Obama not likely to push India hard on Pakistan: NYT

Saturday, November 6, 2010

WASHINGTON - American military commanders want India to formally reject an Indian military doctrine they say is fuelling tensions with Pakistan and hindering the American war in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported Saturday. New Delhi denied any such doctrine even exists.

But administration officials say they do not expect President Barack Obama to broach the subject of the doctrine, known informally as Cold Start, the daily said.

At the most, it quoted unnamed officials as saying, that Obama will quietly encourage Indian leaders to do what they can to cool tensions with Pakistan.

“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,” it said.

“India has argued strenuously that the US, 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 US 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.”

Gen. David H. 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 , chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, share these fears.

The Times said 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 told the US 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.

The administration raised the issue of Cold Start in November last year when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Washington, the daily said.

Indian officials responded that the strategy was not a government or military policy, and that India had no plans to attack Pakistan. And so, they added, it should have no place on Obamas agenda in India.

India has mostly declined to discuss the topic.

We dont know what Cold Start is, said Indias Defense Secretary Pradeep Kumar. 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.

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