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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
India's limited military options
Indian soldiers clean their weapons
Modernisation is only happening slowly
The BBC's Jonathan Marcus


The Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has told Indian troops that this is now the time for "a decisive fight" against Pakistan, a country which he said was fighting a proxy war against India in Kashmir.

There is all sorts of speculation about a possible Indian punitive strike against bases from which militants prepare for operations across the Line of Control in Indian-administered territory.

But while the political pressures for action are strong, India's military options are probably limited.

Indian soldiers
India's army is large but there are doubts about its capability
Ever since this latest crisis erupted last December, huge numbers of Indian and Pakistani troops have been confronting each other.

Sporadic artillery fire - sometimes heavy - has made numerous casualties.

As the tension mounts, so the political pressure on the Indian Government to act is growing.

Prime Minister Vajpayee's comments could be dismissed as diplomatic sabre-rattling.

Outside the region there are growing fears that an Indian operation launched as a limited punitive strike could escalate into all-out war, maybe even a nuclear confrontation.

'Outdated'

But there is also an interesting strategic debate inside India which suggests that its military options may be limited.

Some strategic commentators have dismissed India's massive movement of troops and tanks to forward bases as a strategically irrelevant step, reminiscent of the mass European mobilisations of 1914.

One Indian think-tank has described this forward deployment as "the act of an outdated armed force, desperately thrashing about in the only way it knows".

India's armed forces are large and capable but they are not at the cutting edge of modern military science.

Nonetheless India retains significant strategic ambitions and, along with assistance from its major arms suppliers, has embarked upon a wholesale modernisation of its armed forces.

But this process is patchy and in some sectors only just getting under way.

Risks of deployment

Precise punitive attacks require air-launched guided munitions and aircraft capable of carrying them.

They require sophisticated intelligence gathering systems which are only just being integrated into India's order of battle.

India is responding to the latest tensions in Kashmir in the only way it can - mass military deployment.

But such deployments inevitably run the risk of prompting a wider war.

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23 May 02 | South Asia
22 May 02 | South Asia
22 May 02 | South Asia
21 May 02 | South Asia
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