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Brass Tacks

The Brass Tacks crisis between India and Pakistan took place between November 1986 and March 1987. With the crisis peaking in January 1987, India had deployed 400,000 troops, or about half the Indian army, within 100 miles of Pakistan.

It began when India had launched the largest ever military exercises in the subcontinent, called Operation Brass Tacks. The exercise would take place not in India's far north, where the always tense state of Kashmir is located, but in the desert area of Rajastan, a few hundred miles from the Pakistani border, which, a the Pakistani government was sure to note, was and ideal location from which to launch a cross border operation into the Pakistani state of Sindh that could cut Pakistan in half.

The exercises included bulk of Indian Army, and was comprised of the nine infantry, three mechanised, three armoured and one air assault divisions, and three armoured brigades under four corps HQ with all theparaphernalia for a real war, concentrated on Pakistan's sensitive border areas. This was bigger than any NATO exercise - and the biggest since World War II. Also planned was an ambitious amphibious operation by the Indian Navy with one division, in Korangi area of Karachi. Another feature of the exercise was a decision by General Sundarji to integrate Indias special weapons, including tactical nuclear into day-to day field maneuvers of the troops.

Pakistani military analysts saw Brass Tacks as a threatening exhibition of an overwhelming conventional force. Some even suspected that India wanted to launch swift surgical strikes at the Sikh terrorists' training and planning sites inside Pakistan.

Pakistan responded with maneuvers of its own that were located close to India's state of Punjab. The crisis atmosphere was heightened when Pakistan's premier nuclear scientist Abdul Qadir Khan revealed in a March 1987 interview that Pakistan had manufactured a nuclear bomb. Although Khan later retracted his statement, India stated that the disclosure was "forcing us to review our option."

As tensions increased the hot line between the two states was activated and officials from both sides tried to ease fears. Eventually, in February 1987, Pakistan's President General Ziaul Haq travelled to India, under the pretense of watching a cricket match, where he held talks with the Indian leadership to diffuse the crisis. These talks were followed up by additional talk in Islamabad between Feb 27 and Mar 2 at which point both sides agreed to a phased troop withdrawal to peacetime positions.

Formal and impromptu talks between the leaders of the two countries finally resulted in a number of new CBMs between India and Pakistan. These were important and covered a number of areas. For example, the Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities was signed on December 31, 1988, in Islamabad by the two foreign secretaries and witnessed by the two prime ministers, Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto, respectively. Earlier fears of impending attack on the facilities resulting in an all-out war fed the need for the agreement.

President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, who was also the army chief of staff viewed the Indian maneuvers as a direct threat and ordered his armored units to move to the front, where by mid-january, the two armies stood within firing range along an extended border area. At the height of the buildup, the Indian army leadership decided to provide full-scale briefings to the Indian media about the Brass-Tacks exercises in which General Sundarji declared that they were non-provacative. There had been no public discussion of the huge troop movements until then, and the crisis abated.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:27:00 ZULU