From ‘cold start’ to ‘limited war’, many unanswered questions

January 26, 2015 10:06 pm | Updated 10:08 pm IST

INDIA’S DOCTRINE PUZZLE — Limiting War in South Asia: Ali Ahmed; Routledge, 912 Tolstoy House, 15-17, Tolstoy Marg, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 695.

INDIA’S DOCTRINE PUZZLE — Limiting War in South Asia: Ali Ahmed; Routledge, 912 Tolstoy House, 15-17, Tolstoy Marg, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 695.

As the author, a Political Officer with the U.N. after a stint in the Indian Army, concedes, the limitations of this book lie in the fact that it covers mostly the Army’s Doctrine, to the near-exclusion of those of the Navy and the Air Force . Again as acknowledged, it focuses almost exclusively on Pakistan, without much reference to China, the bigger of India’s two historic adversaries or both together in situations where the military may have to prepare for separate yet coordinated wars in the eastern and western sectors up North. In the 21 century scenario of a rising China with the US already stirring the Indian Ocean waters, the need to include the airspace across the nation’s territory alone would complete a comprehensive and meaningful strategic-military doctrine.

Though limited to the Army, a book of this nature still raises as many questions as it answers for those outside the immediate realm of military planning, execution and academics. Given the increasing need for governments and militaries in the country to take the whole nation into confidence, such a near-lucid study (as can be possible for and in a book of this nature) can help inform the political class, the civilian administration and population, and more so, the emerging ranks of the strategic-thinkers, both within and outside the three Services, as to what wars and decisions are all about – and why are they so!

Ahmed focuses on two main recent concepts of India’s army/military doctrine, namely, ‘Limited War’ and ‘Cold Start’. The former is self-explanatory. The latter is a reflection on the alacrity with which the armed forces are able to mobilise for war within a short duration But neither is new concept, per se, in the global context. The author could have examined some precedents in greater detail so as to draw conclusions for the Indian forces.

The ‘Kargil War’ was a ‘limited war’, and involved Pakistan alone. The question remains as to who was the real instrument in keeping it a ‘limited war’ – the Indian defender or the Pakistani perpetrator. ‘Operation Parakram ’, when India mobilised armed forces along the Pakistan border at a relative short-notice after the ‘Parliament attack’, was a ‘Cold Start’. While the author has pointed to some of the mobilisation-deficiencies and consequent delays, and thus to the take-away from the exercise, he stops with saying that how in a ‘Cold Start’ , the military/army is seen as taking the initiative with the civilian leadership expected to go along.

One other shortcoming of the study is that it discusses the Indian Army’s thinking to the exclusion of what the adversary – Pakistan in this case -- may have in store. Much of it may relate to strategy and battle-front tactics under specific circumstances and ground situations, but as elements within, concepts such as ‘Limited War’ and ‘Cold Start’ cannot be unilaterally decided upon without thinking for the enemy, too.

The ‘Kargil War’ remained ‘limited’ because Pakistan did not take it beyond what it had already done – owning up, if at all, only the ‘sub-conventional’ insurgency, which it had employed earlier in 1948 and 1965. India is yet to find a suitable answer to the same. Post-Bangladesh, India is also yet to find an adequate answer to cross-border terrorism that Pakistan’s ISI has mastered and fine-tuned. .

If Operation Parakram was a step in a series of Indian efforts to transit smoothly from ‘deterrence’ to ‘defensive’ to being ‘offensive’ in terms of protecting national self-interest and security, it stopped just there. If anything, after the tri-Services Indian doctrines came to be discussed in public, Pakistani commentators are using the ‘offensive’ Indian posturing as being ‘provocative’ rather than the other way round .

There is also the underlying ‘strategic warfare’, meaning ‘nuclear war’. India has sworn to ‘no first-use’ of nuclear weapons. It has also vowed that its second-strike capability, when unleashed, would be of a “much higher order or at “massive levels” to inflict “unacceptable damage” on the adversary. Against this, even during the ‘limited’ Kargil War Pakistan declared that it would not flinch from deploying its ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons if the Indian Army crossed the international borders.

These raise uncomfortable questions. Pakistan not having gone back on its Kargil War declaration (about which there is no mention in the book), what’s ‘Cold Star’ all about, unless the Indian nation is prepared to let the other side to step up any combat to unacceptable levels of nuclear war? In strategising for such an eventuality, the ‘ Parakram ’ Cold Start showed that not only was the politico-administrative leadership possibly not fully prepared for what it was meant to be, and what its goals actually were, but there was more to it.

The IPKF deployment in Sri Lanka could be described as a ‘Cold Start’ that did not start off well, nor ended well. In a limited way, ‘Operation Bluestar’ was one such victim. Both operations were led by the late Army chief, Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji, the ‘thinking general’. As acknowledged later, both lacked minimal and critical inputs from other wings and agencies of the Government. Raw intelligence was only one of them.

Even the political goals that were set out along with the time available for the armed forces ahead of the ‘Bangladesh War’ were not clearly made out in the two cases. And the nation did pay a heavy price in both. With the result, the ‘Doctrine’ still remains a ‘puzzle’ despite the Army, Navy and the Air Force having theirs – and the Nation, possibly none, with the military as a whole too not having one!

India’s Doctrine Puzzle — Limiting War in South Asia: Ali Ahmed; Routledge, 912 Tolstoy House, 15-17, Tolstoy Marg, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 695.

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