Making Cold Start doctrine workAli Ahmed
THE latest spat between the two South Asian protagonist states, this time at the UN, indicates that their relationship remains under a cloud. The implication is the terror threat has not receded. Another Mumbai 26/11 cannot be ruled out. Should that occur, the government, having last time round promised firm action, would not be able to escape it this time.
The options include surgical strikes at the minimal level to Cold Start. While surgical strikes may help let off steam, they may not bring Pakistan around. This may entail moving up the escalatory ladder eventually. So does Cold Start have some answers?
In this way India would have the advantage on termination of hostilities. The advantage would yet require to be converted into political gains by a change of its proxy war policy on part of Pakistan.
The Cold Start strategy is Pakistan specific. It entails early launch of limited offensives by “integrated battle groups” up to limited depth by pivot corps. Following in the immediate wake. would be the strike corps requiring a little more time to mobilise. This way the integrated battle groups would have served to unlock the defences and the strike corps would be able to keep their powder dry for battle in the enemy’s interior.
Care would be taken to keep the offensives well below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. Making quick gains, India can thereafter afford to appear responsive to international pressures for war termination. It would instead be the Pakistani escalatory counter moves that would need to be aborted.
The idea has faced much scrutiny since. Its sister service, the Air Force, was the first to take on the Army. The Air Force, viewing itself as the strategic force, prefers inflicting attrition on the military and terrorist assets from the air. The release of the joint land-air doctrine this summer has perhaps laid at rest their disagreement.
The more significant critique revolves around the escalatory nature of Cold Start. Since Pakistan’s nuclear threshold is uncertain, it is not known which action could trigger a nuclear exchange. Pakistan has taken care to project a low threshold to keep India's conventional advantage under check. Launch of strike corps or attrition beyond a point on the Pakistani military by air operations could cumulatively trigger a nuclear situation.
The Army appears to have got round this problem by having two variants of the Cold Start. The first is restricting offensives to integrated battle groups only. This can be dubbed “Cold Start and Stop”. The second, as described earlier, launch strike corps but restrict their employment to only one or two formations. This variant can be termed “Cold Start and Continue”.
Between the two, Cold Start and Stop has the advantage. It can be more easily sold to the political leadership as a viable military option. The question that needs answering, however, is what political purpose is possibly served?
The most likely scenario of contemplation of the military option is another 26/11. Indian military options would range from the minimal level of surgical strikes to Cold Start and Continue. Surgical strikes and, at the next higher level, activation of the Line of Control through border skirmishes etc, help let off steam, but are unlikely to change Pakistan's anti India strategic posture. Avoidably, India may end up like Israel of having to repeat these periodically.
A counter offensive by Pakistan would see it seize the advantage, if India has not got off the blocks first. This implies a race to the opposite side's defences. In effect, since possibility of escalation of lower level options exists, to the military it would be better to preempt this. This makes Cold Start inevitable, even in case of exercise of the minimal option.
This is where Cold Start and Stop makes sense. It not only conveys the message intended through the lower level options unambiguously, but secures India better. India needs to build into the strategy that calls for a “politico-diplomatic” strategy, one arrived at once we stop criticising and instead engage with the idea constructively.
In effect, Cold Start and Stop is an “Operation Parakram Plus”. Op Parakram forced Musharraf's turn around with his January 12, 2002 speech. It, over time, enabled the the Islamabad joint statement of January 2004 in which Pakistan agreed to end terrorism. However, it has not quite done so. It may require being jolted into action as promised.
But first the Army needs to weigh in on the side of “Cold Start and Stop” over its current preference for “Cold Start and Continue”.
The writer is a research fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi