Cold Start Doctrine and its strategic implication on South Asia

By Nida Altaf and Waqas Malik

Doctrine is a set of  values on  which a nation or any individual acts in order to achieve their interest and military doctrine is one on the basis of which military forces develops their actions as well as declares their main military strategies in order to achieve their national objectives. Military doctrine describes state’s defensive as well as offensive course of action, the way how military forces shall fight and the tactics on the basis of which the military aims to achieve its military or political objectives. Every country has its military doctrine which demonstrates its defensive or offensive military behavior. With military doctrine, a nation is known to be an aggressive state or a non-aggressive state. Military doctrine tells how the military of a state is preparing itself for any circumstances and what strategies they might have in order to fulfill the requirement for success.

South Asian region with two major nuclear armed rivals Pakistan and India has its own strategic significance and importance in the international politics. Both India and Pakistan are arch rivals since the partition of subcontinent in 1947. Since then there had been three main wars of 1948, 1965, 1971 and a number of limited border conflicts or skirmishes between India and Pakistan over verity of issues, but the unresolved issue of Kashmir is consider as a major bone of contention, and basic cause of rivalry between them. Along with Kashmir there are many other issues like water issue, cross border infiltration, Sirkreek and conflicting Ideologies and belief systems which also contribute to the animosity and hostility between the two. In 21st century the emergence of new threats like terrorism also adversely effected the ever deteriorating bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. Although Pakistan is among those countries which are badly affected by this new set of challenges but still India considers and tries to portray Pakistan as axis of evil and epicenter of terrorism. Whatever terrorist incident happens in India, India instantly blames Pakistan for that. Keeping the cross border terrorism phenomena at the face, India has changed its military posture with a new military doctrine named Cold Start Doctrine replacing the existing

Sundarji Doctrine which followed the strategy of Defensive Offence. This now has been changed with Cold Start Doctrine which follows the strategy of Offensive Defense

Sundarji Doctrine: An overview 

India from 1984 till 2004 followed sunderji doctrine which was named after it’s ex-chief of army staff. As per this doctrine, seven holding corps would be  deployed at the border of Indian side near Pakistan border, these holding crops would be train to absorb any kind of offensive strike from Pakistan and then there would be three strike corps having offensive potency. These strike crops includes a mechanized infantry and extensive artillery.  As Walter Ladwig of the University of Oxford argues, unlike the holding corps that were deployed close to the border, the strike corps were based in central India, at a significant distance from the international border.[1]

From 1984 India followed this doctrine in order to counter any type of offensive strike from Pakistan and to sustained defensive posture. The whole idea was that in case of a war against Pakistan, after the holding corps halts a Pakistani attack, under air support, the strike corps would counterattack in the Rajasthan sector and Penetrate deep into Pakistani territory to destroy the Pakistan army’s own two strike corps through deep sledgehammer blows in a high-intensity battle of attrition.[2] Indian policy makers were convinced that with their strong conventional force they will be able to easily defend Indian Territory as well as its people from any offensive strike.

The loopholes in sunderji doctrine were exposed when India attempted to operationalized the doctrine for force deployment in the wake of 2001 terrorist attacks on the parliament attack. India blamed Pakistan for that attack and held Pakistani backed terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taibha and Jaish-e-Muhammad responsible for that attack. After parliament attack, India start mobilizing its strike crops to deploy them on Indo Pak border areas in order to pressurize and coerce Pakistan to abandon the support of so called terrorist groups which carried out attacks on Indian Parliament, the operation was named as Operation Parakaram. Ideally it should take 72 to 96 hours for complete deployment of strike corps but it took more than three weeks (20-25 days) in mobilization and deployment of these strike crops. These three weeks were more than enough for Pakistan for mobilizing and counter deployment of its own forces and prepare it to adequately respond to any aggression by India. With that international community (major powers mainly US) intervened in this situation and pressurized both India and Pakistan to de-escalate the tensions. This failed attempt compelled the Indian strategic community to rethink and revise their military doctrine.

The failure of Operation Parakaram was a sort of flash point which exposed the loopholes of Sundarji doctrine but there was another underlying factor which forced India to revisit its military doctrine and that factor was nuclearization of South Asia which established nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan. As Sundarji Doctrine was to fight a full scale conventional war with Pakistan but the establishment of nuclear deterrence negated any chance of full scale war by offsetting Indian conventional superiority with Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Now no full scale war was possible without the risk of nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan as Pakistan maintains that it will use its nuclear capability against conventional attack. But meanwhile Kargil conflict demonstrated that a limited war is still possible under nuclear umbrella that would not cross nuclear threshold. So Indian strategists had to conclude that the Sundarji Doctrine is a recipe for disaster and they desired a doctrine which enables India to strike Pakistan swiftly without giving them much time to prepare themselves and respond. It must be done before the international community could intervene and de-escalate the situation. Moreover the strike must be limited so that it should not cross the nuclear threshold of Pakistan and with that India could achieve its national goals by offensively destroying the military of Pakistan.

Cold Start Doctrine (CSD)

India introduced Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) in 2004 in order to wage limited or low intensity war against Pakistan without crossing nuclear threshold assuming that Pakistani calculus will not be able to justify a major nuclear strike inside India. On the face of it, CSD is said to be a response to so called Pakistani strategy to use Terrorism and Non State Actors against India on the Indian Territory to bleed India from within.CSD include a swift offensive strike with shallow penetration at multiple fronts along the border. This surprise attack would abruptly disperse Pakistan Army all along the border making it loose it’s central command and communication and will ultimately destroy its fighting capacity. As per this doctrine, Indian military’s offensive power reformate three strike crops which include infantry as well as artillery support and holding crops would perform as a defensive crops. According to CSD, the holding corps plays very important role in implementing CSD as these defensive corps would begin an offensive strike.

Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) required reformation of the army’s offensive power previously consisting of three strike corps, into eight smaller division-sized Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) that would have mechanized infantry, artillery and armor. The IBGs would be self-contained and highly-mobile, equipped with Russian Origin T-90 Main Battle Tanks and upgraded T-72 M1 tanks at their core and adequately backed by air cover and massive artillery fire assaults, for rapid thrusts into Pakistan within 96 hours.[3]

Apparently, the IBGs would be placed under holding corps and be deployed closer to the Pakistan border. There are eight IBGs of Indian military which they would deploy near the border of Pakistan possibly at following locations:

  • IBG-1 is deployed at Jammu to target Sialkot and other nearer areas.
  • IBG-2 might be deployed at Amritsar to attack Lahore.
  • IBG-3 can be near Chandigarh to attack Kasur or its nearer areas.
  • IBG-4 is possibly deployed at the Suratgarh to target Bahawalpur and its nearer areas.
  • IBG-5 might be deployed at Bikaner to launch an attack on Rahim Yar Khan and its nearer areas.
  • IBG-6 might be deployed in Jaisalmer to target areas in Sindh near Indian border.
  • IBG-7might be deployed at bermer to target Mir Pur Khas or its adjacent areas and
  • IBG-8 might be deployed in Palanpur to target Pakistani Hyderabad and its adjacent areas.

Indian military is aggressively seeking the operationalization of CSD by hugely investing in modernization of its army, air force as well as navy. They are also revamping their old weapons; upgrading old aircrafts as well as tanks. Israel is playing very important role in upgrading these old machines as they are helping India to modernize these old weapons like the Russian supplied Mig-21 bison aircraft and t-72 tanks, to make tank capable to conduct operation at night. These would also help Indian air force to make a strong offense. Israel is also supplying advance weaponry and aircrafts to India. India is also looking forward to acquire Israeli Harpy missile systems which are used to neutralize enemy radars. It has already acquired green pie fire radar from Israel and now looking forward to acquire Arrow II anti-ballistic missile system which will detect any missile coming from up to 500 km. this will surely give confidence to Indian air force to launch any air strike upon Pakistan.[4] India is also working for nuclear triad in order to enlarge and strengthen its strategic forces with assured second strike capability. It has concluded many bilateral agreements as well as multilateral agreements with countries like Russia, Israel, and France etc. for military hardware procurement. Russia and Israel are the two main countries who are helping India for developing weapons, aircrafts as well as submarines; they are also helping India to modernize its old and outdated weapons.

Interestingly Indian political leadership has totally different stance on Cold Start Doctrine as the Indian political authorities have continuously denied even the existences of CSD. In the government of Manmohan Singh, many government senior officials had said that they ‘never endorsed, supported, or advocated this doctrine’.[5] The former Indian defense minister jaswant Singh also denied the existence of CSD by Stating that ‘’ there is no such thing as cold start  doctrine. No such thing, it was an off-the-cuff remark from a former chief of staff. I have been a defense minister of the country. I should know’’.[6] The ex-army chief of India General V K Singh also denied the existences of CSD, in an interview he said “There is nothing called ‘Cold Start’ and as part of our overall strategy, we have a number of contingencies and options, depending on what the aggressor does. In recent years, we’ve been improving our systems with respect to mobilization, but our basic military posture is defensive.”[7]

Despite all these statements from the officials India is continuously developing operational mechanisms for CSD, we can conclude this by analyzing the patterns of military exercises which Indian forces have conducted since 2004, there are almost ten military exercises in ten years. These exercises are named as DIVYA ASTRA in 2004, VAJRA SHAKTI in 2005, DESERT STRIKE in 2005, SANGHE SHAKTI in 2006, ASHWAMEDH in 2007, SHATRUNASH in 2007, BRAZEN CHARIOTS in 2008, HIND SHUKTI in 2009, VAYU SHAKTI IN 2010, and YODHA SHAKTI in 2010.

All these exercises were conducted near the border area of Pakistan with integrated offensive formations. In these exercise, India accomplished its military readiness level and created the image that it can deter any attack from neighboring country as well as offensively attack them. With the joint exercises of Army and air force, Indian forces developed the ability of performing operations in the dark and for that night vision systems for tanks were also purchased. They tested new force formations and advance weapons, aircrafts as well as tanks.

These exercises clearly indicate that despite denial by officials, India is day and night working on CSD. For that India is spending huge budget on its military modernization.  In 2014 the Modi government announced a 12 %  rise in military spending in the annual budget as part of efforts to overhaul its armed forces, declaring “there can be no compromise” with defense.[8]

Since 1997, Indian defense spending has doubled; it is continuously growing at an average of 6.3% very year. The government of Narendra Modi announced a further 11% hike, raising the 2015–2016 military budgets to $39.8 billion.[9] India announced this year that it would spend 2.49 trillion Indian rupees ($36.5 billion) on defence in 2016-17, a marginal hike of 0.96% over last year’s revised estimates of 2.33 trillion rupees. The allocation for military modernization in the budget stands at 8.7 trillion rupees. India also plans for focusing on defence spending more on its domestic market. As it is considering to rely more domestic and indigenous production for domestic use as well as to export instead of importing.[10] According to SIPRI accounts for 2015 India was the world’s largest buyer of conventional military weapons. India is spending huge budget just to ensure the successful operationalization of CSD in south Asia. With that huge military spending India is continuously modernizing its military weapons, aircrafts, tanks etc and this has many strategic implications on south Asian region.

Strategic Implications of CSD on South Asia 

South Asia is strategically very important in the international politics. Every major power wants to dominate south Asia in order to maintain its hegemony. As mentioned above, South Asian strategic environment is largely shaped up by India and Pakistan which both are both are nuclear armed arch rivals. So any change characterized by Pak India rivalry would have serious implications on strategic environment of south Asia. If operationalized, CSD would be a disaster because both India and Pakistan are already in a sort of strategic competition and are engaged in serious conventional as well as strategic arms race to counter any threat and to secure their sovereignty against each other. As Cold Start Doctrine is Pakistan-centric so Pakistan is also making their defensive as well as offensive capability strong to effectively counter operationalization of CSD. This tit for tat force modernization competition specially thinking and preparing for the possibility of limited war under nuclear umbrella has raised serious concerns for strategic stability in South Asia.

Pakistan’s Response to CSD

“If the enemy ever resorts to any misadventure, regardless of its size and scale – short or long – it will have to pay an unbearable cost,” Gen Sharif said at a grand ceremony held at the General Headquarters (GHQ) to commemorate 50 years of the 1965 war with India.[11]

In 1998, Pakistan conducted nuclear explosions in the response of India’s nuclear explosions. By doing so, Pakistan not only successfully restored strategic balance in the region and established nuclear deterrence but also managed to check Indian Sundarji Doctrine by offsetting Indian conventional superiority. After the declaration the nuclear status, Pakistan announced that it will opt for the policy of minimum credible deterrence against India, mean Pakistan will maintain minimum required nuclear force to counter any threat from eastern neighbor. With this policy Pakistan also maintained that it will not use nuclear weapons unless or until Pakistan’s nuclear redline is crossed by enemy and it has exhausted all other available military and diplomatic means. Minimum credible deterrence policy was only to deter the enemy with the nuclear weapons without engaging in undue nuclear arms race.

But after 2001 Indian parliament attacks and failure of sundarji doctrine in operation Parakaram, the Indian decision to bring a Pakistan centric change in its military posture from defensive offense to offensive defense named as cold start doctrine (CSD) alarmed Pakistani decision makers. India was thinking about the possibility of limited war under nuclear umbrella. This concept of limited war was an attempt to exploit gap present in Pakistani strategic forces as Pakistan’s conventional forces were not at par with India and it lacked short range low yield nuclear option which could balance out the conventional disparity. With CSD India could easily attack Pakistan as there would be no fear of nuclear escalation. To check this new challenge Pakistan announced to change rather broadens its nuclear posture and along with minimum credible deterrence, Pakistan introduced the aspect of full spectrum deterrence in its strategic posture. Under this new or revised posture of full spectrum minimum credible deterrence Pakistan was able to identify the gap at tactical level and plugged it by introducing short range, low yield Tactical nuclear weapons into its strategic force inventory. By doing so Pakistan denied Indian approach towards the possibility of limited war under nuclear umbrella because with the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons

Pakistan lowered the nuclear threshold and demonstrated that use of nuclear weapon is also possible at tactical level and that can escalate to all out full scale nuclear exchange.

Former COAS of Pakistan general (R) Ashraf Parvaiz Kiyani stated “We plan on adversaries’ capabilities, not intentions.”[12] Basically, the shift in the doctrine was all about to create strong and viable nuclear deterrence in the wake of conventional asymmetry.  The Foreign Office spokesperson stated: “Pakistan’s nuclear policy is shaped by evolving security dynamics of South Asia, growing conventional asymmetry, provocative doctrines and aggressive posturing by India, which obliges us to take all necessary measures to maintain a full spectrum deterrence capability in order to safeguard our national security, maintain strategic stability and deter any kind of aggression from India.”[13]

In April 2011, Pakistan first time tested TNW called as NASR (HATF-IX) 6o km short range ballistic missile. The second test was conducted in Oct 2015 and the third one was conducted in Sep 2014. NASR have the capability to carry nuclear warheads. Lieutenant General (r) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai said the test was a very important milestone in consolidating Pakistan’s strategic deterrence capability at all levels of the threat spectrum. He said in that hierarchy of military operations, the NASR weapon system now provided Pakistan with short-range missile capability in addition to the already available medium and long-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in its inventory.[14] With this development Pakistan successfully filled that gap which was favorable for India to operationalized cold start doctrine.

To counter CSD and to maintain deterrence Pakistan did not only rely on its tactical nuclear capability, it also developed and modernized its conventional capabilities. In order to test the integration of military modernization Pakistan army conducted a major military exercise called  Azm-e- Nau III in which Pakistani forces used intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets like UAVs, aerial imageries and air born early warning systems.

Pakistan also modernized its military weapons, tanks, aircrafts etc and also done joint operations near Indian borders. PAF conducted “Exercise High Mark” in 2010 to demonstrate its firepower and capabilities.[15] Pakistan navy is also purchasing 8 submarines from china and also doing agreements with turkey as well. Main purpose of these exercises was to convey a message to the Indian decision makers that Pakistan has the capability to defend itself from any aggression.


As in this author’s point of view, India is examine CSD since 2001 and Pakistan as an major power in south Asia is continuously giving response of CSD. As that CSD do have strategic implications on south Asia because it is the cause of instability in the region and the peace and deterrence in the region is at the risk but India can’t operationalized CSD against Pakistan because India is already facing many hurdles because of CSD. Although India is consider as an major economy and it is investing in the military as well, it also have huge budget for military defence but that budget is not enough for the implementation of CSD. Modernization of some tanks, aircrafts as well as weapons needs huge budget as compare to the whole budget that they spend of military. CSD wants many more economy budget than total of India’s budget.

Than the civil-military relations in India is not so very good. Government of India don’t wants military to interfere in any kind of decision making as CSD could increase the role of military and decrease the role of political leaders. And then political leaders thought that the consequences of CSD could be very dangerous. The contradiction in the statements of civil government and military creates the doubts on the survivability of CSD. at the end, there is a big question mark on the credibility of CSD as, the main purpose of CSD was to offensively response over the any attack of terrorists on the territory of India but India haven’t operationalized CSD in 2008 after the Mumbai attacks. In the time of need India didn’t operationalized CSD which leaved the question mark on its credibility. Who knows India would use CSD if there will be another attack.

Although, only the experiment and examine of CSD is causing strategic implications like threat to the stability, peace and deterrence of the region. As both countries wants their own survivability but their intentions only causing instability in the south Asian region.


  1. COLD START DOCTRINE. Accessed May 25, 2016.
  2. Syed Kashif Ali , “AN OVERVIEW OF INDO-PAK MILITARY DOCTRINE”, Daily Times, Accessed May 25, 2016.
  3. Masood Ur Rehman Khattak, ” Indian Military’s Cold Start Doctrine:  Capabilities, Limitations and Possible Response from Pakistan”,  SASSI Research Paper 32 March 2011, pg 07
  4. Ibid, pg 12- 13
  6. Race to the End“, Foreign Policy. 5 September 2012
  8. India to spend $3.5 bn on military modernisation, Jul 20 2014
  9. WALTER C. LADWIG III, “Indian Military Modernization and Conventional Deterrence in South Asia”, The Journal of Strategic Studies, 2015, pg 2
  10. Budget 2016-2017: India increase military spending by less than 1%”, March 1, 2016.
  11. BAQIR SAJJAD SYED, “ Cold Or Hot Start, Army Ready For Anything: COAS”, Sep 07, 2015
  12. Cyril Almeida, “Kiyani spells out threat posed by Indian Doctrine”, The Dawn, Thursday, 4th February, 2010.
  13. MATEEN HAIDER, “Pakistan to maintain full spectrum nuclear deterrence, FO asserts”, Oct 08, 2015
  14. Hatf IX test-fired“, April 20, 2011.
  15. Masood Ur Rehman Khattak, ” Indian Military’s Cold Start Doctrine:  Capabilities, Limitations and Possible Response from Pakistan”,   SASSI Research Paper 32 March 2011, pg 32-33

Nida Altaf and Waqas Malik are students of Strategic Studies at National Defence University, Pakistan

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