India’s Cold Start Strategy And Pakistan’s Response – Analysis


In April 2004 Indian Army Chief unveiled the new Cold Start concept that would allow it to mobilize quickly and undertake retaliatory attacks in response to specific challenges posed by Pakistan’s “proxy war” in Kashmir. The goal of this cold start strategy is to launch a retaliatory conventional strike against Pakistan before the international community could intervene, one that would impose significant harm on the Pakistan Army while denying Islamabad a justification to escalate the clash to the nuclear level. According to Stephen Cohen,

“Cold Start Strategy is a Short Cross Border punishing raid in response to a major terrorist act.”

India’s increasingly prominent role in world affairs and Pakistan’s domestic instability, strategic and military developments on the subcontinent are of great concern to the broader international community.

Pakistan - India Relations
Pakistan – India Relations

This concept requires a reorganization of the Indian Army’s offensive power from the three large strike corps into eight smaller division-sized “integrated battle groups” (IBGs) that combine mechanized infantry, artillery, and armor in a manner reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s operational maneuver groups. The eight battle groups would be prepared to launch multiple strikes into Pakistan along different axes of advance. The ground operations of the IBGs require integration with close air support from the Indian Air Force and naval aviation assets to provide highly mobile fire support.

The goal of Cold Start would be to make shallow territorial gains, 50-80 kilometers deep that could be used in post-conflict negotiations to extract concessions from Islamabad.

Although the operational details of Cold Start remain classified and it appears that the goal would be to have three to five IBGs entering Pakistani territory within 72-96 hours from the time the order to mobilize is issued.

The Indian Army would also seek to take advantage of surprise at both the strategic and the operational levels to achieve a decision before outside powers such as the United States or China could intervene on Pakistan’s behalf. There also appears to be an unspoken assumption 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 perceived advantages of the Cold Start doctrine over its predecessor are:

  • Forward deployed division sized units can be alerted and mobilized more quickly than larger formations. If the battle groups and the pivot corps start closer to the international border, their logistics requirements are significantly reduced, enhancing their maneuverability and the ability to surprise.
  • Even though division sized formations can “bite and hold” territory, they lack the power to deliver a knockout blow. In the minds of Indian military planners, they denies the employing nuclear weapons in response to India’s conventional attack.
  • Under Cold Start, the Indian Army can undertake a range of responses to a given provocation rather than the all-or-nothing approach of the Sundarji doctrine. This has the potential to enhance India’s ability to deter Pakistan, as Cold Start presents a significantly more credible threat of retaliation which can create uncertainty in the minds of Pakistani decision-makers about the level of impunity their nuclear deterrent provides.
  • Multiple divisions operating independently that have the potential to disrupt or incapacitate the Pakistani leadership’s decision-making cycle, as happened to the French high command in the face of the German blitzkrieg of 1940. Indian planners believe that when faced with offensive thrusts in as many as eight different sectors, the Pakistani military would be hard-pressed to determine where to concentrate its forces and which lines of advance to oppose.
  • Having eight units capable of offensive action rather than three significantly increases the challenge for Pakistani intelligence’s limited exploration assets to monitor the status of all the IBGs, improving the chance of achieving surprise. In a limited war, India’s overall goals would be less predictable than in a total war, where the intent would almost certainly be to destroy Pakistan as a state. As a result, Pakistan’s defense against Indian attacks would be more difficult because the military objectives would be less obvious.
  • If Pakistan were to use nuclear weapons against Indian forces, divisions would present a significantly smaller target than would corps. The dispersed operations by highly mobile units envisioned by Cold Start are the kind that would be required on a nuclear battlefield.

From a tactical and operational standpoint, Cold Start is a creative attempt to formulate a military solution to the security challenges on India’s western border. However, the problems India faces are both political and military in nature. As a result, it is not clear that limited war can enhance India’s ability to achieve its strategic goals.

Pakistan has continuously offered to resolve the issue through dialogue and peaceful means. However, Pakistan is also keeping all its options open and will respond in direct proportion to Indian response. If Indian incursions into Pakistani soil do not stop, Pakistan will have no choice left but to hit back and that too with full force, of which Pakistan is fully capable and willing. It is a mere Indian fantasy that India would land on Pakistani soil one fine morning and devastate the country within no time. Pakistan’s strategic forces are fully prepared and capable of defending its borders, its sovereignty and its people.

As indicated in its response Pakistani military leadership has made it clear that any misadventure by India can result in unavoidable consequences. Firstly, India would have to have a solid reason and pretext to launch any attack no matter low limited against Pakistan. Secondly, Indians have no gauge of Pakistani military planning to counter Cold Start. It must be bear in mind that Pakistan military announced in July 2005 that it is fully aware of Indian Cold Start doctrine. Pakistan may deploy its unconventional arms much earlier than India has envisaged. Thirdly, Due to Pakistani preparedness there is clear lack in synergy required in Indian forces to implement Cold Start successfully. Indian Navy would not be able to blockade Pakistani Navy in Karachi as now Pakistan Navy has two more naval bases in Omara and Gawadar. Likewise if Indian air force deploys its front line jet fighter and bombers on forward air bases (FABs) Pakistani cruise missile can come into equation much earlier. Fourthly, a time line of 48 hours or 96 hours to put Pakistan in a military submission to India with help of armor corps and air support can be proved as dangerous as claims of capturing Lahore in one day proved in 1965. A prolonged combat on borders can put strategic Indian infrastructure in danger. Pakistan air force can launch attacks on dams built on Chenab and Jehlam rivers in Kashmir, Pakistan strategic force command would be in position to hit Indian economic centers like Silicon Valley in Banglore. Fifthly, Indian military establishment failed to see how a handful of Kashmiri fighters made 700,000 Indian army troops permanently stationed in one valley since decades.

Despite presence of this force, which is more than total regular army of Pakistan, Indian government has failed to curb freedom struggle in Kashmir and this circumstances any war between Pakistan and India would be last thing the Indian army would ever dream in Kashmir. Indian military would be in no position to control Kashmiris and fight Pakistan army at same time. Sixthly, Indian military establishment is relying much more on President Zardari’s announcement that Pakistan will not use its nuclear weapon as first strike. In reality it is Pakistan army who will decide which weapon is to be used when and where.

Indian aggression in future would increase. Recent trends of buying military hardware by India are a clear indication to this fact. Pakistan armed forces don’t need to match Indian counterparts but rather require higher level of preparedness. It is not Cold Start that must alarmed security managers but it is 4th generation warfare by Indian intelligence and military establishment that must be a source of contention for Pakistan. Pakistani military and civilian government needs to take some steps in order to defeat Indian 4GWs tactics in FATA and to prevent India from deploying its forces ever again.

Pakistan must maintain a strategic ambiguity about first use of its nuclear weapons against any enemy including India. An early announcement would always put Pakistan on wrong footing as it will provide another opportunity to Indian and world media to talk about Pakistan’s obsession against India.

Pakistan army must complete all the counter insurgency operation as soon as possible and strike units must report back giving control to the civilian forces in areas which have been cleared of militants.

Pakistan must build a strong case against India and her involvement in Pakistan particularly in supporting terrorism in Baluchistan and FATA. Pakistan army has given proves to government and take the case on international forums like UN where Pakistan easily can seek Chinese help in order to unearth Indian intentions against Pakistan and peace in the region.

2 thoughts on “India’s Cold Start Strategy And Pakistan’s Response – Analysis

  • September 5, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Pakistan has a nuclear umbrella. Very nice. But the assumption that Pak can use the protection of this umbrella for terror strikes against India and if India tries any small or big retaliation, then Pak will immidiately go nuclear, is a bad doctrine. Pakistan’s never ending hype about nuclear response as soon as the first Indian soldier crosses the border might create a paradigm shift in Indian thinking. Knowing that a nuclear war would be a certainty, India might decide to start the war with an all out nuclear strike. Of course there would be global outrage but it might be better to tolerate that compared to the losses resulting from the second strike option.


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