A Soldier’s Exhortation

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General Deepak Kapoor, India’s Army chief, recently propounded the twin doctrines of “Cold Start and Two Fronts”. His statement raised hackles, especially in Pakistan, where his counterpart, General Ashfaq Kayani issued a firm riposte. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, in an unusual rebuke, dismissed Gen. Kapoor’s remarks as being silly, without elaborating what she found foolish about them. No senior Indian official sprung up to defend Gen. Kapoor. Instead India’s subsequent offer to re-engage in talks with Pakistan was interpreted by some as a backing off from Gen. Kapoor’s tone of war-mongering.

How novel is the thinking behind the comments attributed to Gen. Kapoor? Both  the strategies of  “Cold Start and Two Fronts” have already been tried and tested in the Indo-Pak sector. Gen. Kapoor might just be putting old wine in new bottles to highlight what he considers as the new capabilities of his force.

Commendable Restraint:

“COLD Start” hinges on the theory that India can launch a lightning strike against its western neighbour and pull back before the latter regroups and reacts. Very soon, the international community, fearful of a nuclear conflagration, would step in to prevent any further jousting. Such a scenario is eerily reminiscent of what happened in Kargil in 1999 when the then army chief of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, allegedly infiltrated his troops deep inside Indian-administered Kashmir. Indians were caught napping until they responded with air strikes and gunfire. When even these proved insufficient to dislodge the intruders from the commanding heights that they had come to occupy, Indian security officials made it clear to the intervening Americans that they were about to escalate the hilly skirmish of Kargil into a full-blown war across the plains of Rajasthan. Rattled, the Americans forced the Pakistanis to withdraw their troops.

Kargil then was the very essence of  “Cold Start”, a limited war under nuclear overhang, albeit one which was instigated by the Pakistanis.

Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, showed commendable restraint in not responding across the line of control in the Kashmir sector. His sagacity allowed tempers to cool down. On the other hand, were India to launch a strike into Pakistan or even Pakistan-administered Kashmir, it would be very difficult for the smaller country not to respond. 

Since 1947, Pakistan has laboured under the paranoia that India wants either to co-opt it back or to break it into pieces. India’s role in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 is all the affirmation many Pakistanis need to buttress their belief about India’s malicious intentions. Centuries-old religious animosity further poisons the chalice. Witness Pakistan’s reaction to India’s nuclear blasts of 1998. Pakistan’s then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, spurned all the carrot and stick that Clinton, the former US President, dangled before him not to go nuclear saying that he was under tremendous pressure to respond to India in kind. Had he not done so, he would probably have been deposed. Given the fear psychosis that exists in Pakistan vis-à-vis India and the sense of humiliation that it continues to smart under since 1971, it is almost guaranteed that Pakistan will release a counter-punch to Cold Start. 

What will India then do? Stop further action? Beyond a couple of bruised noses, everything would be back to square one. Escalate? The situation now rapidly spirals towards a full-blown war, certainly conventional and quite possibly atomic. “Cold Start” in all its facets is really then a false start. What of “Two Fronts”? Ever since India’s own mauling at the hands of the Chinese in 1962, the country has had to plan for war on both its eastern and western fronts. With Pakistan having made in China since then what it considers an all-weather friend, India’s military planners have had to consider fighting simultaneously on both fronts. In 1971, India’s then Army chief, Sam Manekshaw, delayed intervention in East Pakistan until the winter set in so that the snow-capped Himalayas would prevent the Chinese from meddling in his affairs. Even so, India had to face the threat from another front when the US sent its Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal to boost the Pakistanis.

K Sundarji, India’s Army chief in the Eighties, declared that his major problem was China; Pakistan he could take care of en passant. His statement then did not engender anywhere near the commotion that Gen. Kapoor’s altogether more benign remarks of today.

No Stranger:

IN any case, Gen. Kapoor’s purported belief that India can take on both Pakistan and China at once does not mean that India is planning to attack either country. All he is elucidating is a long-standing defensive war doctrine, which could be freely construed by adversaries as needless muscle-flexing. It also appears intended more to invigorate his own thinly-stretched force. 

Over the last decade, Pakistan too is no stranger to two hot borders, with all the manoeuvring of troops and shifting of resources that is entailed when all is no longer quiet on the western front.

The Pakistani security establishment’s reaction to Gen. Kapoor, while prickly, is wholly predictable, especially given the constant pressure that it is under from the Americans to devote more attention to the western front in Afghanistan, leaving in its mind a soft underbelly exposed to traditional enemy, India. Constant sermons too from the US that India no longer poses a threat to them, while the latter seems to be busy beefing itself up, must create further angst. Revealing though is US Ambassador Patterson’s public trashing of Gen. Kapoor, signalling that Pakistan is once again strongly on the upswing in the calculus of the Americans, with the Pakistan-dehyphenated relationship strategically crafted between the Indians and the Bush administration now clearly fraying at the edges under the regime of Obama. Ever so often, innocuity serendipitously  educes enlightenment.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.

This article had originally appeared in The Statesman here

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