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War in Slow Motion

Cut through all the rhetoric and posturing of war, terrorism, and nuclear holocaust and one thing stands above everything else in the looming confrontation between India and Pakistan. India, badly shaken by last December's suicide attack on its parliament (which came within seconds of wiping out the entire political leadership of the world's largest democracy) is not bluffing. It is prepared to go to war to put a stop to the terrorist incursions that have ravaged Kashmir for 18 years.

Yet India's "war policy" is flexible, because it does not demand a classical victory over Pakistan. It wants, instead, to end cross-border terrorism by changing Pakistan's long-held belief that it could "bleed India with a thousand cuts" at low cost to itself and thus bring about a change in the status of Kashmir as part of India. In its "war against terror", India will thus apply force in small doses spread over time with a cumulative impact, possibly extending beyond the next year - a war, so to say, in slow motion.

What would such a war look like? A look at the structure of the opposing forces will help here. India enjoys a substantial quantitative and qualitative superiority over Pakistan in conventional forces. This superiority is why Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons. It could not match India in any conventional battle, and like the West in its confrontation with the USSR during the Cold War, sought the security of nuclear stalemate.

India's "war aim" - that is, if war comes - is to raise the costs to Pakistan of its policy of encouraging and inciting cross-border terrorism. At present levels of deployment along the 2,900-km long border, Pakistan's annual military bill will jump from 35 to 42% of GDP, a hideous amount in a decaying economy. India, meanwhile, will see its military budget increase 2%, to 9% of GDP.