Cold Start: India’s Answer to Pakistan’s Nuclear Bullying


Cold Start is Indian military doctrine aimed at punishing Pakistan without a full-blown nuclear clash.

NEW DELHI: A nuclear strike is always the threat Pakistan holds out against any possible Indian attack. Recently, after India declared it would avenge the Pulwama attack, Pakistan Rail Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad again threatened of a nuclear strike after which “neither the birds would chirp nor the bells would ring in temples”.

But India has an answer to this threat — a Cold Start. It is a war doctrine aimed at punishing Pakistan without a full-blown nuclear clash.

The idea for the Cold Start was fuelled by Operation Parakram, launched after the terror attack on Parliament in December 2001. The operation exposed major operational gaps in India’s offensive power, mainly slow troop mobilisation along the border. After the attack, Indian strike corps took almost a month to reach the border. This gave Pakistan enough time to take countermeasures, and for the US to pressurize the then-NDA government to back off. In 2009, then Army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor said that “a major leap in our approach to conduct of operations has been the successful firming-in of the ‘Cold Start’ strategy.” Army chief General Bipin Rawat publicly acknowledged the existence of such a doctrine when he took charge two years ago.

What is the Cold Start doctrine?
The name ‘Cold Start’ suggests the wish to avoid a full-scale ‘hot’ war. It means Indian forces making swift and hard inroads into Pakistan. Such strikes will be limited in scope so as not to give any reason to Pakistan to launch a full-scale retaliation. Surprise is a key element of the Cold Start doctrine. In traditional offense, the mobilisation of troops takes a lot of time. By then, the enemy country can not only prepare for a response but also activate international diplomatic channels to prevent Indian attack.

Why Cold Start?
The need for the Cold Start doctrine emerged out of the fact that Pakistan being a nuclear country, the war will ultimately be mutually destructive. Pakistan has used its nuclear-power status to counter India’s warnings of armed conflict. Pakistan has indicated often that it would not shy away from using nuclear weapons against India. A Cold Start gives India an escape from the inevitability of nuclear conflict with Pakistan. A Cold Start allows India to attack Pakistan without the possibility of a full-scale war breaking out since Cold Start strikes are limited in scope and never raise enough temperature to give Pakistan a reason to mobilise its forces for a full war.

How Pakistan sees it 
Last year, then Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said his country had developed short-range nuclear weapons to counter the ‘Cold Start’ doctrine adopted by the Indian Army. His statement reflected that the doctrine had upset Pakistan enough that it was finding ways to counter it.

Pakistan and critics of the Cold Start doctrine think that India’s success in a Cold Start depends on various factors such as terrain, the element of surprise and how Pakistan deploys its forces. But the fact that Pakistan has designed short-range nuclear weapons to counter the Cold Start itself implies that it has been forced by India to shun reliance on the option of a full-scale war. India has imposed its choice of a limited war on Pakistan even if Pakistan plans to fight it with smaller nuclear weapons.

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