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?
COMBATING STATUS QUO
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
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
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.
INDIA: LUMBERING GIANT
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.
THE NEED FOR SPEED
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
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
* These Battle Groups will be fully integrated with the Indian Air
Force and naval aviation, and launch multiple strikes round the clock
* 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
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.
CALLING THE NUCLEAR BLUFF
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
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
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
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
COLD SHOULDER BY INDIA'S POLITICIANS
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 ULTIMATE WEAPON!
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
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.)
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