If I have a git repository with a clean working tree, and I delete the
index, then I can use git reset (with no arguments) to recreate it.
However, when I do recreate it, it doesn't come back the same.  I have
not analyzed this in detail, but the effect is that commands like git
status take much longer because they must read objects out of a pack
file.  In other words, the index seems to not realize that the index (or
at least most of it) represents the same state as HEAD.  If I do git
reset --hard, the index is restored to the original state (it's
byte-for-byte identical), and the pack file is no longer read.

Before I try to dig in to why this should be so, does anyone happen to
know off the top of their head?  Does this constitute a bug in git, or a
bug in my understanding of git?

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