An Overview of Indo-Pak Military Doctrines | Syed Kashif Ali

Ever since Pakistan detonated its nuclear devices back in 1998, it chose the policy of nuclear restraint

In the past few months Pakistan has consistently been threatened by the Indian military and political leadership with facing a limited war amidst the allegations of cross border infiltrations and unprovoked firing along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary. The most emphatic response came from Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) while addressing a ceremony on Defence Day held at the General Headquarters (GHQ) as he warned, “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.” Referring to India’s limited war doctrine, the COAS categorically announced the readiness of his corps by saying, “Cold Start or hot start, we are ready.”

The Sundarji Doctrine — a military doctrine named after India’s ex-chief of army staff, General Krishnaswamy Sundarji — was followed by the Indian armed forces from 1984 to 2004 to counter any offensive from Pakistan. As per this doctrine, seven defensive ‘holding corps’ of the Indian army were deployed near the border region with Pakistan while the three ‘strike corps’ were based in central India, far from the border areas of Pakistan. The whole idea was that in case of a war against Pakistan, after the holding corps halt 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.

In December 2001, Indian parliament was attacked. India was quick to blame Pakistan-backed militants and mobilised its forces in order to start a military offensive named Operation Parakaram against Pakistan. Due to the enormous size of the strike corps being located far from the Pakistani border, it took India almost three weeks to mobilise its troops near the Pakistani border providing Pakistan an opportunity to counter-mobilise its forces as well as reduce the diplomatic pressure of the international community. It was evident that: a) the Indian war doctrine for conventional war against Pakistan lacked the element of strategic surprise, b) the enormous size of the strike corps made them difficult to deploy and maneuver resulting in a long delay between policy decision and the actual military action, c) the forward deployed units in the border regions of the holding corps had limited offensive capability and d) in the wake of any provocation, India had no other option but escalate to a full scale conventional war against Pakistan.

In order to overcome the shortcomings of the Sundarji Doctrine, Indian military planners and strategists came up with a new limited war doctrine against Pakistan dubbed the Cold Start Doctrine. The objective of Cold Start is to establish the capacity to start a limited conventional war against Pakistan within 72 hours of the policy decision to wage the offensive remaining below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold giving Pakistan no time for counter-mobilisation, or an excuse for nuclear retaliatory assault, or opportunity to the international community to intervene. Contrary to the Sundarji Doctrine that seeks to cut Pakistan into two halves, the Cold Start Doctrine aims to gain shallow military gains, 50 to 80 kilometers deep that could give leverage to the Indians in any post-war negotiation to extract concessions from Pakistan.

Cold Start also has eight strike corps based in close proximity to Pakistani border areas to start the operation in eight different sectors simultaneously in a bid to take Pakistan’s holding corps off guard, prompting the Pakistani military to make wrong decisions. Indian strategists believe that instead of three strike corps envisaged by the Sundarji Doctrine, Cold Start’s eight striking corps in the form of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) would deceive Pakistan’s intelligence monitoring thereby enhancing the chances of achieving the strategic surprise element in the offensive.

It is envisioned that the operations of the IBGs would be integrated with close air support from the Indian air force and naval aviation, and the holding corps would also be made to have limited offensive capability. All elements are to engage continuously until the military objectives are achieved. To implement the Cold Start Doctrine, the Indian army has carried out the necessary re-structuring of the military command. The South Western Command, responsible for the key areas of Punjab and Rajasthan, was initiated with its headquarters in Jaipur to reduce the burden from the Western Command that previously was responsible for monitoring the whole international border from Rajasthan to Jammu. In the past 10 years, the Indian military has carried out more than five war games to test the Cold Start Doctrine.

Ever since Pakistan detonated its nuclear devices back in 1998 in response to Indian nuclear explosions, it chose the policy of nuclear restraint and vowed to keep nuclear capability as credible minimum deterrence against any possible Indian eventuality. This employs that Pakistan would not develop tactical nuclear weapons and would use its nuclear devices only if it were provoked to do so. As per credible minimum deterrence, Pakistan’s nuclear threshold — the general conditions under which Pakistan could use its nuclear weapons — is as: a) India attacks Pakistan and conquers a large part of its territory, b) India destroys a large part of Pakistan’s land or air forces and c) India blockades Pakistan in an effort to strangle it economically or India pushes Pakistan into a state of political destabilisation or creates large-scale internal subversion in the country.

Pakistan’s strategists believe that the deterrent value of the current nuclear arsenal only serves at the strategic level and, without adjustments to credible minimum deterrence, India could exploit the gaps at the tactical level through the Cold Start and Proactive Operations. This has forced Pakistan to adopt a policy called Full Spectrum Nuclear Deterrence in line with the dictates of credible minimum deterrence that allows Pakistan to develop short-range tactical nuclear weapons to be used in case of any limited conventional offensive from India. Pakistan has developed a short range (60 kilometers) Hatf IX Nasr missile with the ability to carry a nuclear warhead. The Full Spectrum Doctrine has effectively changed Pakistan’s nuclear policy as now it could deter conventional force by employing nuclear deterrence.

Pakistan’s National Command Authority — the supreme civilian-led forum regarding nuclear matters — in a meeting chaired by the prime minister of Pakistan recently reiterated the national resolve to maintain full spectrum deterrence capability in line with the dictates of credible minimum deterrence to deter all forms of aggression, adhering to the policy of avoiding an arms race. This effectively means that Pakistan will keep developing tactical nuclear weapons as a deterrence to India’s limited war doctrine and can retaliate with small tactical nuclear weapons, if provoked. Indeed, any misadventure on the part of India could lead the region to nuclear catastrophe and therefore demands both that nuclear powers exercise restraint.

The writer is an IT professional and passionate writer and speaker. He can be contacted at


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