Indian Cold Start: A failed concept

Dr Muhammad Khan:

Walter C. Ladwig III, a Lecturer of international relations at the Department of War Studies in King’s College London has questioned the existence and workability of Indian Army’s Cold Start Doctrine. In his recent article entitled, “Taking ‘Cold Start’ out of the freezer?” published in ‘The Hindu’ on January 11, 2017, Walter C. Ladwig III debated the intent of General Bipin Rawat, the new Indian Army Chief, once he made a mention of Cold Start in his initial speeches. Whereas, the Indian defence analysts and scholars have presumed that the doctrine conceived in 2002-2004 was not a workable concept, thus abandoned long ago, General Rawat tried to resuscitate it during his interview with ‘India Today’.
The essence of the cold start was “to create division-sized formations that could rapidly mobilise and carry out short-notice, retaliatory offensives of limited duration to quickly seize and hold Pakistani territory, while simultaneously pursuing narrow enough objectives to deny Islamabad a justification to escalate the conflict by opening additional conventional fronts or to employ nuclear weapons.” Though the idea was formally debated publically in 2004, the mobilisation of Indian Army all along LoC and international border in 2001/2 was done under the same concept.
As per Indian strategists and military officials (retired generals), the idea met failure, owing to a number of flaws in the basic concept and its practicability. Thereafter, debate on cold start receded until former Indian Army Chief; General V.K Singh denied existence of the doctrine in 2010. Upon this Indian concept, Pakistan responded by developing “New Concept of War Fighting (NCWF)”. Whereas the flawed Indian cold start was limited to conventional warfare, the Pakistan military response was a whole and catered for, both aspects of future warfare; the conventional aspect as well as the nuclear aspect. Whereas, the cold start was a hastily conceived concept aimed at pressurising Pakistan psychologically, the NCWF by Pakistan Army catered for both aspects, the psychological and physical domain.
For the strategic analysts, the basic flaw in conceiving cold start was the limited vision of Indian military planners, who wrongly perceived that, Pakistani military would not respond to the Indian offensive and they would bargain without further escalation and a possible usage of nuclear weapons. Indian political leadership and ambitious military planners are still thinking the possibility of a limited war between Pakistan and India under a nuclear environment. The post 2004 political leadership however realised the delicacy of the concept and put it into the cold storage. Indeed, the history of misperception, poor intelligence, and India’s awkward national security decision-making system suggests that “Cold Start” could be a risky undertaking that may increase instability in South Asia. This was not only a political realisation, but post 2004 war games by Indian Army and other two services felt that, the loft objectives, as conceived in the cold start are not achievable.
In contrast to the Cold War, where the low risk that conventional conflict between the superpowers would escalate to the nuclear level actually facilitated low-level conflict in the periphery, scholars who study the South Asian nuclear balance, have argued that if a limited clash between India and Pakistan were to expand into a full-scale conventional war, escalation to the nuclear level would likely result. Indian politico- military leadership cannot answer the stability- instability paradox that Cold Start would generate, the more India pushes for a quick military adventure against Pakistan, the more it lowers Pakistan’s nuclear threshold, thus creating further instability, defeating the very purpose of a limited war.
Therefore, India has to understand that Cold Start has failed the test of times and that there is no space for conventional war between two nuclear armed neighbours. With Chinese strategic interests growing in a stable Pakistan and CPEC linking China to Arabian Sea, India must realise that any misadventure against Pakistan would hurt Chinese vital interests, and there could be possibility of re-opening of the Himalayan front against India. Let us all bury the dead doctrine of Cold Start for good.
The Indian concepts like cold start have two misleading dimensions. Firstly, that through this doctrine Indian Army will force Pakistan to abandon its support of militants and terrorists, operating against India. The fact of the matter is that, none of the attacks, India accused Pakistan (Indian parliament-2001, Mumbai-2008, Pathankot-2016 and Uri-2016) had the evidence of Pakistani sponsorship. Now, Indian writers and scholars accept that, these attacks were planned and executed within India, may be RSS to defame Pakistan and asking for international sanctions against Pakistan. British scholars like Walter C. Ladwig III and many international opinion makers now feel that, India has failed to make its case against Pakistan. Today, no body in the global capitals is ready to buy the Indian allegations against Pakistan, rather Pakistan has solid proves of Indian sponsored terrorism in Pakistan.
Secondly, Pakistan has been able to successfully convince the world that, Indian cold start doctrine is a threat for the peace and security of South Asia. The doctrine is offensive and hegemonic in nature. Owing this doctrine, Pakistan could win the sympathy of wider international community and strengthened itself militarily both; conventionally and strategically.
Changing dynamics in South and West Asia and Pakistan’s ability to get China and Russia on board for stability in the region, has neutralised US-Indian efforts to pressurise Pakistan anymore. Application of the cold start is a big question mark.
Mr Walter C. Ladwig III, clearly feel that, “[Indian] army simply lacks the material and organisation to implement the more aggressive versions of Cold Start.” It is known to Indian policy planners too that, India ‘faces critical equipment shortages; tanks, artillery, air defence and even have poor quality small arms. Besides, it will not have well-coordinated and guaranteed air support during the critical stages of battle. In fact, the Indian Cold Start has backfired with lot of embarrassments for its military planners and political supporters. According to Narang and Ladwig, “this has put India in the worst possible strategic position: claiming a capability that it does not have, but which provides justification for Pakistan.”
— The writer is International Relations analyst based in Islamabad.