Cold Start? Mutually Assured Destruction

General Bipin Rawat, the Indian Chief of the Army, wants to restart the Cold Start doctrine. I never knew it was off the table. I thought they had developed the doctrine of Pro-active Strategy or maybe it was changing the label; old wine-new bottle. Whatever the case, he is looking for war. He wants to attack Pakistan.

Pakistan is blamed for being India Centric, but I have never heard a single political leader use India for political mileage here in Pakistan, whereas in India, if Pakistan is not factored into the argument – any argument – one loses a few brownie points. Never mind that Pakistan has stated clearly and unequivocally that it will not initiate war but then intentions are fickle things and can change at the drop of a hat; it’s the capability one needs be cautious off.

Off and on, India voices its intent and even goes the extra mile by offensive concentration and cross border firing. Fortunately, Pakistan recognizes intent as opposed to capability and is not impressed by the rhetoric.

So what governs Indo-Pak relations? Is it Indian belligerence that contains an aggressive Pakistan or is it Pakistani deterrence that keeps India at bay? We shall never really know but one thing is certain, it is strongly influenced by the spontaneity of a sudden event. This event has some defining signatures: first, it would have to be something that happened in India to create an impact. An event in Pakistan has no apparent effect on an Indo-Pak relationship; probably because the political and military will have been severely compromised due to an image deficit. Second, it could be manufactured to create a cause-belief justifying military action against Pakistan. Third, it could be non-state actor operating independently whose agenda is to destabilize the region. Fourth, it could be Pakistan sponsored so as to force India’s hand when they are not ready for it.

Is an Indo-Pak relationship merely a military conflict, lying in wait for a trigger to set it off? If this is the case, we must address the root of the animosity to facilitate conflict resolution? I would say we need to focus on the event-oriented environment. First and foremost, I would say that Pakistan’s credibility and image would always be hostage to proscribed extremist groups and as such till such groups are not effectively dismantled and disabled, they will remain a part of any argument. Till such groups are not taken out of the equation, Pakistan has no real response in conflict resolution other than denial in any role that caused the event. The denial of course, whether correct or not, would never be accepted.

On the other hand, India’s Prime Minister was elected only due to his extremist views, a dubious character whose name was on a list of people banned to get a visa for United States. He remains the pride of a radicalized society in India and is a reflection of the people who voted for him. A society that is structured on an intolerant caste system, which amply illustrated its practical manifestation in destroying of Babri Mosque, the Gujrat massacres, burning of the Samjohta Express and many other such atrocities. There is no narrative describing what a democratic, secular India really stands for and represents, therefore, India neither has any image problem nor an issue with its reputation carefully crafted through artificial marketing. Thus, India remains confident amongst the comity of nations, pretending to be the largest democracy in the world with a tolerant and benign view of its worrisome neighbors. India is seen as a role model displaying unprecedented patience in the face of unreasonable terrorist activity sponsored and facilitated by Pakistan. The international community exempts India for its omissions and commissions in causing regional instability, arguing that India is beleaguered and is only defending itself. Therefore, with matters as they are, India has no solution to conflict resolution as its own importance, purpose and relevance originate from this very instability.

When I see the rhetoric, the threat of the Cold Start, with the world ready to look the other way, what stops India? Is it all just a bluff?   I am compelled to conclude that whereas India has the intent and desire, it lacks the capability to overwhelm Pakistan by a military initiative. Pakistan, on the other hand, may not have the intent but possesses the capacity to contain any Indian military misadventure. One would ordinarily sense that such a situation would in fact balance out the environment and establish a functional peace but it does not. It lends itself to a situation where war is waged by other means. It manifests itself in so many varying styles, sometimes sectarian, at other times national movements, self-determination or human rights.

Where does this leave us then, what answers do we have to a sustainable regional stability and conflict management? Are we as communities, societies and nations condemned to suffer the consequences of no war-no peace? Will our lives always be governed by the consequences of hostilities and conflict? Is this the best that we can offer our generations to come?

Rather in a roundabout way, I am obliged to agree with the Indian Chief of the Army. The answer may lie in a full-blown military conflict. It’s not a question of Cold Start, Hot Pursuit or Pro-active for these are only the means to an end; it’s the end that we need to understand. Is he saying that Pakistan must not exist and that it’s either that or nothing? Yet, alternatively has he discovered a point where Pakistan may acquiesce and capitulate, thus limiting war only till Pakistan only has to surrender? Is that a reasonable assumption for the Indian Chief to make with the effort and resource invested in him, his experience and education that he has been exposed to; is the best that he can hypothesize?

Let’s examine the possibilities in a conflict scenario.

First, Pakistan may repel the Indian military onslaught and with great losses to both sides, Pakistan remains intact and the Indian offensive fails. Contrary to my Indian friends’ beliefs, and much to their dislike, I would accord priority to this possibility. This would be the worst-case scenario for India.

The other possibility is that India prevails, but Pakistan, being the unreasonable country that it is, does not do the reasonable thing and surrenders. Now what? The endgame looks very much like a ‘mutually assured destruction’ scenario, where an insignificant Pakistan may not survive and in light of its image, neither be missed but a decimated India, would be a terrible blow to the international community. What with the largest democracy cleaned out, the biggest market to international outsourcing lost and the last frontier to a Chinese expansion annihilated, India would be fondly remembered for decades to come. However, I accord a very low priority to such a scenario because of my belief that it will not come to this.

At any rate, where does this leave ‘The Cold Start’ doctrine?

Lt. General Tariq Khan (Retired)

Advisor & Senior Analyst at CommandEleven
Lt. General Tariq Khan (Retired), an erudite general from Pakistan's Armored Corps and a decorated War Veteran, is an expert on critical issues related to Terrorism & Insurgencies. General Tariq Khan during the Battle of Bajaur, transformed and re-shaped Frontier Corps into a relentless fighting force and raised FC's own special forces popularly known as SOG. Commanded and led major operations in FATA from the frontline, his model on counter-insurgency is still applied to this day.

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