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April 19, 2016

The hot reality of cold start


April 19, 2016

In 2002, the Indian armed forces massed 500,000 troops at Pakistan’s border in response to the deadly December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament, for which the Indians wrongfully held Pakistan responsible.

The operation against Pakistan was codenamed Parakram. It was designed for quick retaliation against Pakistan, possibly even with the goal of capturing a part of the country to be used as a bargaining chip. But by the time the Indians mobilised their forces on the border, the Pakistani armed forces had already taken up defensive positions, neutralising Operation Parakram. This incident forced the Indians to rethink their military planning.

During Parakram, the Indian forces had to be deployed from central India and it took them longer than expected to reach the western border. Their deployment from the centre provided Pakistan enough time to shore up its defences. The casualties were estimated at some 1,800-plus Indian soldiers killed or wounded, and the massive deployment cost of an estimated $3.2 billion dollars was absolutely astronomical.

Knowing that the Indian armed forces could not afford another failure like Parakram, the Indian military leadership sat down to develop a new military doctrine that would ensure a surprise, rapid mobilisation against Pakistan to capture a part of the country without threatening its existence, keeping the conflict limited to preclude the use of nuclear weapons. This would give India the upper hand in any future conflict and would force Pakistan to negotiate on India’s terms.

The Indians began moving away from their traditional defensive posture towards a more offensive posture against Pakistan in 2004. By May 2011, the Indian dream of quick mobilisation against Pakistan for a limited war involving rapid armoured thrusts had become a reality. The Indian armed forces proved the credibility of Cold Start when they conducted exercise Vijayee Bhava, in which the Indian military was able to mobilise 50,000 troops within 48 hours at Pakistan’s border.

The Indian civil and military leaderships were quick to dismiss the allegations that Cold Start was real after the exercise. At the time India’s Chief of Army Staff, General V K Singh stated that there is no such thing as Cold Start, but acknowledged that India does have a ‘proactive strategy’, “which takes steps in a proactive manner.” No matter what the Indians called it – a pro-active strategy or a Cold Start Doctrine – they proved that they could engage Pakistan in a limited war, which would fare well for them. This put Pakistan in a difficult position: the financial and resource constraints meant that Pakistan had to come up with an unconventional solution to ensure a continued balance of military power.

Facing limited options and the very real threat of Cold Start, Pakistan developed a short-range, low-yield nuclear weapon. Pakistan introduced HATF-IX, or Nasr, a short-range ballistic missile to deter any threat from India’s pro-active military strategy and restore the balance of power. The international community condemned Pakistan for lowering the nuclear threshold by introducing what they considered to be tactical nuclear weapons, ignoring the fact that the development of Nasr was in fact a response to India’s pro-active military strategy.

Pakistan has tried to highlight the threat of Cold Start, citing a series of major military exercises, which have proven India’s ability to swiftly mobilise troops to Pakistan’s territory, with the capability of conducting offensive strikes. General Dalbir Singh Suhag, the current Indian army chief, said last year: “We are acutely aware that the swift, short nature of future wars is likely to offer limited warning time. This calls for maintaining very high levels of operational preparedness at all times. This is something that has now become inherent in our operational strategy.” Despite all of this, Pakistan’s claims have been regularly dismissed. But for the first time earlier this month, President Barack Obama indirectly addressed India’s Cold Start Doctrine in his speech at the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit’s closing ceremony.

President Obama said, “the other area where I think we’d need to see progress is Pakistan and India, […] making sure that as they develop military doctrines, that they are not continually moving in the wrong direction.” Many experts in the strategic community believe that by referring to military doctrines in reference to India and Pakistan, President Obama was subtly addressing India’s Cold Start Doctrine, incidentally justifying the need for Nasr.

According to a senior Pakistani military expert, India has been constructing massive new airfields and bases, a wide rail and road communication network has been laid down to facilitate swift mobilisation, new logistic installations have been set up close to Pakistan’s borders to support the offensives and the peacetime locations of some of the formations are what they used to be in times of crisis. The average relocation distance of Indian forces are 250 km for defensive and 500 km for offensive formations.

India has spent $55 billion dollars on Cold Start and plans to invest another $100 billion dollars on it, which is over and above the country’s current $40 billion defence budget. The K4 submarine-launched ballistic missile test and the development of INS Arihant prove that the Indian navy has the ability to participate in an effective blockade of Pakistan’s Sea Lines of Communications, as envisioned in the Cold Start Doctrine.

Because of the dangerous new developments in India, President Obama stressed the need for both countries to take responsibility for ensuring peace in the region; previously, the onus was only on Pakistan. Hopefully, this recognition that both countries share the responsibility for ensuring peace in the region will force them to reconsider their current military doctrines, and the burden of this task will no longer be Pakistan’s alone.

Last week, while speaking to a crowd of experts in Washington DC, a senior Pakistani military expert reiterated Pakistan’s desire for peace in the region, and called on India to stop behaving irresponsibly and work on confidence building measures, which will help both countries move in the right direction.

The writer is an assistant professor at NUST in Islamabad.

Twitter: @umarwrites



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