
One main reason I have to believe that independent brigades are being used to form the Corps Reserves is that the total number of armored regiments has not gone up – the present number of armored regiments is not sufficient to have (I) armored/mechanized brigades (same as earlier level) as well as new raisings for Corps Reserves.
Therefore, the Corps Reserves, in my opinion, do not represent a net increment in capability in terms of numbers. However, what it surely does is concentrate the mechanized assets under a higher formation (with necessary support elements) which will allow PA to apply pressure in a concentrated manner – the cardinal principal of armored warfare which allowed German Army (with lesser and inferior assets) to break the back of French Army in WWII. Using Corps Reserves, PA can develop a strong offensive across a particular axis and a minor/complimentary offensive on a parallel axis.
This further brings out two observations – (a) the number of (I) armored brigades in Pakistan Army is lesser than what is generally observed (b) these formations for all intent and purpose are armored divisions.
2002 Stand-Off – Operation Parakram
The attack on Indian Parliament on 13th December, 2001 triggered the largest mobilization of Indian Armed Forces after Brasstacks in 1986-87. As per various media reports, India came close to going on offensive on two occasions (a) first in January 2002 in the immediate aftermath of Parliament attack (b) second in June after terrorist attack on Indian Army Camp in Kaluchak in May 2002.
The center piece of our study is drastic change in the deployment of the Indian Army between January 2002 and June 2002 and its impact on the likely war scenario in the region.
A major source of this information is an article written by Lt. General Kamal Matinuddin (retd.) of Pakistan Army which appeared after the 2002 stand-off. This paper appeared in 2003, in the publication of Institute of Regional Studies, Pakistan. It is no longer available on line. Apart from that, it is internet chatter/analysis picked up from various forums (like Bharat Rakshak- bharat-rakshak.com-the archive section of the forum has a very fine analysis of the deployment pattern –but you'll need a log-in to check the archives) and articles.
Indian Army Deployment - Op Parakram
January 2002 scenario
There was an accepted wisdom till January 2002 as far as the deployment of Indian Strike Corps was concerned, especially, 1 Strike Corps. This Strike Corps was expected to be committed in the Pathankot-Sambha-Gurdaspur Corridor opposite the Shakargarh Sector. This was driven by operational and geographical considerations. A brief overview of the same is as follows:
- The strategic Indian town of Akhnoor is under 100kms from PA cantonment in Kharian and Jhelum. The general area of Jhelum-Kharian-Mangla is home to PA’s Army Reserve North - 1 Corps – one of their Strike Corps. Akhnoor is the gateway to the Indian towns of Nowshera, Rajauri and Poonch. Control of Akhnoor means that the flanks of India forces in north becomes exposed.
- Similarly, capture of this town can threaten the city of Jammu towards south and outflanking Indian forces in south.
- While one potential axis of advance is from Jaurian to Akhnoor the other is through a salient jutting into Indian Territory.
- Presence of this salient – called famously Chicken’s Neck by Lt. General Zoru Bakshi – allows it to develop attack on both Akhnoor and Jammu.
- Alternately, PA could cross the Chenab River towards south (at Gujrat-Wazirabad inside Pakistan) and move along Sialkot –Jammu axis and threaten the city directly.
- Or, they could threaten the Pathankot-Jammu road between Madhopur and Sambha.
In 1965, Indian I Corps went on offensive in Shakargarh Sector because it wanted to relieve the pressure on Akhnoor by Pakistan Army. By threatening the defenses in Shakargarh and Pasrur Sector, India could threaten the flanks of Pakistan Army’s defenses in Lahore sector to south. By going on offensive in this sector, India can give depth to its defenses in the area.
And this is what I think India planned to do in January 2002 when I Corps moved into the area with its attendant formations.
Map of the Shakargarh Sector is shown below
Mid 2002 scenario
Between January 2002 and May-June 2002, the deployment plan of the Indian Army changed quite drastically – something which was not witnessed earlier or what Pakistan had expected. There were two important developments which happened during the intervening period between January 2002 and May 2002 which might have allowed for this change to happen.
First, after the initial round of deployment when 1 Strike Corps went north, the element of surprise had been lost. Pakistan Army had mobilized to its forward areas and I think army rightly calculated that there was not much to be had in case the balloon went up. Secondly, the mountain divisions from Eastern Command which were mobilized for western theater had enough time to re-orient in terms of training and equipment profile.
So, HQ 3 Corps went to the Pathankot-Jammu corridor and became responsible for managing the formations between 16 Corps to north and 11 Corps to south. It had the 57 Mountain Division and 4 Infantry Division (of 1 Strike Corps) under it. 27 Mountain Division of 33 Corps was already under Northern Command for CI Ops when Parliament attack happened. This sector also had 3 x (I) Armored Bdes - 16, 2 and 3 (I) Armored Brigades.
HQ 1 Strike Corps along with 33 Armored Division and 23 Infantry Division were shifted to sector between 2 Strike Corps and 10 Corps in South Punjab/North Rajasthan and 21 Strike Corps in Jaisalmer Sector.
The broad deployment pattern during this period was as such
- 2 Strike Corps – general area Bhatinda, Abohar and Sri Ganganagar.
- 10 Corps – general area Hanumangarh and Suratgarh.
- 1 Strike Corps – general area Phalodi and Bikaner. (16(I) Armored Bde and 4 Infantry Division had been left behind in Pathankot Sector under 3 Corps)
- 21 Corps – general area Jaisalmer and Barmer
- 12 Corps – general area Jaisalmer and Barmer (it seems formations between 21 Corps and 12 Corps were mixed and matched between these two sectors. Shifting between sectors, especially of 31 Armored Division, seems to have happened between January and May 2002)
Map 1 - January 2002 Deployment
Map 2 - Mid 2002 Deployment
This represented a never before amassing of armor as 1, 2 and 21 Strike Corps each commanded an armored division along with one (I) Armored Brigade and two of four RAPIDs in IA (then-now IA has six RAPIDs). In addition, 10 Corps further had two RAPIDs and an (I) Armored Brigade. To further add to this mix, 12 Corps in Barmer Sector had an (I) Armored and (I) Mech Brigade. These formations accounted for 37 Armored Regiments or >60% of all the Indian armor assets in terms of regiments.
Against this, Pakistan Army deployed 1 x Armored Division (2 Corps), 3 x (I) Armored Brigades (2, 31 and 5 Corps) and 2 x Mechanized Brigades (2 and 5 Corps). Even if one adds the (I) Armored Bde of XI Corps which it seems managed the area north of river Sutlej in the Sulemanki Headworks area, we’re here talking about 15 odd armored regiments. This was ~40% of Indian strength in the entire sector.
(Note: Indian Armored Divisions and (I) Armored Brigades are bigger than their PA counter-parts)
(Note: Indian Armored Divisions and (I) Armored Brigades are bigger than their PA counter-parts)
But, there is a larger picture here – that Indian Army could have deployed and concentrated mechanized formations over a narrow corridor to punch through the defenses of either 5 Corps opposite central Rajasthan or 2 Corps/31 Corps combine opposite north Rajasthan. Indian Army could have achieved the twin objectives of engaging Pakistan Army in a battle of attrition to degrade its fighting capability as well as capture prime real estate for bargaining later on.
To me, the above scenario substantiates the internet chatter (on various Pakistan centric forums) that 1 Armoured Division under 2 Corps was deployed in a defensive manner to contain an Indian break-out and a counter penetration reserve. This was contrary to the ‘Doctrine of Riposte’ under which PA would have fought the battle on Indian soil.
Indian Options – June 2002
Given the concentration of forces, in my opinion, the following options could have been possible:
- South Punjab – North Rajasthan
- 2 Corps and 10 Corps could have mounted very powerful offensives on parallel axis.
- 2 Corps could have advanced on the Abohar-Berwala axis and Sri-Ganganagar-Bahawalnagar axis. The northern flank of this advance would have been protected by the presence of River Sutlej. Of course, Indian Army had to ensure that bridges on river Sutlej are either taken out or controlled by IA to prevent north-south movement of PA troops to threaten the flanks of 2 Corps advance.
- On the other hand, capture of these bridges gives an option to IA to move north of Sutlej and thus, envelop PA forces in the Haveli-Kasur-Lahore sectors.
- Similarly, 10 Corps could have advanced on the Suratgarh-Anupgarh-Fort Abbas axis. Its northern flank would have been protected by the advance of 2 Corps to the north.
- These formations would have faced PA’s 2 Corps and 31 Corps.
- In my opinion, PA would have diluted the 31 Corps and 2 Corps to some extent to bolster defenses in Central and South Sindh. Here, a lone PA 5 Corps faced potentially three Indian Corps (21 Strike Corps, 12 Corps and 1 Strike Corps).
- Central Rajasthan
- This was the playground of 21 Corps.
- With base at Jaisalmer, 21 Corps could have struck out at Rahim Yar Khan.
- 21 Corps would have most likely faced elements of 5 Corps and 31 Corps which, in my opinion would have been sent south of bolster the defenses in the area.
- Southern Rajasthan
- 12 Corps on Barmer-Umarkot Axis.
- It would have also squared against elements of 5 Corps.
- If Lt. General Matinnudin’s article is to be believed, then 31 Armored Division (from 21 Corps) shifted to Barmer-Umarkot axis my mid 2002 while Jaisalmer-RYK axis consisted of 12 RAPID, 4(I) Armored Bde and 340(I) Mech Bde. 36 RAPID was held back in reserve.
- Either ways, it represented a powerful punch and would have presented a formidable challenge to PA forces in the area.
- 1 Strike Corps
- It seems 1 Strike Corps was held back in the Bikaner-Phalodi area. It consisted of 33 Armored Division and 23 Infantry Division.
- To me, it seems 1 Strike Corps could have been used to either support the offensive of 2/10 Corps combine in north or 21 Corps advance towards RYK.
- Presence of 1 Strike Corps presented the ultimate trump card in the pack – its deployment would have been used to press home the advantage even further.
Today, the situation obtained on both sides of border in Southern Indian Punjab and Rajasthan Sectors is a continuation of developments in 2002.
Indian Army established the South-Western Command (SWAC) at Jaipur to manage the sector between Western Command to north and Southern Command to south. It has under it aegis the 1 Strike Corps and 10 Corps – this is formalization of deployment structure during 2002.
All the Strike Corps now have an Artillery Division each which is the custodian of Rocket Artillery and conventional guns. In due course of time, Brahmos and Prahaar Regiments are also likely to come under the aegis of these Artillery Divisions.
Pakistan Army on its part created the Corps Reserves under 5 and 31 Corps to better manage the resources in the sector. This was also required to counter the new Indian Strategy of Cold Start. This author believes that Cold Start (or whatever other fancy name one might want to give it) is a realty and between 2002 and present, the number of exercise carried out by Indian Army have all been used to perfect various facets of doctrine.
Considering the challenge and threat faced by Pakistan in the study area, the Canal based defenses are an important part of the overall strategy. These canals help in evening out the odd against PA to some extent – its helps it to conserve forces for counter strike while all the while presenting formidable obstacles to impede any offensives by Indian Army mechanized formations.
A note on Pakistan Army 2 Corps (Army Reserve South) deployment
2 Corps HQ is located in Multan in South Central Punjab in Pakistan. As discussed earlier, it is the repository of Pakistan Army’s major offensive potential and which is expected to take the battle to enemy. Given the location of the Corps, it can either be deployed in the Bari Doab area (area in Pakistan Punjab between River Ravi and River Sutlej) or to south of it.(Please see the map of Indian 2 and 10 Corps offensive options; the major bridges are marked on the map)
For deployment to a sector south of Bari Doab area, the Corps and its assets need to cross the Sutlej River at four potential locations. From north to south, these are Sulemanki headworks, bridge along Bahawalnagar-Arifwala Road, Islam headworks and bridge on Bahawalnagar- Multan road. During 1987 Brasstacks crisis, 1 Armored Division was deployed in Bari Doab area aimed at Indian Punjab. I think during 2002 stand-off, 2 Corps went south of River Sutlej to defend against potential Indian offensive in Bahawalnagar to Fort Abbas Area.
Map of Doabs in Punjab
Map of Doabs in Punjab
PS: Evaluate the importance of setting up airbase by IAF in Phalodi (Rajasthan) in light of the above write-up.