In a press release on Thursday, Pakistan announced a successful “training launch” of the short range, nuclear-capable Nasr missile. A surface-to-surface missile, Nasr’s range is a mere 60 kilometres. But, it is no surprise that this launch follows so closely on the heels of Indian Army chief Bipin Rawat’s announcement on reviving the idea of integrated battle groups (IBGs) to launch a quick, conventional assault on Pakistan. IBGs are closely associated with the Indian Army’s Cold Start doctrine that came about in the aftermath of the failure of Operation Parakram (2001-02).
Essentially the tussle between India and Pakistan is about fighting their favourite wars. India is conventionally superior and wants to confine its war with Pakistan within the conventional realm. Pakistan wants to keep the conflict either in the sub-conventional realm (read terrorism) where it enjoys the monopoly in this dyad, or escalate it to the nuclear realm — where it has parity with India — bypassing a conventional war entirely. The Indian Army evolved the Cold Start doctrine of a limited conventional war because it realised that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would not allow for a full-scale, conventional war. The doctrine was never endorsed by the Government of India but it provided Pakistan with an excuse to build short range, nuclear-capable missiles, like Nasr, to target Indian formations undertaking conventional strikes.
India’s non-response to 26/11 showed that either the Cold Start had not been operationalised or the army wasn’t confident of pulling off such strikes in a crisis situation. General Rawat has now brought the idea up front and centre. He is saying the IBGs will be war-gamed and physically tested by May. This undoubtedly enhances the credibility of the Cold Start doctrine. Playing exactly to the script, Pakistan is now flaunting Nasr. The use of Nasr carries a number of risks like early use by on-field commanders. Moreover, its use doesn’t guarantee that a large number of Indian Army personnel can be taken out. However, deterrence is often in the adversary’s mind. As long as Indian leaders continue to be deterred by Nasr, it will continue to be effective.