Dr. Anil Athale. ( Retried Col.)

Former Joint Director War History.



Writing on recent history is a hazardous enterprise as the atmosphere is thick with disinformation and secrecy. But this seems to be season for re-writing of history, Comrade Stalin style, so this small attempt at pre-empting 




The Pakistan based terrorist outfit Lashkar e Toiba (LeT), created a major crisis when its terrorists mounted an unsuccessful attack on the Indian Parliament. A word about this organisation is necessary at this stage due to the Indian ‘Doves’ campaign of disinformation. LeT is NOT a secret organisation. Its headquarters on a sprawling campus next to Lahore is well known. Annually, the Lshkar holds rallies that are attended by a million people and donations on Muslim festival occasions pour in from all over Pakistan. It has been long established that the LeT has close relations with Pak army.


Returning to the theme ,  thanks to the bravery of the guarding staff and a slice of luck ( the car bomb failed), fortunately the attack that aimed at killing/taking hostage  large number of MPs, failed. The Vice President also had a narrow escape. Essentially, it was this failure that saved the subcontinent from imminent war. It is doubtful if war could have been averted had say one hundred Members of Parliament and the Vice President  would have been killed by the terrorists.


In next 48 hours, India ordered the mobilisation of its armed forces and began to move them to battle stations on the Indo-Pak border. The operation was codenamed ‘Parakram’.


In the normal circumstances, the armed forces expect to get at least 7 days of warning before being ordered to deploy for war. That is the job of India’s external intelligence agency RAW ( Research and Analysis Wing). Evidently, the RAW and the Intelligence   Bureau ( IB, that is responsible for internal security) had failed to get any inkling of the attack on Parliament. What it meant was that the Armed Forces had to move without any warning.


India’s  major strike formations including the armoured units, are located good 800 kms. away from the border. Soldiers stationed in the East are even further away. The naval ships also need that kind of time to move to battle stations. The Air Force can be ready relatively quickly, but even they have to reposition maintenance units as per battle plans.  In the best of circumstances, this move to the border and preparations last anything between two to three weeks. Thus it would be fair to assume that the Armed Forces were ready and raring to go only by first week of January 2002.   




To be fair, the attack on the Indian Parliament came as a surprise to Pakistan as well. The Indian deployment and threat of conventional attack caught  Pakistan on the wrong foot. Despite its advantage of shorter lines of communication to the border, Pakistan was slow to react to the Indian move. Since it was India that initiated the move towards conflict, it is to be assumed that the Indian nuclear weapons were also kept in state of readiness.


While India’s stated policy is of no first use, it does not mean that we have to wait for the first Pakistani nuke to fall on an Indian city. With satellite and MIG-25 based surveillance in place, India must have been closely monitoring movement of Pakistani nukes.


Given the fact that Pakistan has a smaller arsenal and also a small geographical area for its deployment, the only chance for Pakistan to use its nuclear weapons is to launch them in a surprise attack without warning. Its hope of stall the Indian retaliatory strike with a combination of  world pressure for restraint and its own defensive preparations. In case of operation Parakram, as India moved first, surprise attack was not possible. Instead of India, the world pressure now mounted on Pakistan to observe nuclear restraint. With huge American presence on its soil and in the Arabian sea nearby, the Americans were in good position to prevent Pakistan from using its nuclear weapons.




According to Major General Ashok Mehta ( Retd.) ( rediff interview 1 January 2003) the Indians were ready by  7 January 2002 and Pakistan was still off balance. It is likely that to stall the Indian offensive, Around that time, Pakistan may have made some moves to ready its nuclear weapons for use. In response to this the Indian Army chief, General Padmanabhan went public with an explicit threat on 11 January 2002,


“"As long as I am alive, if nuclear weapons are used against India, or

      Indian forces, or the forces in the seas, or our economic interests, the

      perpetrator of the particular outrage will be punished, punished so

      severely that his continuation in any fray will be in doubt,"

( rediff news report of Jan 11, 2002) .


Indian Generals rarely speak, and when they do, the Pakistanis take them seriously. It appears that the General-speak had the desired effect, and Pakistan henceforth lost the nuclear war initiative. General Musharraf’s speech on 12 January, accepting some of the Indian demands may well have resulted from this nuclear standoff.


It is obvious that India was not satisfied with concessions given by Musharraf. There also may have been a school of thought that this time around India must ACT.




January/February is ideal time for India to act against Pakistan. Due to the snow bound passes of the Himalayas, chances of Chinese intervention is minimised. This also enables India to thin out the troops from that border. Despite the rhetoric of Aar Paar Ki ladai’ (decisive battle) it seems clear that India may well have wanted to  only ‘punish’ Pakistan and not destroy it. There are several options on the J&K border to carry out limited offensive. Attacks in the direction of Muzzafarabad or Skardu are well within the Indian capability. But doing this could well invite a retaliation elsewhere. The Indian deployment all along the border was essentially to forestall this possibility.


The most likely scenario worked out in 1987 ( during the exercise Brass Tags) was a Pak counter thrust in Sialkot area. To respond to this India could then use its superior tank force to advance in Sindh and cut Pakistan into two. These moves and countermoves as well as behind the scene diplomacy went on throughout January and February. It is here that ‘Godhra’ comes into picture.


With neutralisation of Pak nukes and readiness to deal with conventional threat in Punjab, by February 2002, the Indian army was well set to ‘punish’ Pakistan on the Kashmir front. But then Godhra happened. 


There have been many claimants to credit for avoiding war in the subcontinent in 2002, the year when for ten long months the Indian Armed Forces were poised on the Indo-Pak border. Collin Powell, the American secretary of State, has gone on record to claim that it was the efforts and influence of the United States that averted the war in the sub-continent. If the US is so influential with Indian govt, one is tempted to ask, then why did it not succeed in preventing the nuclear tests at Pokhran in May 1998? American Multinationals who outsource their work to Bangalore based  IT industry claimed that it was their threat to withdraw their contracts that in turn forced Indian companies like Infosys, Wipro et al lobby with the govt in favour of peace and restraint.


While there is some truth in both these assertions, it is likely that it was the Godhra arson and the riots that followed in March 2002 , that really saved Pakistan from being attacked by India.


To understand the link between Godhra killings , Gujarat riots and events of 2002, it is necessary to go back in time and see the sequence of events of that momentous year. It is necessary to jog one’s memory to understand how the events unfolded.











Rumours of an attack on  temple spread like wild fire. The whole Ahmedabad city was put under curfew. Yet the violence did not stop. The local police were accused of showing anti Muslim bias and were ineffective.  After two days of unsuccessful attempt at stopping the violence, city of Ahmedabad was handed over to the army.

Two Trains were stopped, Muslims were pulled out and killed. The rioting had spread to Mehsana, Surat, Anand and Jamnagar and Rajkot, the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi. Even the Sabarmati ashram, established by Mahatma Gandhi, was not spared and was attacked by a rampaging mob. It was only after ten days that the situation was finally brought under control. It was estimated that over 1500 people were killed. Thousands left their homes in panic and sought refuge in temporary camps. 

:   :

“We had begun to get reports of scattered violence shortly after we had watched   on television the barbaric video tape of motorists being ripped out of their   cars, hammered, pounded and chased by rock-throwing men on the ground. The   image of a man being pulled from his   truck by thugs, still burned in my mind. My memory was seared by the vivid   imprint of the motionless, beaten man lying on the ground, being kicked and   brutalized. I was still filled with rage at the sight of one of the assailants   picking up a large piece of cinder-block and throwing it at his apparently   lifeless body, smashing him in the head. Then, after the savage beating, the   attacker appeared to do a dance, raise his hands towards the helicopter   overhead and flashed a victory sign.


As our helicopter circled over the city, we could see that  fires were breaking out over a widespread area.. The dark plumes of smoke were ominously spreading to different spots of the city. Firemen could not respond to many of these early fires because snipers were   shooting at them. Later police escorts went in with the fire fighters to   protect them from the snipers.”



No, this is NOT the description of Gujrath riots of 2002. The scene described above is from Los Angeles, on early evening of April 29, 1992. The Los Angeles Riots were just erupting then. The  picture  of other riot is of Gujrath all right, but NOT Gujrath 2002, but Gujrath of September 1969.


The Los Angeles riots were provoked by a video clipping of police brutality and lasted over a week. The Gujrath riots of 1969 were far more serious than the 2002 ones. The death toll, as proportion of population was far higher and the violence had spread to many parts of the state.


What the synopsis of two events shows is,

  • Police brutality and biases are NOT  uncommon.
  • People show great brutality in killings during riots the beast in human beings comes to surface.
  • In a ‘tinder box’ like situation, both at Ahmedabad in 1969 and Los Angeles in 1992, all that is required to start violence is a ‘trigger event’. 
  • Ultimately serious riots can only be controlled by the Armed Forces/National Guard as they are beyond police capability. How quickly the armed forces arrive on scene virtually determines the duration of riots


:  :



The Gujrath riots of 2002 were important as well as unique in a sense. The country was at that time on the brink of war with Pakistan. On earlier two occasions, 1965 as well as 1971, remarkable internal peace had prevailed. In 1971 despite the well known fact that Pak army had killed close to 300,000, mainly Hindus in Bangladesh ( a figure accepted by the official Hamidiur Rehman commission as well Pak General Gul Hasan Bangladesh claims that over 600,000 were killed), there was no internal strife as all parties ( including the much reviled RSS)were co-opted  in keeping this secret. Ninety percent of the  nearly 1 crore refugees that poured into India were also Hindus. But even this was successfully hidden from public. Godhra incident and Gujrath riots were the first instance when even in face of external threat, the internal conflict erupted.     




Godhra and its twin city of Dahod is famous in the subcontinent as the birth place of Aurangzeb, the fanatical Mughal Emperor. It is also a well known trouble spot that has seen violent riots between Hindus and Muslims for over a hundred years. A large number of people of Godhra have links with people in the violence prone Karachi city of Pakistan. The population of Godhra is pro Pakistan and easily excitable.


On 27 February 2002, early in the morning when ‘Sabarmati Express’ streamed into Godhra, it carried the usual load of Hindus returning from Ayodhya, a Hindu pilgrimage centre. These pilgrims travelling in large groups often act rowdily and altercations with vendors is a common occurrence. In fact, it is a known phenomenon that the vendors shut shop on approach of such trains. But 27th February 2002 was unusual.  No sooner had the train left the station, it was stopped by pulling the emergency chain, just a little distance away from the station. Here the train was surrounded by a mob of thousands that pelted stones. Apparently some people then entered a bogie S-6 that had mainly women and children, by cutting the cloth partition between two bogies and poured petrol and burnt 60 women and children to death.


The incident at Godhra on 27 February 2002 had all the hallmarks of a pre-planned attack. Move of Hindu pilgrims by this train was a routine affair, not a sudden provocation. The why ‘now’ is the question?  Also at the early morning hour it is not easy to suddenly get together a mob of several thousands! The mobs action in blocking the way to fire engine that tried to reach the spot also shows a degree of leadership and planning.


The state of Gujrath where Godhra is located, was then ( and even now) being ruled by a hard-line Hindu leader who faced a difficult election in few months time. That he would make capital of this incident was a foregone conclusion.


In less than two days time the city of Ahmedabad erupted in an orgy of violence. The local police either played a partisan role or were woefully inadequate to deal with the rioters. The only option was to call in the army.


But where was the army? Unlike the earlier occasions when the army stationed in Ahmedabad could move in on hours notice, this time it took more than two days. The troops earmarked for internal riot control duties were more than 600 Kms away, deployed on the border and ready for war. To re-adjust the defences took time. The troops were flown into Ahmedabad without their transport, and were unfamiliar with the geography of the city. It  took nearly three days before the army became effective in Ahmedabad and brought the situation under control. It is noteworthy that most of the killings and violence took place BEFORE the arrival of the army on the scene. Sporadic arson and violence did continue, but the worst was over within a weeks time.


If Godhra killings had taken place in normal times, on its own, army would have been ready on the 27 February itself. For instance, in another horrific instance of riots, that of 1 Nov. 1984 in wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the army in Delhi itself and in nearby Meerut ( just 40 kms away) was alert and ready to move! Then the army did not move in earlier as the government of the day did not deliberately call it. This was certainly not the case in 2002 and the delay in putting army to use was due to the circumstances, the war like situation on border.


It appears that the brain behind the Godhra incident had rightly calculated that this would trigger mass rioting and that large number of troops would have to be moved from the border. In actual fact close to a Division worth of troops had to be moved ( 40,000) and another Division kept on alert to move to other areas should the need arise.




On an average, a division covers close to 50 to 75 km border. The loss of close to two divisions on riots control duty, weakened the Indian threat of action against Pakistan. It is as if all the actors involved in the drama were acting like puppets of an unseen hand. In nutshell, the sequence of events was,


  • A planned attack at Godhra burns to death over 60, mostly women and children.
  • The ‘Secular’ media and some political parties try to minimise the tragedy with some going to the extent of blaming the victims themselves. The Gujrath govt. brings the dead bodies to Ahmedabad and makes every attempt to inflame passions of the victim’s co-religionists. The combination of ‘Secularists’ indifference and local govts. exploitation  of the tragedy creates a fertile ground for a mass hysteria and revenge killings. With its 200 year old history of animosities, the city of Ahmedabad erupts in orgy of violence.
  • The local police are both biased in favour of rioters and also woefully inadequate to deal with the situation. Army is withdrawn from border, creating a gaping hole in the defences. Till the situation is not brought under control, the threat of armed action against Pakistan is held in abeyance. 







With the reduction of troops on the Rajasthan border, India was no longer ready to launch an offensive against Pakistan. It was only towards early May 2002 that the troops engaged in internal security duties rejoined their comrades on the border. The window of opportunity was by then shut, as only in two months time the snows in Himalayas would melt and Chinese threat had to be catered to.


Troops From Gujrat Move Back to Their Operational Locations



May 21, 2002
Vaisakha 31, 1924

New Delhi



Some Indian Army formations and units, earlier diverted from OP PARAKRAM, for internal security duties in Gujarat, have been relieved of these duties post haste and they have started moving to their operational locations.

Such a move has been undertaken keeping in view the emerging security scenario post 14 May 2002 terrorist attack at Kaluchak.



On 14 May 2002, the terrorist stuck in Jammu area, at Kaluchak. The gruesome attack targeted the wives and children of the soldiers. The sheer audacity of the act was to show to the world the ‘impotence’ of India. The terrorists achieved their aim as thanks to Gujarath riots the army was NOT in a position to react. If any proof was required of the impact of Gujarath on Operation Parakram, here it is in black and white.


According to General Ashok Mehta  ( from rediff interview quoted above,)


‘Then Kaluchak happened in May and a new D-Day was selected- June 15. On US prodding,  General Musharraf made his May 27 speech reaffirming compliance (of Indian demands of curbing terrorist activities).”


It seems clear that the attack on Parliament as well as the Kaluchak massacre were the handiwork of ‘free lance’ terrorists, nurtured by Pakistan but nor necessarily  under its direct control. The aim of terrorists was very clear, provoke a war between India and Pakistan by hook or crook. But Godhra incident was a calculated act, organised and executed by  Pakistan to save itself from an imminent Indian attack.


As an act sponsored by a state, with all its resources in forensic help, legal expertise and police inputs, it falls in the category of ‘perfect crime’. No enquiry commission will ever be able to trace the true culprits and solve the mystery of Godhra.


The entire analysis above is based on military logic and understanding of military mind and not on any insider information.  Many would think the author to be presumptuous. I would cite just one example in support. During the First Gulf War of 1991, there was intense speculation over how and where would the Americans launch the ground offensive?


Based on a simple map, knowledge of military history and reading of military mind, I had predicted a week before the actual event the exact pattern of attack. The prediction was that 82 and 101 Airborne Divisions would take Al Kurna and Al Nasariya with Patton’s Third Army launching a an armoured thrust from West to link up. The Americans would thus cut off the Republican Guard located to the East and South and be poised to drive into Baghdad should Saddam not surrender. I had even published a map showing this plan. In the event I was spot on.   

( The author wrote a daily column for Marathi newspaper ‘Loksatta’ during the first Gulf War.)

A pleasant offshoot of this was an invitation to visit American troops in their base at Florida in June 1991! Though sadly at the last minuet the Americans had  second thoughts on permitting an ‘alien’ professional meet the Gulf War veterans so soon after the events. After all, though security was give out as an excuse, I as a military history man know that more than security it is individual military reputations and promotions that are as stake…… of those ‘beneficiaries’ of the media build up was one Collin Powell…………