India and Pakistan: the changing nature of conflict

September 24, 2009

Early last year a group of Indian and Pakistan retired generals and strategic experts sat down for a war-gaming exercise in Washington. The question, predictably enough, was at what point during a conventional war, would the generals in Rawalpindi GDQ reach for the nuclear trigger.

In the event, the simulated war took on an unpredictable turn, which in some ways was more illuminating than the question of nuclear escalation, as columnist Ashok Malik writes in The Great Divide:India and Pakistan, a collection of essays by experts on both sides of the border.

The exercise begins with an Indian military strike on militant camps in Pakistani Kashmir, the most commonly envisaged scenario for the next India-Pakistan war.  But the Pakistan response defies conventional logic . They don’t order a military push into Indian Punjab and Rajasthan, they don’t even attack Bombay High, the most valuable Indian oil asset in the Arabian Sea, and well within striking distance of the Pakistani Air Force.

Instead PAF planes fly all way to Bangalore, deep in the Indian south, to attack the campus of Infosys, the much celebrated Indian IT company.

Strange choice of target ? By all military logic it would seem so. It’s not like all of India would be crippled if  Infosys were attacked, they don;’t run Indian IT infrastructure. Even the company itself might not suffer lasting damage. Its data would probably be stored in locations elsehwere too, and it wouldn’t take it long to rebuild the campus. Besides. the Pakistani planes would be almost certain to be shot down on their way back, if they managed to penetrate this far in on what seems like a suicide mission.

So why Bangalore, and Infosys? Malilk quotes a Pakistani participant as saying  they chose the target because it is an “iconic symbol” of India’s IT prowess and economic surge.  The idea was to strike at India’s economic growth and great power aspirations. A raid on the Infosys campus, visited by heads of states and corporate leaders, would underline the dangers of business in India and remind the world that for all its new-found success, it remained a nation of contradictions, and at heart, unstable.

Many people in the room were not convinced by the Pakistani choice.  It still seemed more like an academic exercise than anything rooted in military reality. But in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks later that year, and in the light of renewed warnings this week by Israeli intelligence of another Mumbai-like attack coming in the next few weeks, it is clear that India’s vulnerability appears to be in economic, rather than purely military, targets.

Indeed last year when tensions rose following the Mumbai attack and there was talk of an Indian military response, it was Pakistan’s former chief of intelligence Hamid Gul who warned of  Pakistan hitting back where it would hurt the most.  India’s so-called  Silicon Valley will go up in smoke, Gul is widely quoted to have told CNN, if the Indians sent troops  to the border.

{Photographs of the Mumbai skyline and Indian and Pakistani soldiers at Wagah]


One thing that nevery ceases to amaze me during all this wargaming is that nobody seems to take into account the option of simply doing nothing for the Indians.The best thing the Indians could do militarily is put the army to the field, the navy to sea and the air force up doing combat air patrols. Get the Pakistanis to mobilize and spend huge chunks of their GDP simply sitting in the desert. India could simply defeat Pakistan without ever firing a single shot.The bonus is that along the way, India would be seen as the responsible partner for its self-restraint while Pakistan would face constant criticism and international pressure for not cracking down on terrorists.I wonder what the game plan is for Pakistan in that scenario.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

An interesting concept, Keith.In fact, a similar concept was the main reason for American victory in the cold war. Most of the Russian military expenditure during that time was for a war they knew would never come, due to the whole “nuclear destruction” issue. But at the same time, Russia could not afford to look weak in front of their own people. So they spent their way into financial oblivion.However, this is a case where India should not try and duplicate the US success.Pakistan needs a mobile army, so it can properly deal with militant rebellions as they arise. If it’s army is all stuck on the border with India, it will have no way of easily responding to the insurgents who are slowly taking control of Pakistan.And a Pakistan which falls to insurgency would not be in India’s interests.India really doesn’t need to do anything. Their army and airforce easily beats Pakistan. All it needs to do is remain ready, but avoid any overt posturing.That way Pakistan can do all the pointless bluffing it wants to pretend to look strong in front of its people, but be able to use their army on the insurgents (which remain the important issue here).

Posted by Holy Cow | Report as abusive

To the joker who said that India simply needs to move its military to the border and “bleed” pakistan to bankruptcy. Well, Jr. I think you must not be old enough to remember January 2002 when India brought 1 million soldiers to Pakistani border and then suffered major financial losses and a declining business enviornment. Pakistani military bases are all close to the border and it was India that suffered and bled economically! So much for that tactic!Secondly, the guy who said that “atleast IAF was invited to Nellis”, hahaha. The only reason why IAF was invited was to play with them and as soon as the french heard about it, they brought their special EW planes to sniff all the goodies off of the Russian built planes. IAF sucks. And need I remind you that PAF has been to Nellis numerous times and actually WON trophies in the past, including till late 1980s! Recently PAF is gearing up again to attend Nellis next year.Indians forget their “Auqaat” very quickly. There’s a saying in Urdu “Kavva chala Haans ki chaal, aur apni chaal bhi bhoola”, meaning a when the crow tries to walk/dance like the Haans, it forgets its own way of walking as well. Indians have already developed an ego of a superpower while the only thing fueling their egos is their poverty.

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive

@Ali:I agree with you that Pakistan got nothing left to be bled. The Indian paranoia and the “assets” like Taliban/Al-qaida already bled Pakistan.2. If IAF and PAF have both done that then how come this Urdu saying “Kavva chala Haans ki chaal, aur apni chaal bhi bhoola”, fits only for India. Ha Ha!!! hey don’t say that about your own PAF.3. I could have reminded you about 1971 as an ultimate proof of your misplaced jingoism, but I don’t want to do that.Go read correct history first not the distortions and the lies you have been fed by your establishment in school, punctuated by weekly sermons from the terrorists.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

pakistan is not a “tarnavala”like you people said it is a nuclear power pak army is not a “tarnavala”you can take the example of recent operation in swat valley.The american forces are in afghanistan for eight years & they just have captured 20 percent area of afghanistan but the pak forces have captured 95 percent of swat in just 1 month and US forces are also shocked from kashif pakistani

Posted by kashi | Report as abusive

I just don’t get it.How can pakistan attack Bangalore.Their planes would be shot down before reaching Bangalore.If you are talking about cruise missiles,then India has already tested its anti missile missile like the patriot of US.It would be inducted into the armed forces soon.

Posted by Anshu | Report as abusive

I have a feeling that this war game exercise in Washington by the former Indian and Pakistani generals was meant to confuse each other about the real war plans, which is what it did. With a significant ballistic missile arsenal that can be used to deliver conventional warheads over long distances accurately, why would the Pakistanis need to use aircraft and risk losing both the pilot and the aircraft deep inside enemy territory, and not hit the intended target?

Please read more at istan-military-balance.html

Posted by HaqsMusings | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see