The National Identity III : The Cold Start Doctrine and the Civil-Armed Forces feud in the North Block
“Let India deal with Pakistan. Pakistan would have to behave responsibly at last. Or face nuclear-armed India. And Pakistan's leaders know full well that a nuclear exchange would leave their country a wasteland. India would dust itself off and move on.” - Ralph Peters, the author of Looking for Trouble
India stood at a cross-roads in December 2001. India's Parliament had been attacked by Pakistani backed and Pakistani trained gunmen and India's response, a mere two years after the Kargil war, would shape India's military and political response to Pakistan's proxy war for a generation to come. Half a million troops were mobilized across the International Border and the Line of Control in Kashmir. The service chiefs wanted to strike at the heart of Pakistan and divide it into two separate battle theaters. This would ideally call for a blitzkrieg within 72-96 hours of the Parliament attack. It took three weeks until India's Strike Corps from, Ambala, Mathura and Bhopal (in the hinterland) were able to amass the required columns across the border. Once mobilized, the Service Chiefs' plans of slicing Pakistan into two was rejected by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Indian armed forces gifted the Indian elected leadership their own worst enemy - time. Time to dither, time to look for diplomatic solutions, time to bow down to international pressure and time to eventually develop cold feet. Without any tactical or operational victories, there is little hope of securing a political and strategic victory and absolutely no hope to garner concessions from Pakistan. Thus Operation Parakram, the largest mobilization of troops since 1971, turned into a colossal and costly failure.
"Madam Prime Minister, I guarantee you defeat" - Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw
Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, famously, uttered these words in response to Indira Gandhi's plans of a monsoon invasion of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971. Indira Gandhi paid heed and instead on the Field Marshal's say so, India put in proper planning through the year and won a decisive victory in East Pakistan and liberated them in December 1971. India also decimated Pakistan on the Western front, thus compelling Pakistani Premier Bhutto to engage with India at the Shimla summit in 1972. After scoring a decisive operational victory in both the Western and Eastern theaters of war, Prime Minister Gandhi failed to usher in concessions from Pakistan and handed back important mountain passes, territory and PoWs on a platter. This stands as an example of poor political leadership, despite an operational victory, The civil leadership doubted our military capabilities to enforce lasting peace and thus never had a vision of a "political victory", and thus India failed to enforce her terms on Pakistan. Pakistan was left free to start planning for taking the Siachen Glacier and to fester unrest in Indian Kashmir in the decades to come.
All of India's wars show a glaring gap between what the political leadership knows of the Indian military's capabilities and what the military knows of the elected leadership's strategic goals. After the bitter truths learned in the aftermath of the costly mobilization of early 2002, the Indian Army wasted little time in developing a military doctrine which could ensure complete operational success.
The Cold Start doctrine - a defensively offensive strategy
Given the overarching shadow of a nuclear war in the sub-continent, India needs synergy between what the political leaders envision as victory and what the military is capable of achieving. There has to be a continuous dialogue between the two sets of people in the North Block, and between the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and only then can the country achieve its strategic objectives and usher in lasting peace in the sub-continent.
With no such coordination forthcoming, the Indian Army took the onus and developed a doctrine of sub-conventional to conventional war with clearly stated operational objectives.
The Cold-Start doctrine reorganizes the Indian Army’s offensive power away from the three large strike corps into eight smaller division-sized (30,000-50,000 troops) battle groups that combine a mechanized infantry, artillery, and an armoured element in a manner reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s operational maneuver groups. These eight Battle Groups would be responsible for simultaneous incursions, in a "bite and hold maneuver, across the International Border. The groups would be responsible for shallow territorial gains of 50-80km, with the main aim of giving the political leadership a strong chance at eliciting concessions from Pakistan by degrading the threat perception of any retaliatory move. These shallow incursions would also deny Pakistan the chance to use the "regime survival" card and use nuclear weapons.
While the Indian media, which is surprisingly uncritical in its research and analysis, has been brainwashed by the West into believing that Pakistan holds battle-field nuclear capabilities, the political leadership of India is beholden to this threat as well. With this, stems the political leadership's reluctance to even countenance a "bite and hold" incursion into Pakistan, as it could result in massive troop casualty if battlefield nuclear weapons were to be used.The truth, however, is that in a command structure as centralized as Pakistan's, commanders on the ground aren't likely to have the prior approval or even the wherewithal to deploy tactical nukes. Moreover, any tactical nukes will lay waste to Pakistan's Punjab heartland, while India would lose only a small part of its' Army.
“The antidote of poison is poison, not nectar” - Chanakya, in the Arthashastra, 2300 years ago
Given India has learned a whole bunch of lessons the hard way, perhaps the time has come to put in place, a system where a coherent and well-enunciated offensive strategy can be taken to fruition by a fearsome strike force. Conventional warfare has long been replaced by strikes based on fast mobilization, speedy strikes and an element of surprise, and to achieve a strategic victory through this form of warfare the onus on our military and civil leadership is far higher and coordination is paramount. Can India slice Pakistan into two theaters of engagement before the threat of retaliation and/or international intervention? Can India's political leadership then turn this operational victory into a strategic victory by playing hardball with Pakistan in all the right international fora?
The lack of coordination between bureaucrats, politicians and service chiefs has also compelled India to leave the important discussions of doctrines for crisis times. Indian politicians walk into the military operations directorate during times of grave threat and try to educate themselves about their military's capabilities. The window for a defensively offensive attack has alredy elapsed. Worst of all, we, as a nation, have been here and haven't learned our lessons.
A Tri-Services (Army, Navy and Air Force) command, with civil leadership straight from the Prime Minister's office, and an enforceable doctrine like the Cold Start can enable India to punish Pakistan when the next terrorist attack on Indian soil takes place. Given current wars start at sub-conventional level but seldom go up to "the end" (either conventional war or in the sub-continent's case, a nuclear war), we need the Tri-Services command to usher in inter-services coordination but crucially provide the civil leadership an accurate, real-time and continuous assessment of our own preparedness and that of the enemy. Without these inputs India ends up limiting her own responses, both militarily and politically. time and again. Indian Inter Services engagement on foreign soil goes back many decades to the Burma campaign during World War II and perhaps this deep history can compel India's Service Chiefs to look past the current rivalries and squabbling over the defense budget.
India can ill afford to make belligerent statements and lack the military capability to win tactical and operational victories. Whereas the failed invasion of Iraq by the US and coalition forces has proved the overarching need for well laid out strategic objectives, India's own failures point to a lack of clarity on all three fronts: tactical, operational and strategic. Without building her own capabilities to carry out the first two, India will never have the confidence to even envision the latter.
"As the Indian military enhances its ability to implement Cold Start, it is simultaneously degrading the chance that diplomacy could diffuse a crisis on the subcontinent" - Walter C. Ladwig
The Cold Start, as Wikileaks cables show, has Pakistan dead worried and without even firing a shot, India has compelled Pakistan to continue prioritizing its' military over its economy. Given that Pakistan's wasteful militarization has wrecked its economy, and ever closer ties with both the US and Russia, India may not ever get a better chance to find a lasting solution for her warring neighbour. Albeit, India's Battle Groups have to be on the road to Lahore, before anyone in Brussels, Beijing or Washington can react.
The previous parts of The National Identity: