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Going by the over-the-top reaction, almost veering on the hysterical, in Pakistan to the statement of the Indian Army chief, Gen. Deepak Kapoor, who talked of possibility of a limited war under a nuclear overhang and of reworking the war doctrine to meet the challenges of a two-front war with China and Pakistan, the impression that one gets is that the Pakistan army has been somewhat rattled by the words of the Indian military chief. At one level, the Pakistanis have been quick to latch on to Gen Kapoor’s remarks and impress upon the international community of the threat that Pakistan faces from India. The India bogey is useful not only to ward off growing pressure to commit more troops in the fight against the Taliban, but also in putting international diplomatic pressure on India to make concessions to Pakistan. But at another level, there appears to be genuine concern and worry in Pakistan over the possibility of India actually executing its war doctrine at some point of time in the future in response to an unbearable and intolerable terrorist strike. The concept of limited war under a nuclear overhang has been on the table for nearly a decade now. It was first aired by the then chief of the Indian Army, Gen. VP Malik, who was, ironically enough, put wise to such a possibility by the Pakistan Army, which had launched precisely such an operation in Kargil in 1999. More than anyone else, the Pakistani generals know that Gen. Kapoor was not exactly being “outlandish in strategic postulations” (to quote the Pakistan army’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen. Tariq Majeed). That the top brass of the Pakistan army take the possibility of limited war and the ‘cold start’ strategy seriously was made amply clear after the 26/11 terror strike in Mumbai. At that time, the Pakistan army went into a state of high alert and half-expected some sort of punitive action on part of the Indian armed forces. The fact that no military action was taken after 26/11 was not because the Indian Army was not in a position to take such an action, but because the political clearance for such a cross-border military action was not given. Given that the Pakistan army keeps a hawk-eye on its Indian counterpart, it would be quite well aware of what the Indian army can and cannot do. The Pakistani side knows well that over the years, especially after the experience of the full mobilisation of the Indian army along the borders with Pakistan after the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 when the Indian army took nearly a month to put in place its strike formations, the Indians have been working on being battle ready to launch in the shortest possible time. This is where the ‘Cold Start’ doctrine come in, a doctrine which the Indian army has been practising and fine-tuning in military exercises for quite some time now. To be sure, the Indians know that Pakistan army is not going to roll over and play dead to any Indian military manoeuvre against it. But the measures taken by the Pakistan army to counter any ‘cold start’ by the Indian army would already have been taken into account and catered for in the battle plans of the Indians. As of now, the Pakistan army has kept in place its security matrix on the eastern front with India. But what must be causing concern to the Pakistan army is the possibility of an expansion in operations on its western borderlands. This could force the Pakistan army to redeploy forces from the eastern front to the western front thereby creating gaps which they fear might be exploited by India. To the extent that the cold start doctrine reduces the time-lag for launching a military operation, it raises the spectre of the two armies being on a hair-trigger alert, which becomes even more dangerous against the backdrop of an ever present threat of a spectacular terrorist strike that could break the dam of tolerance. If it were left only to the Indian armed forces, they would have probably hit out at Pakistan long time back. But the Indian army cannot make any move without the nod of the government, which following Georges Clemenceau’s dictum of ‘war is too serious a business to be left to generals alone’, prefers a shouting match over a shooting match. The Indian politicians are wise enough and don’t really need Gen Ashfaq Kayani to tell them of the “unintended and uncontrollable consequences” of a military action against Pakistan. After all, it is one thing to war-game under controlled conditions and quite another to prosecute war, albeit ‘limited’, on another country. By definition, a ‘limited war’ initiated through ‘cold start’ has shallow objectives. Such a war is more in the nature of a punitive expedition which involves nothing more than a short but fierce border war. The problem, therefore, is not that such a war will immediately lead to a nuclear exchange. Unless the Pakistan army has either internalised or been inspired by the mindset of a suicide bomber, a nuclear exchange in response to a border war can be safely ruled out. After all, if the Pakistanis are going to launch nuclear weapons in response to a border war or skirmish, then perhaps it would save Pakistan a lot of money if the conventional army was to be disbanded! The problem with ‘limited war’ and ‘cold start’ really is that there is no certainty whether such an expedition will compel the Pakistanis to stop the export of jihadist terror to India. More importantly, there is always the danger of such an action putting the two countries on an escalation ladder which ultimately leads to a full-fledged war between them. The abundant caution displayed by the Indian political leadership as far as launching any limited war on Pakistan is concerned is therefore the result of it not being entirely convinced whether this strategy will achieve any major objective, except perhaps giving the Pakistanis a bloody nose. Only, bleeding noses don’t necessarily knock good sense in the heads of an adversary and could in fact lead to even greater deviant behaviour. At the same time, it must be said that although the Indian political leadership has displayed enormous restraint in retaliating to jihadist terrorism, there could come a time when the provocation is of a level that government throws all caution to the winds and gives the go-ahead to the Indian army. For the moment, however, the only war that the two sides are likely to indulge in is a war of words, which in the current case has ended in a stalemate. But in order to prevent the war of words from ever becoming a war on ground, it is important that Pakistan follow through on its commitments to not let its territory to be used for planning or exporting terrorist attacks on India. If Pakistan actually delivers on its international commitments, and Pakistani state agencies stop supporting and sponsoring and using terror groups as an instrument of state policy, then the ‘cold start’ doctrine will be consigned to the cold storage. Else, all bets are off the next time a terror strike in India has a Pakistani fingerprint on it. ********************************************************************* <1225 Words> 10th January, 2010 ********************************************************************

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