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Why their IT hates our IT

Why their IT hates our IT

Author: Ashok Malik
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: December 12, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/222019/Why-their-IT-hates-our-IT.html

Speaking at a conference in Delhi this past week, Home Secretary GK Pillai warned of the threat from terrorism to India's flagship Information Technology companies. "We are world leaders in software," Mr Pillai said, "but the software industry is high on the threat list." Actually, there is a history to this targeting of IT companies that goes beyond conventional threats to locations of economic value. The story of Islamist Terror versus Information Technology - their IT versus our IT - begins, really, a year ago.

In the winter of 2008, a group of retired Generals, civil servants and strategic affairs wonks from India and Pakistan travelled to Washington, DC, for a war-gaming exercise hosted by an American think-tank. A conflict was simulated to determine how far - and how long - a conventional war could go before the Generals in Islamabad turned to the nuclear trigger.

The day's events began with the Indian team precipitating air raids on terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It was expected that Pakistan would hit back in another theatre - outside the Kashmir zone - to enlarge the battle and invite international pressure on India. However, the nature of the Pakistani retaliation surprised the Indians in that room in the District of Columbia.

There was no move to send troops or planes into Indian Punjab or Rajasthan - as Pakistan had done in 1965, for instance. There was no attempt to bomb Delhi or Mumbai or even hurt India's prized offshore oilfield, Bombay High. Rather, Pakistani fighter-bombers flew halfway across India and destroyed the Infosys campus in Bangalore.

Later in the day, the two sets of armchair warriors got chatting and the Indians asked the Pakistanis about their strange choice. Given the nature of the IT industry, destroying the Infosys campus would do little lasting damage. The data was probably already backed up in computers at more than one location elsewhere in the world. Company operations would resume seamlessly. The buildings would soon be rebuilt.

Besides, the Pakistani planes would be travelling on a suicide mission. They were certain to be shot down on their way back home from deep in the Deccan, if they got there in the first place. It made no sense.

A Pakistani participant explained the decision. The Infosys campus - visited by corporate leaders and heads of Government alike - was an iconic symbol of India's IT prowess and of its economic surge. The Pakistanis were convinced that if it were destroyed, India's growth and its great power aspirations would be crippled. The gap between Indian and Pakistani projections that was beginning to show would again be bridged.

In purely military terms, the logic of the Pakistani contingent in Washington, DC, that day did not quite convince the Indian interlocutors. Perhaps, they concluded, this was a one-off.

A few weeks later, in the aftermath of the November 26, 2008, terror attack in Mumbai, discordant voices were heard again. As has now been accepted, the Pakistani establishment went out of its way to pretend an Indian attack was imminent, sought to scare the world with the spectre of a potentially nuclear war and played out an elaborate diversionary charade to shift attention from the complicity of elements within Pakistani territory in the planning and execution of the 26/11 terror strike.

It was left to Lt-Gen Hamid Gul, former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence and a veteran of the jihad continuum that once spanned Afghanistan and Jammu & Kashmir, to put things acerbically but, grant him this, with a raw, tooth-and-claw honesty. "India's economy is moving ahead," he said, "and while I don't know what the targets of the Pakistani Air Force would be, India's Silicon Valley, in Bangalore … would be blown up in clouds of smoke."

Obviously the symmetry between war gamers in Washington, DC, and Let-Gen Gul wasn't coincidental. At a basic level, the Pakistani military-strategic establishment was distraught that India was pulling away - as an economy, as a society, as a nation. The assault on Mumbai - on India's business capital and its leading hotels, symbols of its intensifying relationship with the rest of the planet - was similarly explicable.

Yet, the selection of Infosys and of India's IT industry as enemy installations - and the willingness to use the Pakistani Air Force, not some freelance terror militia, to bomb what were patently civilian facilities - indicated something far more ominous: This was a new war. The conflict was no longer an anachronistic throwback to the mid-20th century or even earlier; it was a 21st century hostility, with a 21st century cause. It is crucial India recognises that.

For most of the past 60 years, the India-Pakistan dispute has been limited to what has been termed "the unfinished business of Partition". Jammu & Kashmir is, of course, the ultimate casus belli; and to be fair, in 1947, it was intellectually consistent for both nations, with their individual ideas of nationhood, to claim Hari Singh's kingdom.

There were other elements of the Partition storm that lingered - cartographic disagreements in the Rann of Kutch, sharing the waters of the Indus. There was revanchism derived from memories of the Indian "annexation" of Junagadh or, as writer Ramachandra Guha put it in an article after a visit to Lahore, of the "fall of Hyderabad". Finally, there were the crazed religious warriors, such as the ideologues of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and their benefactors in the Pakistani state, who saw a renewal of the Mughal Empire as their goal and spoke of raising the 'Green Flag' on the Red Fort.

All of these contested images and territories were redolent with meaning from the past, perhaps from an imagined past - and from a desire to somehow turn back the clock, undo the perceived wrongs of history.

Hate for the Infosys campus is far removed from this. It has nothing to do with religious war or any self-propelled extension of the two-nation theory. It is a secular form of hate, in every sense of that 's' word. An animosity towards India has been hardwired into the Pakistani military-strategic complex. It has become an open-ended cause, a raison d'être, an industry. It has long outgrown Jammu & Kashmir. It will not go away in our lifetimes.

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