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India’s Military Doctrine Shifts and Regional Security

India's Military Doctrine Shifts and Regional Security

Through its various military strategies, India has always tried to coerce Pakistan and sometimes even to inflict some backbreaking damage to the latter’s territorial integrity. Historically, Indian policymakers have treaded the path of aggression and subversion preached by their political forefather Kautilya. Making Kautilya’s thoughts their baseline, Indians kept on trying and employing different ways and means for dominance and superiority in this part of the world. From Sundarji Doctrine to ultra-aggressive Cold Start; from sub-conventional strategy to the 5th generation hybrid warfare; from no first-use policy to indications of first using nuclear weapons, Indians seem suffering from an ageless paranoia to ‘deal’ with Pakistan. India’s doctrinal somersaults have created serious implications for the security and stability of the South Asian region, and the world at large.

Sundarji’s brainchild was tested in 1986-87 through the launch of Operation Brasstacks – a major military exercise of the Indian Army in Rajasthan. This massive military mobilization of armed forces was aimed at implementing the doctrine through a “blitzkrieg-like” offensive. However, the Indian plan failed due to prudent cricket diplomacy and General Zia’s downright signalling of nuclear escalation to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The Sundarji doctrine, however, breathed its last with India’s failure in achieving the objectives of the so-called Operation Prakaram – the mobilization of Indian military against Pakistan in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Indian Parliament, in 2001, allegedly by some Kashmiri militants. Despite massive troop mobilization the operation flatly failed as it was ill-conceived and lacked clarity of objectives. Although India had mobilized over 500,000 troops to the Pakistani border and its ‘strike corps’ and other units stayed there for about 10 months, they only incurred massive losses in the form of men and material. Even former chief of the Indian Navy Admiral Sushil Kumar admitted that the “military mobilization was premature, ill-conceived and led instead to a punishing mistake because the entire effort was without a political mission or objective.” The failure of Sundarji Doctrine in tackling the challenges like the 2001 Parliament attack in the environment of nuclear overhang moved the Indian thinkers to revisit the war doctrine.

For that purpose, the Indian army came up in 2004 with a limited war strategy – the (in)famous Cold Start Doctrine. The Doctrine, also called “proactive strategy,” was anticipated as an offensive strategy. It was expected to enable Indians to respond potently to any attack from Pakistani side while keeping the conflict below the nuclear threshold. The plan envisaged launching a strike against Pakistan within 72 hours of an incident, immediately hammering the Pakistan Army and the militants harder with so-called Integrated Battle Groups. Moreover, it suggests occupying a tract of land inside the Pakistani territory as a bargaining chip, through India’s supposedly superior conventional military force. In all, India imagined to punish Pakistan before international community intervenes.

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About Mustansar Hussain Tasir

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The writer is an independent journalist and researcher. He can be reached at:

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