India’s “Cold Start” war doctrine continues to evoke much concern in Pakistan and elsewhere. So much so that the Indian Army, after constant prodding by the US, has now taken to denying that the words ‘Cold Start’ don’t even exist in its doctrinal lexicon. The 1.13-million strong Army prefers to call it “Pro-active Strategy”. But whatever be the phraseology, the aim is to mobilise fast and strike hard across the border, without crossing Pakistan’s nuclear red lines.
The strategy revolves around self-contained and highly-mobile ‘battle groups’, with T-90S and T-72 M1 tanks at its core, adequately backed by air cover and artillery fire assaults, for rapid thrusts into enemy territory within 72 to 96 hours of the government directive. Secret US embassy cables emanating from ambassador Tim Roemer in New Delhi, dating back to February but now made public by WikiLeaks, have once again put the spotlight on the Cold Start strategy as one of India’s options to punish Pakistan if required.
Warning that for India to launch ‘Cold Start’ would be to “roll the nuclear dice”, a US cable says, “Given the present Indian military capabilities, it’s the collective judgement of the mission that India would likely encounter very mixed results. Indian forces could have significant problems consolidating initial gains due to logistical difficulties and slow reinforcement.”
The assessment is somewhat true, given the Army’s tardy pace of modernisation. But, the fact remains that the force has learnt its lessons since the disastrous Operation Parakram — the massive forward troop mobilisation along the Western front after the Parliament attack in December 2001, which took almost a month to achieve D-Day readiness. It gave ample time to both Pakistan, which took countermeasures, as well the US to pressurise the then NDA government to back off. The nuclear factor, of course, also played a role.
The US cable, on its part, does acknowledge “Cold Start is not a plan for a comprehensive invasion and occupation of Pakistan”. Instead, it calls for a rapid, time and distance-limited penetration into Pakistani territory with the goal of quickly punishing Pakistan in the event of a terror strike.
But, it adds, Indian leaders are also “aware that, although Cold Start is designed to punish Pakistan in a limited manner without triggering a nuclear response, they cannot be sure whether Pakistani leaders will, in fact, refrain from such a response”.