New Delhi, Nov 6 : Senior American military commanders have sought to press India to formally disavow an obscure military doctrine that they contend is fueling tensions between India and Pakistan and hindering the American war effort in Afghanistan, reports New York Times.
But with President Obama arriving in India on Saturday for a closely watched three-day visit, administration officials said they did not expect him to broach the subject of the doctrine, known informally as Cold Start.
At the most, these officials predicted, Obama will quietly encourage India's leaders to do what they can to cool tensions between these nuclear-armed neighbors.
That would be a victory for India, which denies the very existence of Cold Start, a plan to deploy new ground forces that could strike inside Pakistan quickly in the event of a conflict. India has argued strenuously that the United States, if it wants a wide-ranging partnership of leading democracies, has to stop viewing it through the lens of Pakistan and the Afghanistan war.
It is also a victory for those in the administration who agree that the United States and India should focus on broader concerns, including commercial ties, military sales, climate change and regional security. However vital the Afghan war effort, officials said, it has lost out in the internal debate to priorities like American jobs and the rising role of China.
“There are people in the administration who want us to engage India positively,” said an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations. “They don't care about Afghanistan. Then there are people, like Petraeus, who have wars to fight.”
Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, is among those who have warned internally about the dangers of Cold Start, according to American and Indian officials. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff, and Richard Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, share these fears.
The strategy calls for India to create fast-moving battle groups that could deliver a contained but sharp retaliatory ground strike inside Pakistan within three days of suffering a terrorist attack by militants based in Pakistan, yet not do enough damage to set off a nuclear confrontation.
Pakistani officials have repeatedly stressed to the United States that worries about Cold Start are at the root of their refusal to redeploy forces away from the border with India so that they can fight Islamic militants in the frontier region near Afghanistan. That point was made most recently during a visit to Washington last month by Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The administration raised the issue of Cold Start last November when India's prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Washington, Indian and American officials said, says the NYT report.
Indian officials told the United States that the strategy was not a government or military policy, and that India had no plans to attack Pakistan. Therefore, they added, it should have no place on Obama's agenda in India.
“President Obama intends this trip to be — and intends our policy to be — a full embrace of India's rise,” Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser, said to reporters on Air Force One en route to India.
For all the talk of shared interests, India still lies at the nexus of America's greatest foreign policy crisis. Its archrival, Pakistan, is a crucial but deeply troubled American ally in the war in Afghanistan. The United States has struggled to find a way to mediate between them.
Some administration officials have argued that addressing Cold Start, developed in the aftermath of a failed attempt to mobilize troops in response to an attack on the Indian Parliament by Pakistani militants, could help break the logjam that has impeded talks between the countries.
But India has mostly declined to discuss the topic. “We don't know what Cold Start is,” said India's defence secretary, Pradeep Kumar, in an interview to NYT on Thursday. “Our prime minister has said that Pakistan has nothing to fear. Pakistan can move its troops from the eastern border.”
Indian officials and some analysts say Cold Start has taken on a nearly mythical status in the minds of Pakistani leaders, whom they suspect of inflating it as an excuse to avoid engaging militants on their own turf.
“The Pakistanis will use everything they can to delay or drag out doing a serious reorientation of their military,” said Stephen P. Cohen, an expert on South Asia at the Brookings Institution.
India's response to terrorist attacks has been slow-footed. After Pakistani terrorists attacked India's Parliament in 2001, India's ponderous strike forces, most of them based in the center of the country, took weeks to reach the border. By then Western diplomats had swooped in, and Pakistan made conciliatory statements, deflating Indian hopes of striking a punitive blow.
The military began devising a plan to respond to future attacks. The response would have to be swift to avoid the traffic jam of international diplomacy, but also carefully calibrated — shallow enough to be punitive and embarrassing, but not an existential threat that would provoke nuclear retaliation.
For now, there are no signs that Cold Start is more than a theory, and analysts say there is no significant shift of new troops or equipment to the border.
But American military officials and diplomats worry that even the existence of the strategy in any form could encourage Pakistan to make rapid improvements in its nuclear arsenal.
When Pakistani military officials are asked to justify the huge investment in upgrading that arsenal, some respond that because Pakistan has no conventional means to deter Cold Start, nuclear weapons are its only option.
Still, many analysts are skeptical that Cold Start could be the key for the Obama administration to promote talks between India and Pakistan, which have been stalled since 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
“They are grasping at straws because they have a predicament in the Afghan theater that they cannot fix without Pakistan's help,” said Ashley J. Tellis, a former diplomat and South Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They are looking at India to do something to placate the Pakistanis.”