Inspired by the bellicose nature of Modi and Doval, the Indian army chief has threatened to invade Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The unprovoked firing and shelling across the Line of Control and Working Boundary could well be the prelude to starting a limited war, in which it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Afghan army along with TTP collaborate with the Indian army.

Limited war is a geographically confined conflict short of general war in which the political aim, time, space and the weapons used are limited. But when the geographical limitation is lifted, limited war would be transformed into general war.

The strike against AJK could well be an auxiliary effort preceding or accompanying the main effort that would be launched in another direction – somewhat like the Manstein Plan for the invasion of France in 1940, in which the auxiliary effort under Von Bock aimed at drawing maximum allied forces into Belgium while the main effort under Von Rundstedt unfolded south of Luxembourg through the Ardennes and across River Meuse, thus trapping the allied forces in Belgium and Holland.

Until 2004 the Indian army’s strategic thought envisaged the deployment of seven corps in defensive role and three corps in offensive role. But in the aftermath of the ten month standoff fiasco in 2001, following the attack on Indian parliament, the Indian army concluded that this doctrine was inflexible because of the large size of the strike corps – they have long deployment times, are difficult to manoeuvre, while their concentration in the forward areas gives away the strategic direction they would adopt.

In light of this, in 2004 the Indian army announced the development of a new limited war doctrine called Cold Start. The essence of this doctrine is transferring the army’s offensive power from the three strike corps to eight division sized Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) who would be positioned close to the border so that three to five are launched within 72 to 96 hours after mobilization is ordered.

Cold Start envisages high-speed operations day and night to achieve the objectives in the desired time and space framework. In a war limited by time, mobility is the single – most important factor which requires a perfect matching of the physical means of mobility with the mobility of the mind, as the value of a highly mobile force can be reduced to zero by commanders whose minds are characterized by lack of imagination, enterprise, initiative and flexibility.

In the 1965 war, despite its overwhelming numerical superiority, the Indian strike corps penetrated 11 km only in Sialkot sector in 21 days, while in 1971 the same corps penetrated 13 km in 14 days, that too when it was opposed by light covering troops. In both wars the Indian army was schematic in its operations. Changes in dispositions, reassigning of objectives, switching of forces not in accordance with their original plans took time. The following comments by Indian generals also highlight the weaknesses of their army: Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, commander of Western Command in 1965, in his book War Dispatches wrote “In XI corps there was a sickening repetition of command failures”. “In I corps the guiding hand of the corps commander was conspicuously absent leading to dismal failure at lower levels”. Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad, GOC 15 Division in 1965, sacked on Sep 7, in his captured war diary said: “There is no deep thinking in the Indian army… there is a cheap attitude to underestimate the enemy and to show off one’s own toughness to his superiors”. Maj Gen Sukhwant Singh, DDMO in 1971, in his book Defence of the Western Border wrote: “The generals who led the Indian army in 1971 on the western front had no concept of conducting a short war”.

The Indian war directors need to question the ability of their commanders at all levels to conduct high-speed operations with flexibility, rapidity and less military routine.

Despite the weaknesses demonstrated by the Indian army in 1965 and 1971, the Pakistan army does not underestimate their war potential. Suffice it to say that the reorganized battle-hardened Pak army has multiplied its capability to devastate the Indian army’s IBGs or strike corps in their assembly areas or as they cross the start-line by powerful massed fires including low yield tactical warheads.

If the Indian government still decides to start a war they would have to pay dearly for their error of judgment.