How India’s Cold Start is Turning the Heat on Pakistan

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How India’s Cold Start is Turning the Heat on Pakistan

By Rakesh Krishnan Simha December 2010

Wikileaks shows Pakistan’s military brass is having nightmares about Cold Start, the Indian Army’s new blitzkrieg strategy. But will India finally end the Pakistan problem or destabilize the neighbourhood?
Pakistan’s army generals are known to walk with a swagger. They have reason to. After all, they have been ruling the country of over 200 million people like their personal fiefdom for over half a century. Also, they are in an exclusive club of one – Pakistan is the only Islamic country that possesses nuclear weapons. (Just don’t bring up the fact that these generals have lost four wars against India.) So why are they suddenly squirming after Wikileaks hit the ceiling?
According to a leaked cable, more than the al-Qaida, more than American drones or even a hostile Afghan government, what is scaring the living daylights out of the Pakistani generals is Cold Start – a brand new version of blitzkrieg being perfected by India. So deeply does it dread this war fighting doctrine that the Pakistani military has cranked up its production of nuclear weapons, sparking a nuclear arms race in the region?

So what exactly is Cold Start and how is it changing the military equation in this part of the world? Will this new doctrine of warfare offer India more options in combating Pakistani adventurism and rolling back Islamic terrorism? Or will it contribute to destabilising the region?

To get the sub continental drift, one has to look at the Pakistani military mindset. Each of the four wars – in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999 – was launched by the Pakistani military, which factored in two key elements. One, despite their 0-4 record against India, it is drilled into Pakistani officers and soldiers that a Pakistani is equal to 10 Indians, and therefore India’s defences should quickly collapse. There is also the bizarre belief – eerily still a serious consideration at the highest echelons of Pakistani military decision making – that heavenly intervention will be a decisive factor in India’s defeat.

Secondly, Pakistan knows if its military thrusts fail, its patrons – the US and China – can be relied upon to bring in the United Nations, work the diplomatic back channels, get the world media to raise the alarm, and issue veiled threats, bringing intense pressure upon India to call off its counterattack.

Now the whole jing-bang of India’s military strategy is that after the defending corps halt Pakistan’s armoured thrusts, the elite strike corps will roll towards the border, penetrate deep into Pakistani territory to destroy the Pakistan Army through massive tanks thrusts and artillery barrages.

Sounds like a bullet-proof strategy. But in reality that has never happened because India’s mighty military machine has the agility of an elephant on tranquilisers. Its strike corps are based in central India (I Corps in Mathura, II Corps in Ambala and XXI Corps in Bhopal), a significant distance from the international border. It takes anywhere from two to three weeks for these three elite armies to reach the front.

Because of this long mobilisation period, the intervention of Western nations and the truce-happy nature of India’s political leadership, India’s military brass could not use their strike forces in three of the four wars.


This is, of course, what Cold Start is intended to avoid. According to Dr Subhash Kapila, an international relations and strategic affairs analyst at the South Asia Analysis Group, Cold Start is designed to seize the initiative and finish the war before India’s political leadership loses its nerve.

“Long mobilization time gives the political leadership in India time to waver under pressure, and in the process deny the Indian Army its due military victories,” says Dr Kapila. “The new war doctrine would compel the political leadership to give political approval ‘ab-initio’ and thereby free the armed forces to generate their full combat potential from the outset.”

The crux of Cold Start is this:

* Pakistan must not enjoy the luxury of time. Cold Start aims for eight “Battle Groups”, comprising independent armoured and mechanised brigades that would launch counterattacks within hours.

* These Battle Groups will be fully integrated with the Indian Air Force and naval aviation, and launch multiple strikes round the clock into Pakistan.

* Each Battle Group will be the size of a division and highly mobile unlike the lumbering giants, the strike corps.

* Ominously for Pakistan, the Battle Groups will be moved well forward from existing garrisons. India’s elite strike forces will no longer sit idle waiting for the opportune moment, which never came in the last wars.


In a paper on Cold Start, Walter C. Ladwig of Oxford University writes, “As the Indian military enhances its ability to implement Cold Start, it is simultaneously degrading the chance that diplomacy could diffuse a crisis on the subcontinent. In a future emergency, the international community may find the Battle Groups on the road to Lahore before anyone in Washington, Brussels, or Beijing has the chance to act.”

Cold Start is also aimed at paralysing Pakistani response. Although its operational details remain classified, it appears that the goal would be to have three to five Battle Groups entering Pakistani territory within 72 to 96 hours from the time the order to mobilize is issued.
“Only such simultaneity of operations will unhinge the enemy, break his cohesion, and paralyze him into making mistakes from which he will not be able to recover,” says Gurmeet Kanwal, director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

Agrees Ladwig: “Multiple divisions operating independently have the potential to disrupt or incapacitate the Pakistani leadership's decision making cycle, as happened to the French high command in the face of the German blitzkrieg of 1940.”

Also, rather than seek to deliver a catastrophic blow to Pakistan (i.e., cutting the country in two), the goal of Indian military operations would be to make shallow territorial gains, 50-80 km deep, that could be used in post-conflict negotiations to extract concessions from Islamabad.

Where the strike corps had the power to deliver a knockout blow, the division-sized Battle Groups can only “bite and hold” territory. This denies Pakistan the “regime survival” justification for employing nuclear weapons in response to India's conventional attack.


To be sure, Pakistan has declared it has a very low nuclear threshold – that is Islamabad will launch nuclear strikes against India when a significant portion of its territory has been captured or is likely to be captured, or the Pakistani military machine suffers heavy losses.

But this is just a myth – perpetuated and planted by US academia and think tanks, and is probably officially inspired. For, it suits the needs of the conservative American establishment in whose eyes India is a long-term rival and Pakistan a useful, if unreliable, ally. Unfortunately, India’s political leadership and its uncritical media have been brainwashed into believing that Cold Start has apocalyptic consequences.
But “nuclear warfare is not a commando raid or commando operation with which Pakistan is more familiar”, says Dr Kapila. “Crossing the nuclear threshold is so fateful a decision that even strong American Presidents in the past have baulked at exercising it or the prospects of exercising it.”
Indeed, Pakistan cannot expect India would sit idle and suffer a Pakistani nuclear strike without a massive nuclear retaliation, which would be the end of the Pakistan story.


So where does that leave Pakistan? The wayward country is faced with the cold reality that India is prepared to undertake offensive operations against Pakistan without giving it time to bring diplomatic leverages into play.

Since India has declared that it will not resort to a nuclear first strike, the onus is squarely on Pakistan and its patrons. A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan has the potential to spiral out of control, sucking in China, the US, the Islamic countries and Russia. That would send the global economic system into a tailspin.
Therefore, argues Dr Kapila, “A nuclear conflict will take place in South Asia only if the United States wants it and lets Pakistan permissively cross the nuclear threshold.”
Ralph Peters, the author of Looking for Trouble, and a strategic analyst for Fox News, agrees that the US needs to consider an alternative approach to handling “splintering, renegade” Pakistan. “Let India deal with Pakistan. Pakistan would have to behave responsibly at last. Or face nuclear-armed India. And Pakistan's leaders know full well that a nuclear exchange would leave their country a wasteland. India would dust itself off and move on,” observes Peters.

To be sure, Cold Start, though it has been war gamed five times, lacks consensus in India. That is mainly because the country’s political leadership lacks the nerve to implement a strategy that could possibly lead to nuclear war. And that is precisely why India’s generals brought it into the public realm. Cold Start was devised to end the standoff in the subcontinent. Pakistan cannot be allowed to export terror and brandish its nuclear weapons at India, without a fitting response.


The beauty of Cold Start is that it may never have to be used because it calls Pakistan’s nuclear bluff at the outset. Perhaps that’s the reason why the Pakistani generals are so agitated. Indeed, why should they be troubled at all if the Indian Army is saying goodbye to its old strategy of cleaving Pakistan?

Ultimately, Cold Start may prove to be the Brahmastra – the Indian God Brahma’s doomsday weapon, never to be used but which keeps the enemy in perpetual shock and awe. Generals K.V. Krishna Rao, K. Sundarji and S. Padmanabhan have come up with a solution for taming Pakistan; it is now up to the political leadership to bite the bullet. As the master of statecraft Chanakya wrote in the Arthashastra 2300 years ago:
The antidote of poison is poison, not nectar,

The vicious are deaf to entreaties gentle,

Meet the enemy on his own terms

And batter his pretentions to dust.
(About the author: Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a features writer at New Zealand’s leading media house. He has previously worked with Businessworld, India Today and Hindustan Times, and was news editor with the Financial Express.)
Also read:

  1. Why Pakistan and India have evolved differently by Dr Moorthy Muthuswamy

  2. India’s Foreign Policy continues to be severely mauled by Pakistan

  3. Why Pakistan will never allow India to live in peace by Sanjeev Nayyar

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