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Foreign Affairs

How India's Cold Start Is Turning The Heat On Pakistan
By Rakesh Krishnan Simha, December 2010 [[email protected]]

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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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