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India: Let Kashmir go

Resolving the disputed territory would benefit all.

By Bennett Ramberg / December 29, 2008

Los Angeles

It now appears unlikely that India will respond to last month's attacks on Mumbai (Bombay) – its "9/11" – with a military strike on Pakistan, the terrorists' haven. With three major wars behind them, neither rival wants a repeat.

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Unfortunately, the possibility of war may intensify in years to come if India ramps up its "Cold Start" military doctrine.

Cold Start transforms New Delhi's traditional focus on defense and lumbering mobilization of hundreds of thousands of troops to one that prizes nimble strikes against its neighbor within hours of crisis onset. The strategy assumes that occupation of limited Pakistani territory would be the bargaining chip to force Islamabad to heel. It also assumes that it could do this without crossing the nuclear threshold – not an easy feat where rivalries run deep.

India has war-gamed this strategy since 2004. Adoption still must overcome equipment and personnel deficiencies and interservice rivalries, but work continues.

Rather than intimidate Pakistan to constrain militants or suffer the consequences, Cold Start may do just the opposite by inadvertently putting militants in the driver's seat. Previously, terrorist provocations would be met with action only after deliberation and delay. Under Cold Start, response would be much more immediate, effectively empowering radicals to hold the subcontinent hostage to their crisis-initiating whims.

To avoid that outcome, the time has come for India to short circuit the most critical incendiary, the disputed area of Kashmir. Despite some recent Islamic militant clamor to dominate the entire subcontinent, Kashmir remains the eye of the Indo-Pakistani vortex.

Removing its centrality will help pull the rug from under terrorist groups that have used the dispute to target both the region and the heart of India. Failure will only heighten the probability that Cold Start might someday precipitate a nuclear conflict.

Recent history shows that it's not a far-fetched specter. On Dec. 13, 2001, five Pakistani gunmen dressed in commando fatigues and driving a diplomatic car entered the VIP gate of India's Parliament's compound armed with AK-47 rifles, grenades, and other explosives. Their audacious objective: decapitate the Indian government.

An alert guard foiled their plans, and the ensuing shoot-out left 13 people dead, including the assassins.

India demanded that Pakistan ban the responsible terrorist groups and arrest their leaders. To press Islamabad, it mobilized half a million men. But the intended impact stumbled as India's Army took three weeks to get to the border. This allowed Pakistan sufficient time to ratchet up defenses.