Soon after assuming command of Indian Army, its new Chief General Bipin Rawat, acknowledged existence of Cold Start Doctrine in an interview to the media. This was rather surprising as India had been in denial mode for nearly fifteen years since it first announced it in the aftermath of Kashmiri militants’ attack on Indian parliament in 2001. Former Defence Minister Jaswant Singh had gone to the extent of stating publicly, “There is no Cold Start Doctrine. No such thing. It was an off-the-cuff remark from a former Chief of Staff. I have been defence minister of the country. I should know”.
In 2011, Indian Army Chief, General V. K. Singh also reiterated similar views, stating, “There is nothing like Cold Start, but we have a ‘proactive strategy’ which takes steps in a proactive manner to achieve our objectives”. Such assertions led some analysts to erroneously believe that India had abandoned Cold Start Doctrine and would adhere to structure of Strike Corps organizations and doctrinal concept. Public pronouncements aside, India had been validating and re-validating its Cold Start Doctrine from time to time.
In 2011 India conducted ‘Operation Vijayee Bhava’ with 50,000 soldiers in Bikaner and Suratgarh area with stated aim of reducing mobilization time which it claimed to have cut down to just 2 days from 27 days in ‘Operation Parakaram’ in 2001-2002. This was followed by ‘Operation Sudarshan Shakti’ – India’s largest war games in two decades in which nearly 60,000 troops and 500 armoured vehicles participated. More recently, its 2 Corps (Strike Corps, Kharga) conducted ‘Exercise Brahmashira’ in Rajasthan to practice swift multiple offensives deep into enemy territory. India also upgraded its tactical level weaponry and inducted solid-fuel 150 kms ballistic missiles to provide effective fire support in such operations.
India’s aggressive designs against Pakistan first began to surface when its former Defence Minister George Fernandes famously lamented that India had ‘an archaic, non-aggressive, non-provocative defence policy’ and called for a shift. Fernandes, basically was referring to ‘Sunderji Doctrine’, a successor to Cold Start, according to which seven defensive ‘holding corps’ with relatively limited offensive power, were deployed near Pakistan’s border while Indian Army retained its offensive capabilities in ‘Strike Corps’ made up of mechanized infantry with extensive artillery support but stationed further away from the border. Indian defence planners believed that such a strategy was advantageous to Pakistan in mobilization and resulted in extra-regional powers to exert pressure on India thus preventing it from taking punitive actions against Pakistan at a place and time of its choosing.
In 1987, General Sunderji, even with a more conventional and defensive doctrine in place, and no mass agitation and large scale unrest in Kashmir to use as an excuse against Pakistan, exposed his country’s real intentions when Indian Army conducted ‘Exercise Brass Tacks’ close to Pakistan’s border. With over 400,000 troops, it was the largest since WW-II and bigger than anything NATO had ever conducted. It was after BBC’s Mark Tully’s disclosure that India was using live ammunition in open boxes that General Zia delivered his stern message to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Pakistan took serious cognizance of the emerging threat environment and evolved doctrinal responses which it later validated against various hypotheses in large-scale field exercises. Pakistan also bolstered its defence through development of a solid fuel battlefield ballistic missile capable of carrying a low yield nuclear warhead and expressed an unflinching resolve to use it should a situation so demand.
In its more ambitious formulations, Cold Start Doctrine is a ‘limited war’ concept under proactive strategy where India’s conventional forces undertake aggressive and offensive armoured thrusts, in a compressed time frame, with infantry and air support. It is aimed at seizing Pakistan’s territory and holding it, while simultaneously perusing narrow enough objectives to deny Islamabad any justification to escalate conflict by opening additional conventional fronts – all under a ‘nuclear overhang’, a phrase coined by Indian defence establishment and used with increasing frequency in a dangerously insouciant manner.
To this spectre of a ‘nuclear overhang’ India has lately added its own pantomime version of ‘surgical strikes’. A surgical strike, conducted anywhere in the world, has always spoken for itself through results on the ground. Nowhere has its conduct needed to be defended to such nauseating ends except the Indian version where ‘sneak attempts’ at three locations along a heavily defended LoC and ‘retreat at the double’ were hyped up to fictional heights.
The change of tack from denial to an acknowledgement of Cold Start Doctrine’s existence warrants clarity – whether it is just doing away with erstwhile semantics of ‘ambiguity by design’ or the Indian Army has indeed streamlined its ‘limited war’ concept and now feels more confident under Modi government to flout it more openly. Whatever be the case, it begs the larger question whether it could serve India’s interest any better in these uncertain times than it did when it was first announced amidst apprehensions that it would incur a diplomatic and security cost without delivering corresponding deterrence benefits.
Those fears proved to be well founded as protests and agitations in Kashmir, the root cause of problems between India and Pakistan, and raison-d’être for Cold Start Doctrine, have transformed in nature from grievances against Indian state to outright hatred against its illegal occupation. How has the doctrine benefitted India if in its response Pakistan’s defence capability has improved to a level where today most independent analysts in the world routinely express the view that India will pay an unacceptably huge price if it ever embarked on an adventure against Pakistan? It would have been more prudent had India shown the intensions and invested sincere efforts in seeking resolution of Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN charter instead of wasting time and energies on a futile doctrine.
Cold Start Doctrine was designed to punish Pakistan in a limited manner but it rested on a grossly flawed premise – that it will not trigger nuclear retaliation. It underestimated Pakistan’s resolve to go full spectrum in its defence for a fundamental reason that it just cannot allow any loss of territory to India. Besides, a host of such factors as lack of strategic surprise, terrain and defensive deployment of Pakistan’s Army will mitigate, to a considerable extent, any mobilization advantages that Indian Army may have accrued through Cold Start Doctrine.
Tim Roemer, U.S. Ambassador to India from 2009-2011 also raised the other important question about New Delhi’s political will to pursue Cold Start option, due to fears that it might achieve only ‘mixed’ results, especially its decision to shy away in 2008 when Mumbai incident provided a perfect ‘casus belli’ if it ever wanted to undertake military action against Pakistan. He called the doctrine a ‘mixture of myths and reality’ where its real value lay more in its existence on paper than any application on ground.
Pakistan does not want war as wars are no answer to resolution of outstanding disputes between India and Pakistan. There are huge poverty and illiteracy issues in both countries towards which all resources and energies need to be channeled. Our political process needs to take deeper traction over a longer timeline and economy requires space to stretch itself in the evolving global trade regimes.
But, with a neighbour opposed to our very existence, Pakistan cannot ignore its security concerns. Only recently we were reminded, and by a person no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that in 1971 India had played an iniquitous role in the break-up of Pakistan. One look at today’s battle hardened Armed Forces of Pakistan and it leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are deeply imbued with the spirit of a higher mission in life. They will acquit themselves with honour and glory – should any challenge be thrown their way – Cold Start or whatever!