Leadership: May 14, 2005

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:   Can India ever fight a war against its nuclear  armed neighbor and rival Pakistan without provoking a nuclear holocaust? The Indian Army (IA) thinks it has an answer to this question. Until now the India's doctrine for war against Pakistan consisted of combat divisions advancing across the Rajasthan desert border into Pakistan, eventually cutting off Pakistan's population centers in the north from the only port and economic lifeline of Karachi.

After both countries went nuclear in 1998, the Indian Army war plans went unchanged. This began to change after the 2002 Indian army build up in response to an  attack on India's parliament by Pakistani terrorists. Dubbed operation Parakram (valor), the 2002 operation resulted in some lessons learned for the IA. They include:

Slow deployment: Virtually every single field formation of the IA was moved to the border with Pakistan, many  traveling over 1500 kilometers or more. Many key formations took over 20 days to mobilize, giving Pakistan had a chance to prepare itself. 

Forward Logistics improvement: While the army's capital equipment purchases were stalled during the 1990s, the numerous exercises it conducted paid off in terms of conducting a smooth forward deployment.  This showed that both Pakistan and the US underestimated the mobility of Indian strike formations

No surprise: IA has 13 Corps. Of these three are classified as strike corps while the rest are "holding" (defensive) corps. During Parakram, whenever strike corps elements were moved, it was easily tracked and the element of surprise was lost as to where a potential Indian offensive might come from.

Scalability issues: The old IA doctrine envisaged an all or nothing approach to war with Pakistan. There was no scope for a scaled response to provocations.

Political weakness: Because of the lengthy mobilization duration, there was enough time for the international community, led by America, to exert pressure on Indian political leadership to call off the dogs. 

The Emperor has no clothes: The 2002 crisis showed for the first time the enormity of the military imbalance between India and Pakistan. Pakistani generals have always figured that they had a period of "conventional pause" in the event of an Indian attack. This refers to a time window where they believed they can hold the lines while they could implore the international community to intervene. Even Pakistani military analysts noted that this option was essentially nonexistent in 2002.

These factors and other led to the evolution of the new IA doctrine, unofficially dubbed "Cold Start." This doctrine forsakes an all out drive to dismember Pakistan in favor of short high-intensity thrusts and withdrawals that result in a visible blow to the enemy while not causing him to fear for his existence. This is to be achieved using Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) comprising the Air Force, Special Forces and the Navy (if necessary). The key to success here is the ability to strike quickly and pull back before the enemy can realize what happened. 

This sounds good on paper, but can the Indian Army implement Cold Start today? It appears that the IA has years to go and many internal issues to sort out before this becomes a realistic option. For example, Cold Start revolves around IBGs which bring up the question of Joint Operations with the Air Force and potentially the Navy. Given the Cold Start is an Army doctrine, it will take a lot of bureaucratic turf fighting to make it happen with the other services. There is also the question of equipment. A key component of Cold Start is the need for massive and directed firepower. The Indian Army's artillery modernization program is however stuck in the mire of political scandals and appears headed nowhere.

On the positive side, in the last few years, the IA has made strides in its Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) as well as Electronic Warfare by purchasing many, less expensive, Indian made systems. There have been some advancements in terms of putting India's space technology to army use. The IA also recently created a new operational "Southwestern command" which conveniently sits across the border from Pakistan's most vulnerable area and is headquartered in Jaipur, 262 kilometers southwest of New Delhi. The IA's two recent exercises Divya Astra (in 2004) and Vajra Shakti (last week) allowed it to put its theories on firepower use and joint operations into practice. The IA has also gone all out to equip its Special Forces with the most modern gear and is expanding those units as well.

At the end of the day, with Cold Start , the IA has clearly seized the initiative from its Pakistani counterpart. Given the unpredictability built into the doctrine, the Pakistan army may now be forced to stretch its available resources into a forward deployed stance where they are less useful for offensive actions. It also gives the Indian political leadership to construct calibrated responses to Pakistani provocations in terms of terrorist attacks on Indian soil. Any international intervention would be faced with an Indian fait-accompli and would therefore turn to pressuring Pakistan not to use nukes.

The Indian army has made its move. Now it's time for Pakistan. -- Kaushik Kapisthalam

 


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