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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Embassy Cables Reveal How Cold Start Doctrine Has Been Subverted

Posted by: danish Ahmed 8:46 PM

US Embassy Cables, released by WikiLeaks, reveal how India's "Cold Start Doctrine" has been subverted by the Pakistani Army. Cold Start policy refers to a contingency plan drawn by the Indian Army to keep small,agile units ready to penetrate Pakistani territory and carry out swift retaliatory strikes (on terrorist training camps most likely) within 72 hours of a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attack on India. The policy was introduced by the Vajpayee government after the Parliament attack and military stand-off between the two nuclear weapon yielding arch-rivals.

It seems elements within the Pakistani establishment took the plan and turned it on its head. If small,agile group carrying out a swift devastating attack was an important factor in Cold Start policy,the Mumbai terror attack seems to resemble it. Of course,the essence is lost, India intended to launch the strike in retaliation and the target wouldn't have been civilians. In fact that is the fundamental difference between a military operation and a terrorist attack.

Existence of India's Cold Start policy is what raised concerns of India attacking Pakistan among world leaders and the context on which US embassy in its cable, dubbed UK embassy's concern as over-reaction.But it was never clear if India would implement Cold Start as there were a number of ambiguity including the question whether a swift, targeted attack by Indian forces to punish Pakistan without destabilizing it would really prevent Pakistan from retaliating in the conventional way, keeping the nuclear option open. Besides, India also risked losing moral high ground in the eyes of the international community if it was seen as the one to initiate conflict.  
However, all speculations were laid to rest after the Mumbai terror attack when the Government of India refrained from taking any such step. In fact, in the leaked cable, ambassador Tim Roemer provides some very interesting insights into the Cold Start Doctrine.

  We think that the November 2008 Pakistan-linked terror attack in Mumbai and its immediate aftermath provide insight into Indian and Pakistani thinking on Cold Start. First, the GOI refrained from implementing Cold Start even after an attack as audacious and bloody as the Mumbai attack, which calls into serious question the GOI's willingness to actually adopt the Cold Start option.*
The definition of power does not lie in influencing behavior of other actors through the use of force,it lies in eliciting desired  behavior by the mere threat of force. Cold Start Doctrine was conceived as a deterrence to dissuade Pakistani elements from launching terror attacks, India was displaying its power and willingness to punish such acts. However, it doesn't seem to have succeeded. The Mumbai terror attack clearly reveals that the Pakistanis elements are not at all deterred by the Cold Start strategy.

Second, the Pakistanis have known about Cold Start since 2004, but this knowledge does not seem to have prompted them to prevent terror attacks against India to extent such attacks could be controlled. This fact calls into question Cold Start's ability to deter Pakistani mischief inside India.* 
This observation also removes any sort of ambiguity associated with Pakistani establishment's complicity in 26/11 terror attack. Further, Pakistan has not only been undeterred by Cold Start, the Pakistan Army has been using the existence of the Cold Start Doctrine as a bargaining chip with the US demanding more military assistance  and aids in lieu of relocating resources from its Eastern borders to the Western front where it is battling the Taliban. It is yet another example of Pakistani Army's running-with-the-hare-and-hunting-with-the-hounds policy.

Even more so, it calls into question the degree of sincerity of fear over Cold Start as expressed by Pakistani military leaders to USG officials.*
If the strategy has been subverted by Pakistani Army, Indian government needs to look more seriously into its defense policies. As mentioned above and in the cable, the Cold Start Doctrine was formulated during the NDA government, after the change of guard in New Delhi the UPA government has not taken a stand on it, it has not officially embraced it but it has not abandoned it either. The government may have good reasons to pursue or not pursue a particular course of action, after all we are not privy to all state secrets,only those released by WikiLeaks! But now that the cat is out of the bag, the government should take a clear stand on defense strategies, especially, those announced during previous governments. In the ensuing confusion, the Pakistani Army remains the biggest beneficiary which is detrimental to the security of the entire region.