War-gaming nuclear Armageddon-Ikram Sehgal

Given extraordinary access by the hierarchy of the Pakistan Army, Stephen Cohen advised India in formulating a comprehensive strategy to destroy the Pakistan Armed Forces. His ‘A Short Cross-Border Punishing Raid in response to a terrorist act’ was based on excellent ‘research’. This envisaged changing the Indian mindset of capturing bits of Pakistan territory in small scale multiple offensives as bargaining chips after the cease fire to the Cold Start strategy tasking the Indian Armed Forces to synergise operations “in destroying the Pakistan military machine which enslaves Pakistan, impedes democracy in Pakistan and indulges in military adventurism against India, including proxy wars and terrorism, while sparing collateral damage to Pakistani civilians”. The operative phrase here is “military adventurism against India”, does India really believe our State agencies were involved in Mumbai, or are they fishing for, or worse, inventing ‘casus belli’ a la ‘Polish Border incident’ for ‘fixing’ Pakistan?

According to former Indian Army Brigadier Dr Subhash Kapila, “Such (‘Cold Start’) strategy did exist in NATO and was being taught at the Royal British Army Staff College. Camberley, UK “(which Kapila attended in 1971). In NATO terminology, “integrated” groups for offensive operations existed at three levels. Kapila says “the highest was ‘combat group’ and ‘combat command’ based on Divisional or Brigade Headquarters (armoured/infantry mechanised) with flexible number of battle groups”, based on armoured regiment/mechanised infantry battalion or even ‘combat teams’ consisting of armoured squadron/mechanized infantry company (Nothing new as Capt Liddell Hart and Guderian were propagating this well before World War II; Guderian’s live demonstration of this armour mobility integration for Hitler in 1935 created German Panzer Divisions with Stukas in close air support). The groupings were task-oriented in terms of varying composition of armour and infantry elements with integrated attack helicopters of the Air Force besides close support of ground attack squadrons and integrated Army Aviation surveillance helicopters. Command and control helicopters were made available. Kapila says ” ‘Cold Start’ would, viz (1) harness Indian Army’s combat potential fully, gradually diminishing distinction between ‘strike corps’ and ‘defensive corps’ (2) independent armoured brigades and mechanised brigades, mobilized in forward locations within hours and employed at the first go (3) Strike Corps re-constituted and reinforced to provide offensive elements for eight or so ‘battle groups’ to launch multiple strikes into Pakistan, fully integrated with the Indian Air Force (IAF), in the Southern Sector with naval aviation assets (4) Obviously, India’s Strike Corps elements have to be moved well forward from existing garrisons. The Strike Corps would no longer sit idle waiting for the opportune moment, which never came in the last three wars and all of them remained unutilised.” Kapila is preaching military adventurism pure and simple, and as seen in the Mumbai affair with or without cause.

Employing speed of both deployment and operations, ‘Cold Start’ envisages moving forces into unpredictable locations at high speeds and making decisions faster than their opponents can. Indian Independent Brigade Groups (on the Israeli pattern of 1956 and 1967) will seek to defeat Pakistani forces in the field by disrupting their cohesion in line with the tenets of maneuver warfare. Kapila maintains, “The Indian Army would also seek the advantage of surprise at both the strategic and the operational levels to achieve a decision before the US or China could intervene on Pakistan’s behalf. An unspoken assumption seems to be that rapid operations would prevent India’s civilian leadership from halting military operations in progress, lest it have second thoughts or possess insufficient resolve.”

The military challenges for Pakistan posed by ‘Cold Start’ are, viz (1) “surprise” factor in terms of when, where and how battle groups would be launched (2) Fighting air-battle with IAF having significant superiority in numbers (3) Devising credible anti-ballistic missile defence (4) Re-constitution of Pakistan’s “strike corps” and its three “Army Reserve” formations presently configured and located to take on all five of India’s “Strike Corps” (5) Offset India’s overwhelming long range artillery fire support (6) Counter India’s force projection capabilities deep in Pakistan’s rear (7) When and how does the doctrine of “First Use” of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent come into play, when a significant portion of its territory has been captured or likely to be captured, or when a significant destruction of the Pakistani military machine has taken place or when the Pakistani nuclear deterrent is endangered (8) Deep long range penetrative strikes to stop Pakistan reacting by inflicting significant military reverses on the Pakistan Army in a limited war scenario short of a nuclear war and (9) India would not sit by idly and suffer in case of a Pakistani nuclear strike but would launch a massive nuclear retaliation.

India is well aware that Pakistan Armed Forces have re-adjusted their strategy to counter ‘Cold Start’, moreover an enormous member of “irregulars” give us potential for using Hezbollah and Hamas tactics, collateral damage aside, they fought Israel to a standstill. Can Indian Defense planners guarantee that a limited strike vis-à-vis ‘Cold Start’ will not escalate into full fledged ‘Hot Finish’ nuclear war with Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)? Beating war drums symbolises those, whether in India or in Pakistan, who have never seen actual combat as young officers in 1965 or 1971; these “warriors” are bloodthirsty for battle, desperate to win a mini war to offset their deficiency of combat experience. Kargil was a direct result of such inferiority complex!

The NRDC (Natural Resources Defence Council) studied the consequences of nuclear war in South Asia a year before the last stand-off in 2002. In the Princeton University team scenario five air bursts over each country’s major cities left 2.8 million dead, 1.5 million seriously injured, and 3.4 million slightly injured. The NRDC team itself studied 24 ground explosions involving an Indian nuclear attack on eight major Pakistani cities and Pakistan’s attack on seven major Indian cities: 22.1 million people in India and Pakistan would be exposed to lethal radiation doses of 600 rem or more in the first two days after the attack. Another 8 million people would receive a radiation dose of 100 to 600 rem, causing severe radiation sickness and potentially death, especially for the very young, old or infirm. 15 million people in each country would be threatened by the fallout from the attack. Besides fallout, blast and fire would cause substantial destruction within roughly a mile-and-a-half of the bomb craters. Eben Harrell recently quoted Prof Alan Robock of Rutgers University, who participated in the original nuclear winter research, “a scenario in which each country used 50 Hiroshima-sized weapons believed to be in their arsenals, enough firepower to kill around 20 million people. The amount of smoke produced by these explosions would block out sunlight, cool the planet, and produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history” unquote.

Dr Ira Helfand’s assessment: “The explosions would set off massive fires, which would produce plumes of black smoke. The sun would heat the smoke and lift it into the stratosphere – that’s the layer above the troposphere, where we live – where there is no rain to clear it out. It would be blown across the globe and block the sun. The effect would not be a nuclear winter, but it would be colder than the little ice age [in the 17th and 18th centuries] and the change would happen very rapidly – over the course of a few weeks. Would you be able to see the smoke? The sky would not be blue. It would be grey. And what would the results be for humanity?” What about South Asia at ground zero of a nuclear holocaust?

Terrorists have no nationality. Why are we playing mind games and scoring points when our entire civilization may be at risk? Whoever the terrorists were, and whether they were of Pakistani origin or had Indian antecedents and/or connections, they are an impediment to the future of our children and must be swiftly brought to justice. Even though we have been put on the defensive by rather unreasonable Indian demands, the firm Pakistani resolve should be to punish those responsible and drastically emasculate their potential for misadventure. Rhetoric may be good for playing to the gallery; a nuclear holocaust will leave no gallery to play to. Instead of war-gaming nuclear armageddon a la Stephen Cohen and Kapila, India must choose the path of cooperation and Pakistan must reciprocate.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com


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