Thursday, February 25, 2010
Who is afraid of Cold Start ? Certainly not Pakistan
At the end of December last year, Indian Army chief Deepak Kapoor’s told a closed-door seminar at the Army Training Command in Shimla that not only did India have to prepare for a two-front war, it had to firm up the “Cold Start” strategy of launching a number of quick and simultaneous shallow hard-hitting offensives, presumably against Pakistan “under a nuclear overhang”. Brave words and an interesting strategy, but the problem is that not only is it dangerous, it is actually some way from even being implementable.
But that has not stopped Islamabad from cashing in on what its Foreign Office claimed was a revelation of India’s “hegemonic and jingoistic mindset”, one that was out of touch with present-day realities. Pakistan Army chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani has declared rightly that the proponents of conventional warfare in a “nuclear overhang” were charting “an adventurous and dangerous path, the consequences of which could be both unintended and uncontrollable.” The thing he did not point out was that the new Indian doctrine was the response of a country frustrated by its inability to deter the Pakistan Army from using proxies to launch horrific terrorist attacks. In other words, the Pakistan Army’s own criminal support for terrorism was breeding instabilities that are inherent in the Cold Start doctrine.
What began as a criticism of Cold Start has now fed into Pakistan’s complex regional strategy to outflank India on Afghanistan and come out tops with the United States. In mid-January, the National Command Authority meeting to mark the deposition of President Asif Zardari and take-over of the body by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, declared the “offensive doctrines like Cold Start… tend to destabilise the regional balance.”
Its origins lie in the thinking on limited wars by Indian generals in the wake of Pakistan’s Kargil operation. The reasoning as the then chief of Army Staff General Ved Malik noted, was that if Pakistan could launch an offensive operation against India despite the threat of nuclear war, the Indian Army, too, needed to find out that space in which it could conduct operations without its degenerating into a mutually destructive nuclear exchange.
These ideas were layered over by another experience. In 2001, in the wake of the attack on the Parliament House by terrorists, the government authorised the armed forces to strike Pakistan. However, by the time the army mobilised, nearly a month later around January 9, 2002 or so, the western powers had sufficiently twisted Pakistan’s hands and in his January 11 speech, President Pervez Musharraf announced a limited crackdown on terrorist groups and declared that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used for terrorist acts against other countries.
By the time the Mumbai attack took place, in November 2008, the Army had worked out the theoretical underpinnings of the doctrine through a set of annual exercises along with the other wings of the armed forces. However there are still large doctrinal gaps, such as the lack of integration in operations with the Air Force.
Along with this are three other gaps that ensure that the doctrine remains a paper exercise for the present. The first, and most important, is is the lack of a political imprimatur on the doctrine. For the past quarter century, the armed forces have operated on the political directive that enjoins them to maintain a posture of “dissuasive deterrence” vis-à-vis Pakistan. This doctrine has become outdated ever since India acknowledged the Pakistani nuclear threat, at least since the early 1990s.
But there is no indication that the political class has applied its mind to the kind of political instructions that will be needed to ensure we do have a doctrine that can deter Pakistan’s use of proxies to carry out attacks such as on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, and at the same time ensure that its “shock and awe” aspects does not trip the nuclear trigger.
Since there is as yet no political consideration, leave alone actual support for the Cold Start doctrine, the army has not yet begun restructuring its organisation and acquisitions to meet the demands of the doctrine.
We can assume that the integrated battle groups envisaged by Cold Start will be division-sized forces. But how will they be employed and supported? Classically, Indian division commanders will put one brigade in reserve, while committing the other two for the operation, but for Cold Start one would assume that the entire division would be committed to a particular objective and other formations be tasked to support them thereafter.
Therein could lie a problem. The IBGs represent an equivalent of the old Soviet Operational Maneuver Groups (OMGs) to counter which the NATO had developed the concept of Follow On Forces Attack (FOFA) which would isolate the OMGs through attacks using precision guided munitions. Cold Start requires a much higher level of operational skill than has been visible in India, to go by the army’s experiences in the western front in the 1965 and 1971 wars.
At present, India’s corps sized strike forces suffer from severe equipment shortage. According to a briefing to the standing committee of Parliament in December last year, the Army pointed out that its modernisation plans were so far behind schedule that they would meet their current targets only by 2027. This does not convey the real picture which is much more abysmal, especially in relation to plans like Cold Start. The Army’s towed artillery is a quarter century old, two-thirds of its tank fleet comprises outdated T-72s which joined service some 30 years ago. The Army has no self-propelled artillery or attack helicopters, and mobile air defence in the form of Tunguska systems is limited. A Comptroller & Auditor General’s report of 2007 revealed that a serious shortfall in meeting targets is the norm, rather than the exception in the Ministry of Defence.
The Pakistani armed forces leaders have a pretty good idea of India’s capabilities. Yet they persist in seeing a threat where there is none. Of course, they are helped by the tendency of Indian armed forces leaders and defence scientists to boast about their own prowess well before there is anything to boast about.
Pakistan’s own “offensive defence” doctrine is in many ways a mirror image of India’s existing “dissuasive deterrence” doctrine which envisages deep strikes into the adversaries’ territory. What worries Islamabad is that India has decided to break out of the comfortable zone where the ratio between the Indian and Pakistani army capabilities was effectively equal. Even though the Indian Air Force and the Navy had a distinct edge over Pakistan, the lack of integration of Indian combat power had allowed Pakistan to practise its brinkmanship.
But, as is evident from the above, Cold Start is, as of now, a paper doctrine. Even if the Indian Army gets political approval, it will be two decades before it can be effectively used. If the past is any indicator, Pakistan is likely to use this period to step up its own military acquisitions and restructure its forces to counter any Indian Cold Start capabilities with their own plans and forces. This would mean a greater militarisation of Pakistani society, with its attendant baleful consequences.
The salient issue, however, is the need for the political leadership to closely work with the armed forces to evolve a strategy to deal with Pakistan. It is not enough to tell the armed forces “to go” as was done in 2001 and considered in 2008. But to work with them on all aspects of a strategy that will deter Islamabad. As the cliché goes, war is too important a matter to be left to the generals.
This appeared in Mail Today February 17, 2010