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 Saturday, 24 August, 2002, 08:09 GMT 09:09 UK
Analysis: Kashmir war scenarios
Indian soldiers in a convoy heading towards Kashmir
India has more tanks but they may not be battle-worthy

As Pakistan and India station a million troops plus weapons, tanks and aircraft facing each other in the disputed territory of Kashmir, Colonel Brian Cloughley considers how hostilities may start and where they may lead.

The latest tension in Kashmir has renewed fears of a full-scale war on the sub-continent.

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It might seem that manpower and hardware figures speak for themselves.

India has 1.1 million soldiers, Pakistan half that number. India has 738 combat aircraft, Pakistan 353. Indian tanks outnumber those of Pakistan by 3,400 to 2,300, and so on.

If it does come to war, it appears it might be a walkover for India - but it is not as simple as that.

Arsenal differences

There a qualitative difference in favour of Pakistan because, for example, India's 400 MiG-21s are barely airworthy and its T-72 tanks have not been properly overhauled for years.

There can be no such thing as a 'surgical strike'

And climate and terrain do not favour an attacker.

India's Defence Secretary, Yogendra Narain, has said India has "a moral and legal right" to attack Pakistan and that "surgical strikes are the realistic option".

But there can be no such thing as a "surgical strike" because Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has made it clear that an Indian attack on any scale would be regarded as an outright act of war.

War strategies

From the statements by both sides one can judge how conflict might begin, spread and possibly end.

India would attack what it states are "terrorist camps" in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, probably with a brigade of some 3,000 infantry supported by Indian Air Force (IAF) strike planes.

Indian soldiers during morning exercise
Temperatures will soar to 45C before the monsoon
The air force would be at the forefront as the ground along most of the Line of Control between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir is unsuitable for tanks and armoured divisions.

Pakistan expects a thrust and has planned to counter-attack in force while itself striking IAF bases and increasing pressure elsewhere along the border.

India would have to commit more troops to extricate its brigade.

Fighting would increase in intensity, with neither side able to force a conclusion.

It is probable that India would then launch an attack along the international border, in the southern plains, using its three armour-heavy "Strike Corps".

Heat aids defenders

In summer, temperatures in the region can reach 45C (113F).

It is not impossible to fight in such heat, but it is extremely difficult - much more so for an attacker than a defender.

A soldier
Rising tension:

1 October 2001:
38 killed in attack on the Kashmir assembly in Srinagar
13 December 2001:
14 killed in attack on the Indian parliament building in Delhi
14 May 2002:
More than 30 killed in attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir
21 May 2002:
Moderate Kashmiri politician Abdul Ghani Lone shot dead

T-72 tanks have poor air-conditioning that soaks up horsepower, and their commanders will be forced to have their heads out of turrets, which suits defenders.

Pakistani defences are well-constructed.

There are deep minefields covered by fire, and many wide canals and other obstacles.

It is likely the IAF would achieve air superiority over the battlefield for extended periods, while its counterpart would concentrate on attacking IAF bases.

Both sides would take severe casualties, but the Indian attack would probably bog down.

Indeed, it might do this literally, if the monsoon comes early.

Mediation efforts

World leaders would try to mediate, but it is probable this would be a fight to the finish.

Nobody can predict the stage at which nuclear weapons could be involved.

India's defence secretary stated that India does not know Pakistan's "nuclear threshold".

But he said if there is a nuclear strike by Pakistan: "We will retaliate and must be prepared for mutual destruction on both sides."

Rarely can there have been a more chilling message.

Brian Cloughley is a former British army colonel who has served with the United Nations in both India and Pakistan

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See also:

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