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Cold Start doctrine may not escalate India-Pakistan tensions

Some news outlets recently reported that General BipinRawat, India’s new army chief, acknowledged in an interview earlier this year the existence of Cold Start doctrine, which, according to India Today, is “developed by the Indian Armed Forces to put to use in case of a war with Pakistan,” and is a “strategy designed to seize Pakistani territory swiftly,” said The Economist. Not surprisingly, a Pakistani official soon responded, telling the Financial Times,”If ever our national security is threatened by advancing foreign forces, Pakistan will use all of its weapons — and I mean all of our weapons — to defend our country.”
Will it be a cold start for hot wars? Not necessarily. Yet it is surely another round of war of words between the two long-standing rivals as well as nuclear-armed neighbors.
There has been little progress in India-Pakistan peace talks over the years. After Donald Trump was sworn in as the new president of the US, both New Delhi and Islamabad find the future of their respective bilateral relationship with Washington unpredictable. On November 30, Trump spoke on the phone with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, causing quite a stir in New Delhi. India, which used to call Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton “a safe bet” for the country, once felt a bit pessimistic about the US-Indian ties. Not long ago, during a lengthy phone call between Trump and Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi, Trump described New Delhi a “true friend and partner,” which has to some extent reassured India. Nevertheless, given the uncertainties of US’ future policy toward South Asia, the India-Pakistan peace process, which is already frozen, is now in a critically fragile state.
Against this backdrop, any remark that might threaten the delicate peace between the two nations from the Indian military authority will undoubtedly trigger a strong reaction in Pakistan.
However, both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed countries. Even if the Cold Start strategy sounds intimidating and there is indeed a gap between the two powers’ military might, it does not mean that New Delhi can easily win a landslide victory against Islamabad. The truth is, Pakistan has considerable strength to safeguard its sovereignty and its nuclear weapons should not be ignored.
Since the 1998 nuclear tests in India and Pakistan, it is quite common to hear such war of words like the latest one. In the meantime, tensions between the two can also be eased once in a while. Despite the fact that New Delhi is hostile against Islamabad, initiating a war against Pakistan is not a welcoming idea among Indian people. That being said, such verbal warfare can hardly escalate into armed confrontation.
Modi once sought to restart the peace talks with Pakistan and warm up New Delhi’s relationship with Islamabad. He invited Sharif to attend his inauguration ceremony, which was an unprecedented act. The bilateral relations were relaxed at that time. Yet, due to a number of other factors, such as India accusing Islamabad of terror attacks in Kashmir and New Delhi’s bid to add Pakistan-based organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa and MasoodAzhar, chief of Pakistan-based group Jaish-e-Mohammed, to the UN Security Council’s terror list, India-Pakistan ties worsened.
The odds of a thaw in India-Pakistan relations are very small under such a circumstance. But once their war of words escalates to the point of armed combat, both sides will surely adopt measures to reduce the tension.
Moreover, Trump’s South Asia policy may be different from that of former US president Barack Obama, who adopted a comprehensive pro-India policy in his final years in office. Trump called Pakistani prime minister first after winning the election, which may be a crucial signal – he would take a more balanced strategy between New Delhi and Islamabad. If so, it is possible to see a slight recovery in the India-Pakistan relations.
(The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Li Aixin based on an interview with Zhao Gancheng, director of Center for Asia-Pacific Studies, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.)
(opinion@globaltimes.com.cn)

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