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]

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