India’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) is a Pakistan-specific destruction-oriented one essentially aimed at destroying Pakistani armed forces - its centre of gravity. The Indians intend to inflict crippling degradation on them, thus nullifying their viability as a competing and potent fighting machine.

The Indian armed forces opted for the CSD against the backdrop of the failure of General Sundarji’s utopian plans to attack Pakistan, south of the Sutlej, cut it into two and then defeat it in detail. Those plans faltered due to the pedantic Indian mobilisation system and a resultant failure to achieve strategic surprise. This allowed Pakistan to mount its response and defeat Indian strategic designs in time and space. These failures were repeated later.

The Indians, thus, needed a doctrine that would overcome these flaws, cut Pakistan to size before it could mount any meaningful (including nuclear) response and before the international community could intervene.

So, the CSD was born in 2004.

The CSD stipulates that the Indian armed forces would launch synergetic joint operations in multiple thrusts (eight or so) on wide frontages. Each thrust will be launched by an Integrated Battle Group (IBG) comprising assorted combinations of armoured, mechanised, RAPID (Strike) divisions, independent armoured/mechanised/artillery/infantry brigade groups with supporting arms and services at compatible level. These IBGs would primarily be drawn from the holding corps (aka the pivot corps) up to two-thirds of their strength.

Of their three strike corps, the Indians are likely to employ at least two in these IBGs and retain one for strategic balance. Each IBG could, thus, muster strength of up to a corps. These thrusts would be launched in conditions of complete air supremacy. The Indian navy would conduct joint operations along the coastlines.

The Indian armed forces would aim to achieve strategic surprise, generate unacceptably massive multidimensional firepower and achieve their deliberately shallow land objectives without breaching Pakistan’s nuclear threshold and well before its conventional responses materialise.

A vast, multidimensional, modern and hi-tech arsenal is being collected, ostensibly in anticipation of India’s “anointed by the US role of a global superpower”, albeit its use against Pakistan is a foregone conclusion. If India wants to make any impact on the global level, it must first free itself of this debilitating Pakistan Syndrome.

To that end, it must settle all its affairs with Pakistan, including Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, water, trade, et al. This will neutralise all the centripetal tugs and pulls that the strategic environment in South Asia keeps exerting on it and pegging it down in its search for extra regional and global relevance.

However, India’s CSD is genetically flawed, predicated as it is upon outrageously fallacious assumptions.

The Indians intend to achieve “strategic surprise”. Pakistan is aware of the threat and has already taken steps to thwart it. It has already given the necessary forward bias to its deployments and posture, thus reducing its reaction time. Amongst other tangible measures, it has also unveiled a hi-tech short range tactical nuclear missile (Nasr) specifically meant for such an eventuality.

Further, the CSD assumes that the Indian armed forces would be able to achieve their strategic objectives, while remaining ‘below Pakistan’s perceived nuclear threshold’. This is an astonishing assumption.

They can only stay below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold, ‘if’ they ‘know’ what, when and where it will be. And even if they knew where Pakistan’s military (and geographical, economic and political) threshold(s) of pain rested, what guarantees do they have that these would not change during the course of the battle? These will fluctuate with the run of the battle and continuously create strategic uncertainties for India.

The Indians further assume that the Pakistanis would not react strategically till its thresholds were actually threatened or breached. On the contrary, they (Pakistanis) will definitely consider all possible operational contingencies, including pre-emptive ones. The conflict could, thus arguably, assume nuclear dimensions, even before a single shot has been fired in anger. India’s misplaced bravado could, therefore, have disastrous ramifications (strategic restraint -?) for the subcontinent and beyond.

Further, India’s IBGs will attempt to overwhelm Pakistan’s defences and its strategic responses at a very early stage in the battle. It is to be understood that Pakistan’s dependence on its nuclear assets is directly proportional to the differential in conventional forces of the two countries.

In simple words, the larger the difference in the conventional forces of the two countries, the greater will be Pakistan’s reliance on its nuclear arsenal. And the speed with which this difference in conventional forces starts becoming more and more tangible during battle, that much faster would Pakistan be forced to resort to its strategic assets.

For Pakistan, its nuclear arsenal acts as an equalisor - nullifying India’s conventional superiority in numbers and technology.

Even Pakistan’s conventional responses will be force-oriented too. Pakistan will cause unacceptable destruction and losses to the aggressor’s military potential through the adroit use of terrain and massive multidimensional firepower. That, in turn, would set India’s pretensions to global status back by a few decades, if not more; ironically, that would be the very thing they would have set out to forestall in the first place.

The Indians seem to have misjudged Pakistan’s resolve as a nuclear power and the international community’s capacity to influence Pakistan, when it is faced with existentialist threats. Nuclear weapons have actually introduced the ‘balance of terror’ and ‘mutually assured destruction (MAD)’ factors in the subcontinent. Both will act as the biggest deterrents to any impetuous, ill-conceived and militarily unsustainable expeditions emanating from the East. Pakistan’s declared nuclear policy needs to be heeded.

Instead of wasting time, effort, money and resources in the pursuit of clearly unattainable and unrealistic strategic goals, India should aim at reaping the peace dividends of our respective nuclear prowess. It must settle down and resolve all outstanding issues with Pakistan. It must not fall for the lure and illusions of ‘promised or borrowed greatness’.

In all probabilities, Pakistan would make such an adventure militarily, economically and politically unviable. India would be well advised to not start something it cannot control or finish effectively. The alternative will bring nothing, but disaster for the region and the world at large.

The writer is a retired brigadier, a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand and currently a faculty member at NUST (NIPCONS). Email: