India is better prepared to deal with any Pakistan tank attack anywhere along its western front than it has ever been. The two major tank battles that the two fought have been on Indian soil. The first one was in Khemkaran (Assal Uttar) in 1965 where the Pattons were decimated by some brilliant generalship by the Indian commander, who flooded the fields and reduced the ultra-modern Pakistani tanks to sitting ducks. The other one in 1971 in Longewala in Rajasthan caught Indian by surprise and it was the Indian Air Force that won the day for India by reducing the Pakistani tanks to scurrying rats in the desert sands. In both these battles India had enough time to transfer its armored corps from home bases in Babina and Jhansi in central India to the frontlines in Punjab and Rajasthan in these conflicts.
The deployment of the Indian Army during Operation Parakram ordered in response to the terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001 was a fiasco. More Indian soldiers died by own mines and accidents than any gunfight with the Pakistanis. The efficacy of the operation was said to be its coercive diplomacy that brought pressure on Pakistan to cease and desist from encouraging the employment of “fourth generation warfare” tactics (the blurring of distinctions between state troops and jihadi terrorists). In hindsight Operation Parakram changed nothing because in 2008 Mumbai attack happened with many pinpricks in between as well as after in keeping with Pakistan’s deep-laid intent to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”.
When Operation Parakram was called off after nearly a year of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, the Indian Army decided that to be able to ensure quick reaction to any Pakistani misadventure in the future it would have to remain deployed in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat in upgraded garrisons.
In what has become fixated in the Pakistani mind as the “Cold Start Doctrine”-the ability to react immediately and forcefully at very short notice-the Indian armed forces (inclusive of the Indian Air Forces) have practiced and perfected the tactics for air-land coordination. Extracts from Pakistani publications and analyses of eminent Pakistani thinkers indicate that the perception is that the Indian Army has been redesigned into what is said to be eight “integrated battle groups” with the objective of securing limited political gains before the nuclear response becomes imperative-the proverbial Pakistani “nuclear threshold”.
The aim of the new war fighting doctrine is to increase the Indian military strike options for possibly retaliatory or pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan. It envisages an increase in the Indian military options based on a contingency situation where Indian armed forces can have sufficient military success that can be used to achieve limited political objectives before an international intervention or the conflict turns nuclear.
Consequently the doctrine requires the re-division of the Indian army from the existing three major strike corps into eight integrated battle groups (IBGs) beefed up by the mechanized, artillery and armored divisions. The aim is to launch multiple strikes within seventy two hours of the first strike, approximately 50-70 km inside Pakistani territory, with close support of the air and naval components, if a need may be. Furthermore, CSD (Cold Start Doctrine) would entail combined operations between India’s three services and integrated battle groups for offensive actions against Pakistan without crossing Pakistan’s nuclear threshold, according to experts.
Thus the “central objective” of both countries is to securing bargaining chips for the inevitable post-war negotiations. Much depends on what the objectives are. In the context of the change in political orientation of the government in India it will not be surprising that one Pakistani objective would be a thrust into Gujarat if for no other reason than to cock a snook at the Gujarati prime minister of India. However, the prime Pakistani objective would remain: De-link Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the Muslim majority Valley, from the rest of India. That this remains central to Pakistani strategy is evident from the persistent and continuous cross border gunfire, attempts at infiltration and tunneling that has been witnessed through most of the current year.
The Pakistanis have been extremely disconcerted by the Indian proclivity to open up diversionary fronts to ease the pressure on Jammu and Kashmir. That is why it should be expected that having analyzed the intent and purpose of the “Cold Start Doctrine” it would seek to ensure that the Indian objectives are frustrated by holding action that would ensure that the expected Indian thrust remains extremely shallow.
Keeping Indian troops as far from Lahore as possible, would be the prime objective of the Pakistan Army. To do that it must hold the line at the Icchogil Canal which India captured in 1965 leaving the road open to Lahore just 14 km away. The Corps posted at Bahawalpur would be tasked to prevent deep Indian penetration across the Satluj River which would cut all north-south communications road, rail and river, effectively splitting the country into two.
Pakistan’s nuclear response would first come from the firing of the NASR short-range (60 km) nuclear tipped missile into the Indian industrial heartland in Punjab. The intent being to destroy the communications/logistics hinterland of the Indian Integrated Battle Groups and to use the phenomenon of electromagnetic pulse to create a communications blackout. Towards that end Pakistan has decentralized control of its nuclear assets, putting the tactical NASR under the command and control of the Corps commander while retaining centralized control of strategic nuclear assets consisting of missiles with range of between 300 and 3500 km.
For India this poses an existentialist threat given Pakistan’s proclivity for “fourth generation warfare” and the integration of the regulars and the jihadi elements within the Pakistani Army General Headquarters. Given the kind of autonomy that Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed enjoys in Lahore it is now more possible for the jihadis to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan’s arsenal.
Under these circumstances, if it is not to be overwhelmed by Pakistani nuclear deterrence even as Islamabad retains its “fourth generation warfare” strategy what should be India’s objectives in the event of a full scale proxy war? Traditionally India is averse to capture and retain Pakistani territory. So what is there to fight for? Indian military and political objective should have always been the liberation of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This is the only objective worth fighting for. For several reasons: It is supposed to be integral part of the Indian nation.
PoK is under the joint control of Pakistan and China who are using it to tighten a noose around India’s neck, reducing it to a third grade nation status.
A liberated PoK will open a route to Afghanistan via the Wakhan panhandle thereby eliminating Indian dependence on access through Pakistani territory. It will end Pakistani intentions of holding SAARC to ransom as happened at the Nepal summit recently.
Indian access to the traditional friendly hinterland of the former Central Asian Republics of the Soviet Union, now conjoined within the Commonwealth of Independent States that border Afghanistan across the Amu Darya will be assured.
If “Cold Start” is not just hallucinatory, it must deliver.