Operation Brasstacks

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Operation Brasstacks
India Rajasthan locator map.svg
TypeIndian Army Military exercise
PlannedGeneral Krishnaswamy Sundarji, CoAS
Planned bySouthern Army Command
TargetSouthern Pakistan
Date18 November 1986 – 6 March 1987
Executed byIndian Army
OutcomeExercises were halted;
Pakistan redeployment its armed forces
Cricket diplomacy defused the threat

Operation Brasstacks was a codename of a major military exercise of the Indian Army in Rajasthan state of India, that took place in 1986 until its execution in 1987.[1]

As part of a series of exercises to simulate the operational capabilities of the Indian armed forces, it was the major and largest troop mobilizations of Indian forces in the Indian subcontinent. Operation Brasstacks was tasked with two objectives: the initial goal was the deployment of ground troops.[2] The other objective was to conduct a series of amphibious assault exercises Indian Navy near to the Pakistan naval base.[2] Operation Brasstacks involved numbers of infantry, mechanized, air assault divisions, and 600,000 army personnel who were massed to within 100 miles of Pakistan.[2] An amphibious assault group formed from Indian naval forces was planned and deployed near to the Korangi Creek of Karachi Division of Pakistan.[2] However, the most important aim of these war alert simulations was to determine tactical nuclear strategy, overseen by the Indian Army.[2]

The military strategists of the Pakistan Military regarded this war game as a threatening exhibition of overwhelming conventional force, and the most critical moment in foreign relations between India and Pakistan. The Pakistan military strategists even viewed this war game as reprisal of nuclear war.[3] The security information website Global Security.org characterized Operation Brasstacks "bigger than any NATO exercise – and the biggest since World War II".[2] Even as today, the Pakistan military analysts and strategists regarded this as "blitzkrieg-like" integrated deep offensive strategy to infiltrate in dense areas of Pakistan, but on the other hand, India maintained that "core objective of Operation Brasstacks was to test new concepts of mechanization, mobility, and air support devised by Indian army."[1][1][4]


Indian Strategic overview[edit]

After the 1971 conflict, the Indian Army had been long advocating for practicing the modern methods of land-based warfare and professionalism.[4] The Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, General Krishnaswamy Sundarji, an officer who earlier had commanded the infantry division in East Pakistan war, threw himself into the Indian Army's modernisation activities.[4] He was granted permission, and ordered the large scale military exercise to test new concepts of mechanization, mobility, and air support.[4] He issued ordered mobilize the mechanized and armoured divisions, and armed tanks were sent to take position in the Thar desert.[4] In December 1986, with more than ten thousand armoured vehicles spread across its western desert, India launched the final stage of a huge military exercise that has stirred new tensions with Pakistan.[5]

The scale of the operation was bigger than any NATO exercise and the biggest land exercise since World War II.[6] Initially, around 600,000–800,000 troops were mobilized and stationed in Rajasthan state's western border, about less than 100 miles away from Pakistan.[6] The commander of the Indian Army's Western Command, Lieutenant General P.N. Hoon, maintained that, "Operation Brasstacks was a mobilization of the entire army of India."[7]

The magnitude and large scale direction of the exercise led to Pakistan fears that India was displaying an overwhelming conventional superiority and was planning to invade Pakistan, and dismember it by surgical strikes, as it did with East Pakistan during the Indo-Pak 1971 Winter war.[8] According to General Hoon's memoirs, a letter was directed to Sundarji by Western Command, arguing that "when such a large exercise is conceived", the movement of Indian forces is going to attract the attention of Pakistan.[7] General Hoon maintained that, General Sundarji did not inform Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi about the scale of the operation and such details were hidden to him.[7] Hoon also wrote in his memoir: "Brasstacks was no military exercise. It was a plan to build up the situation for a fourth war with Pakistan." Indian scholar, Paul Kapur further argues that during the Operation Brasstacks, Indian army persuaded multiple times, but unsuccessfully, to attack Pakistan.[9][10]

It is theorised by author Robert Art and others that the Brasstacks crisis was not an inadvertent and accidental crisis caused by Pakistan's misinterpretation of a large scale Indian Army exercise confined mainly to the vast Rajasthan desert sector as provocative. [10] Apparently, General Sunderji's strategy was to provoke Pakistan's to respond and this would provide India with an excuse to implement existing contingency plans to go on to the offensive against Pakistan and take out its atomic bomb projects in a series of preventive strikes.[10]

Pakistan strategic response[edit]

After the success of the Israeli Air Force's air strike on Iraqi nuclear power plant in Osirak in 1981, Pakistan Armed Forces had been alerted since then.[11] According to memoirs of nuclear strategist and theorist Munir Ahmad Khan, the hectic discussion took place every day between ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, in an amid fears that India might attack Pakistan who was en route to become subsequent nuclear power.[11] Since 1981, the commanders of the Pakistan's unified armed forces were given the standing orders to mobilize their forces at once, from all directions, as quick as it can to divert such attacks.[8][11]

When the Brasstacks was operationalized, Pakistan quickly responded with maneuvers of its unified forces, first mobilized the entire V Corps and then the Southern Air Command, near the Indian state of Punjab.[8] Within weeks, the Pakistan Navy's combat ships and submarines were deployed for the purposes of the intelligence management, at the northern Arabian sea.[8] The Government of Pakistan viewed this exercise as a direct threat to Pakistan's physical existence.[8] This included the further orders to deploy entire Armoured Corps with the V Corps to move to the front lines.[8] By mid-January 1987, the unified armed forces and Indian Army personnel stood within firing range along an extended border area.[8] The Foreign Office of Pakistan summoned Indian ambassador to Pakistan, S.K. Singh, on midnight, to meet with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zain Noorani who had just returned from an emergency meeting with President Zia-ul-Haq. Noorani commenced to Indian Embassy that he had an important message from President Zia.[8] Noorani officiated to Singh that in the event of violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity by India, Pakistan was "capable of inflicting unacceptable damage on it."[8] When Singh asked Noorani whether this implied an [atomic] attack on Bombay, Noorani replied: "it might be so".[8]

The situation could have potentially lead to a war between a de facto nuclear weapon state (India—who had already conducted a nuclear test in 1974 codename Smiling Buddha) and a state, although nuclear power, was believed to be developing nuclear weapons at that time (Pakistan).[8]

1987 Pakistan atomic alert[edit]

On January 1987, Pakistan had put its entire nuclear installations on "high-alert", and the crisis atmosphere was heightened.[3] During this time, Abdul Qadeer Khan gave an interview to Indian diplomat, Kuldip Nayar in which he made it clear that "Pakistan would use its atomic weapons if its existence was threatened"; although he later denied having made such a statement.[3] The Indian diplomats claimed that their diplomats in Islamabad were warned that Pakistan would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if attacked. Pakistan denied the veracity of these statements.[3]


Cricket diplomacy[edit]

The tensions diminished in March 1987, with an agreement by the two nations to withdraw 150,000 troops in the Kashmir area, followed by a second agreement to withdraw more troops in the desert area was also signed the same month.[5] While negotiating the withdrawal accord, India vowed to proceed with Brasstacks, asserting that Pakistan had no reason to feel provoked.[5] But India did delay the beginning of the last stage of the operation until the following week, while the latest withdrawal agreement was being negotiated.[5] To prove its intentions were peaceful, India took the unusual step of inviting diplomats and journalists to observe the operation separately.[5] The Pakistani foreign service officers, senior diplomats and statesmen were the ones who were invited.[5] According to an unnamed Western diplomat, who maintained that "This was not a third-world army. This was a modern army, fully competent for any mission, easily as good as the Chinese, the Koreans or the French."[5]

In 1987, Zia visited India on February 1987, having invited himself to see a cricket match between the two countries.[12] Zia's estimation was that he and Rajiv could meet quite cordially but could not agree on substantive issues.[12]

Effects and Legacy[edit]

According to events that played out and stance taken by the Indian army, Operation Brasstacks was only an exercise and not supposed to be a provocative one. The media, particularly the western media, was involved after this and intense diplomatic manoeuvres followed preventing any further escalation in hostilities. On multiple occasions, General Sunderji maintained that: "This was, is and always has been a training exercise. I can't answer why there have been misperceptions about it in some quarters."[5] India repeatedly charged Pakistan with its continuing scientific research on atomic bombs, which Pakistan sharply continued to reject the claims. A few days later, Dr. A.Q. Khan also rejected any statements issued regarding the atomic bomb development and since said "his comments were taken out of context."[5]

The real motives behind this controversial military exercise is unknown and unclear. In 1999, former senior commander of Indian Army, Lieutenant-General P.N. Hoon remarked that the operation had mobilized the entire Indian army to Pakistan's eastern border.[7] He further notes that, Operation Brasstacks was a plan to build up a situation for a fourth war with Pakistan.[10] Western scholars also theorized that Brasstacks crises has been an accidental crises, caused by Pakistan's misinterpretation inadvertently provocative Indian Army's exercise, and then move to a large scale war with Pakistan.[10] Robert Art noted that, "General Sunderji's strategy was to provoke Pakistan's response and this would provide India with an excuse to implement existing contingency plans to go on to offensive against Pakistan and take out its atomic bomb projects in a preventive strikes."[10] Even as of today, the Pakistan military analysts and strategists regarded this as "blitzkrieg-like"[1] integrated deep offensive strategy to infiltrate in dense areas of Pakistan.[1] The New York Times noted that India's accelerated drive for military technology, motivated Pakistan to turn its rationale of stockpiling the atomic bombs as a deterrent.[5]


  • Sunil Dasgupta, "Operation Brasstacks," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 1996 (book review noting previous coverage of the operation).


  1. ^ a b c d e Brigadier-General Muhammad Aslam Khan Niazi of Pakistan Army Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. "India Toying With Dangerous Cold Start War Doctrine – Analysis". Euroasia review. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f GS. "Brass Tacks". Global Security.org. Global Security. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e , Mahar Regiment. "General Krishnaswamy Sundarji". Bharat-Rakshak. Archived from the original on 27 May 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Steven Weisman, Special to the New York Times (6 March 1987). "ON INDIA'S BORDER, A HUGE MOCK WAR". The New York Times, 1987. pp. html. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  5. ^ a b Abdullah, Sannia (Winter 2012). "Cold Star in Strategic Calculus" (google docs). IPRI Journal XII. Islamabad Policy Research Institute. 1 (27): 6–8. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d Miranda, Jewella C (5 August 1999). "Interview with General PN Hoon". The Redcliff Review. The Rediff Interview. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Operation Brasstacks". The making of India's foreign policy (3rd. ed.). New Delhi: Allied Publishers. 2003. p. 272. ISBN 81-7764-402-5. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  8. ^ Kapur, S. Paul (2009). Dangerous deterrent : nuclear weapons proliferation and conflict in South Asia. Singapore: NUS Press. ISBN 978-9971-69-443-2.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Art, edited by Robert J.; Waltz, Kenneth N. (2009). The use of force : military power and international politics (7th ed.). Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 380–390. ISBN 978-0-7425-5669-0.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  10. ^ a b c See Munir Ahmad Khan
  11. ^ a b SPECIAL REPORT. "PAKISTAN AND THE WORLD DURING THE ZIA REGIME". Pakistan Defence Journal. Retrieved 1 November 2012.

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