Cold-starting Pakistan- Ikram Sehgal

“Cold Start” is the Indian military doctrine meant to allow rapid deployment Special Forces units “to strike Pakistan within hours of any terrorist attack on Indian soil. It assumes that militants from Pakistan, and not home grown Indian radicals, are responsible for any actions”. Such a rapid response would not allow time for diplomacy, Stephen Cohen, who helped India in the formulation process, maintains “cold start” was developed with the help of external strategists, borrowing heavily from Israeli tactics, notably from the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

The assumptions of the new Indian Doctrine are: (1) to act offensively against Pakistan for any perceived acts of strategic destabilisation of India, proxy war and terrorism (2) move away from India’s defensive mindset of last 50 years (3) prepare to undertake offensive military operations at the outset (4) undertake offensive operations short of the nuclear threshold (5) vast majority of Indian public will support any war putting Pakistan into place and forces it “to desist from proxy war and terrorism against India.”

Pakistan’s assumptions about cold start are: (1) offensive operations commencing without giving Pakistan time to bring diplomacy into play and (2) such offensive operations will not cross the nuclear threshold or prompt Pakistan into crossing it. India implies that, should Pakistan opt for crossing the threshold, the onus would lie squarely on Pakistan. The assumptions by New Delhi are dangerous: (1) the ability to hold limited portions of Pakistan with military might and (2) use this for political leverage against Pakistan. Holding of Pakistani territory will be unacceptable, triggering a ground war as well as a possible nuclear exchange.

Exercise Vajra Shakti further developed the cold start doctrine. “Against the backdrop of a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare threat from Pakistan, Special Forces were employed in pre-emptive strikes for furtherance of offensive operations by a Pivot Corps employing an infantry division, armoured regiments and an independent mechanised brigade from its own resources. Envisaging swift, day and night operations, offensive strikes were supported by advanced C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence) network and systems, including establishment of a Force Multiplication Command Post for integration and flow of real-time information to combat units, collected by satellites, UAVs, aerial reconnaissance, radar networks, communication intercepts etc. Digital photographs of “the enemy areas” were transmitted real time to forward combat units, facilitating speedy decision-making by Commanders, the commencement of network-centric warfare in the Indian Army. Information-dominance of the battlefield was practiced by use of electronic warfare systems. The Indian Aerospace Force (IAF) role was paramount, providing 130 sorties for this Exercise in reconnaissance, fighter aircraft strikes, attack helicopter and Special Forces operations. “With lessons learnt in Ex Vajra Shakti, the other pivot corps of the Indian Army were similarly exercised.”

Rumours are afloat about a game plan where India will conduct surgical strikes against “known” terrorist camps, and Pakistan will helpfully turn the other cheek. Our rather helpless response to daily “Predator” attacks, bluster rather than any substance, has given weight to this belief. Bob Woodward’s book “Bush at War” describes how, agonising over how to convince Pakistan, the US hierarchy was nonplussed by Pervez Musharraf’s “ready and willing” acceptance of all seven US demands without even a murmur. Was diplomatic pressure recently brought on Pakistan to fall in line in the “supreme” interest of the “war against terrorism,” the logic being that since only “terrorist” targets were to be engaged this was in “Pakistan’s interest”? Wonder of wonders, for once we did not roll over and play dead! Our rulers probably calculated that the people of Pakistan would give them short shift.

Initiating preliminary actions of their “Cold Start” Doctrine, the IAF was geared into a “first strike” mode. Picked up by our intelligence, the PAF responded by a “show of force” on “high alert.” A dense fog then engulfed most areas of the likely military options. During this time-lag some strategic reserves were extricated from FATA and rushed eastwards, that “window of opportunity” for India passed. Mere coincidence that three Strike Corps are in “winter collective exercise” mode in the Rajasthan Desert? That too carrying their first- and second-line ammunition? Movement of their Amphibious Brigade and dumping of fuel for forward deployment of troop-lifting helicopters has also been detected.

Pakistan’s history is replete with strategic blunders of monumental stupidity, we have only been saved by tactical successes achieved by the great sacrifices and outstanding bravery of our soldiers, sailors and airmen, those who have actually taken part in action, and not just talked about it. Some morons thought up the “Defence of the East lies in the West,” and we left East Pakistan defenceless. Subsequently some more morons came up with the “Afghanistan gives us strategic depth” concept and we are now in trouble up to our eyeballs on our western borders. Those who think that “the defence of the South lies in the North,” i.e., putting the bulk of our Armed Forces protecting our main population centres and communication in the Punjab and AK, may be theoretically correct in a long-drawn-out war, in the short Indo-Pak version it is stupid, monumentally stupid, particularly in the face of the known Indian deployment.

To quote my article on the 2002 crisis, “Talk of a limited Indian offensive across the LoC in “hot pursuit” or the targeting of Mujahideen training camps in Azad Kashmir means to contain the battleground to Kashmir, the premise being that all the other Strike Corps are then positioned to go on the offensive if Pakistan does not opt for limited war and goes on an all-out offensive. With all 3 Armoured Divisions and 4 RAPID Divisions, with 2 out of 5 Independent Armoured Brigades concentrated in Rajasthan, the resource allocation makes the offensive targets obvious, either along the Jaisalmer-Rahimyar Khan axis or along the Barmer-Mirpurkhas axis. No ground offensive being possible in the desert without heavy air cover, their air deployment suggests that the focus of attack could well be in the deep south (Western and Southern Commands), the same principle applying for a combined heliborne, para and/or amphibious operation. Both the Indian Strike Corps have been reinforced with additional Divisions with integral Helicopter Attack Squadrons, Engineer, Artillery and Air Defence Brigades. Jodhpur has a concentration of heavylift MI-8/M-17 helicopters, could be supplemented by the 50th Independent Parachute Brigade air-lifted by AN-32s from Agra, attempting helicopter troop transportation/amphibious LST landings with XXI Strike Corps going for a link-up. The Indians have been practicing this. The area between Badin and Sajawal east of the Indus thus becomes vulnerable.”

My recent article was based on their 2002 ORBAT, a number of my friends corrected me that this was outdated, the Indians had restructured their ORBAT in 2005. Not surprisingly, the “South-Western Command” was created at Jaipur, in line with the IAF’s existing South-Western Command. Western Command has an additional 9 Corps created at Yo1 and RAPID Divisions have increased from 4 to 5, all concentrated in the Rajasthan Desert. Furthermore a new Artillery Division has been raised. Their likely main thrust remains the deep South Barmer-Mirpurkhas axis with secondary effort in the Jaisalmer-Rahimyarkhan area. The “COLD START” Doctrine is in keeping with the likely fulcrum of their offensive.

As night turns into day, the Indians will put their main effort in the deep South. 18 Div was almost overwhelmed in 1971. Two brigades of 33 Div were force-marched from the Rahimyarkhan area to stem the rot. Only the outstanding courage of individual unit commanders like Lt Col (later Brig) Mohammad Taj, S J & Bar (44 Punjab now 4 Sindh), saved Pakistan when “the barbarians were at the gate” in Chhor and Umerkot on Dec 12, 1971. Taj was symbolic of many brave officers who went up and down the line in the Thar Desert exhorting the rank and file, the line held. It was touch and go for a couple of days! Later, no one did more than Lt Gen Lehrasab Khan as Commmander 5 Corps for improving our defences in the area but even his soldierly persistence did not succeed penetrating military obduracy to get the resources in men and material required for the Chhor-Badin-Sujawal area. Kayani must ensure that this time around we have enough in the Thar Desert and the adjacent coast. Our existence is a zero-sum situation, can we afford to take chances?

The writer is a defence and political

analyst. Email:

Source: The News, 22-Jan-09

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